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Delta to slash, simplify its fares

Delta Air Lines reportedly will cut high-end ticket prices and simplify its fare structure to operate more like low-cost rivals.

The airline plans to expand nationwide a test launched in August at its Cincinnati hub, where Delta slashed top fares up to 60 percent, cut the number of fares from as many as 40 to six and ended Saturday-night stay requirements, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Domestic fares were capped at $499 one-way for coach seats and $599 for first class, even for fliers buying walk-up tickets. The changes boosted traffic from Cincinnati by winning back customers who had been driving to nearby cities for cheaper fares, Delta officials said.

Airline spokesmen declined comment Monday, saying federal antitrust laws ban them from discussing future fare changes.

Delta has lost $6-billion over the past three years and was poised to file for bankruptcy in October before its pilots agreed to concessions.

Travel experts said the changes wouldn't have a huge effect in the Tampa Bay area, where Delta matches competition from such low-cost leaders as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran. Delta is the No. 2 airline at Tampa International Airport, behind Southwest.

"The cities where you need a Saturday-night stay from Tampa are few and far between," said Debbie Hunter, owner of Bay Pines Travel in St. Petersburg.

But in hub cities and smaller areas where a traditional airline dominates, fares can be sky-high, said Tom Parsons, chief executive of the Web site Bestfares.com.

Last-minute coach flights from Washington, D.C., to San Diego can be as much as $1,750 round-trip _ more than five times the fare from Baltimore, he said.

Delta is trying to keep customers from driving to less convenient airports to reap cheaper tickets offered by low-cost rivals.

If Delta and other traditional carriers lower prices enough to convince flyers the savings isn't worth the inconvenience of driving, Parsons said, they might have a potent weapon.

Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384 or huettelsptimes.com.

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