Airlines in effect are training leisure travelers to wait for the next big price battle. The good news for travelers is the wait between battles is getting shorter and shorter.
Northwest Airlines last week ignited the latest round with a 10-day sale set to end April 27. Lower fares with discounts of up to 40% off regular fares are good for travel from May 18 through Sept. 12.
Ads from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, tried to entice summer travel, showing a TV set with a beach scene on the screen that advised, "Somehow it just isn't the same as being there."
Northwest gained a slight advantage, announcing its sale April 17, a Sunday. Trans World Airlines matched that night, and others jumped on board the next day.
American Airlines staged its own version by offering a 14-day advance purchase requirement and a start date of May 3. Ads from Temerlin McClain, Dallas, also promoted use of the American Express Card with the headline, "Two great Americans. One great sale."
As usual, other airlines then matched American's new terms.
Continental Airlines tried a new international twist early this month with an unrestricted summer sale to Europe. The fares offer discounts of up to 50% from usual unrestricted tickets; have no round-trip or minimum- or maximum-stay requirements; and are 100% refundable without a service charge.
Newspaper ads from the Richards Group, Dallas, touted the sale and carried the new tagline, "More airline for your money."
While others were matching Continental's international sale, USAir the next day kicked off year-round low prices between the Northeast and Florida, with ads from Earle Palmer Brown, Bethesda, Md.
The carrier unveiled lower, restricted fares through April 1995. Discounts run as deep as 55% off.
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines extended a companion fare program to flights from its Salt Lake City hub to travel from Dallas/Fort Worth and then Atlanta. Companions can travel free or at half-price on select flights through May 31. BBDO Worldwide, Atlanta, is Delta's agency.
American Airlines jumped into the companion fray in its hometown of Dallas/Fort Worth. And the carrier beat Delta by announcing the program first in Atlanta, Delta's headquarters, with ads from Temerlin McClain, Dallas.
United Airlines is going the sweepstakes route. On April 8, the airline began its third sweepstakes promotion in San Francisco after launching the ticket drawing in Chicago and Los Angeles. The latest "Where in the World" sweepstakes offers consumers the chance to win two round-trip tickets to any of the destinations from the sweepstakes market. Print and radio ads support, via Maritz, Fenton, Mo.
The only winner in the fare sale frenzy is the passenger, said John Pincavage, analyst at the Transportation Group, a New York investment banking company specializing in aviation.
"It's price, price, price and more price," Mr. Pincavage said. "... It's like the car business. You've got to create excitement to get people in the showroom, and get traffic any way you can get it."