JetBlue Fares Shrink; Rivals Lower Prices to N.Y. to Compete

JetBlue is forcing ticket prices down even though the low-fare airline won't begin flights at Raleigh-Durham International Airport for nearly three months.

Continental, Delta, US Airways and American Eagle all are lowering fares from RDU to New York and Newark because of the arrival of JetBlue. Ticket prices to some connecting cities to be served from JetBlue's hub at New York's JFK Airport also have started coming down.

"The airlines are already lowering the fares in anticipation of JetBlue coming," said Darlene Stull, co-owner of Travel In Style in Raleigh. "They're lowering their fares to boost their business and keep their passengers."

When JetBlue announced plans to begin service here two weeks ago, the least expensive one-way ticket from RDU to JFK was $134.30 for a 21-day advance purchase on American Eagle or Delta Connection.

But July 20 -- the day JetBlue begins local service -- the cheapest fare on Eagle and Delta to LaGuardia is $94.30, Stull said.

JetBlue is offering four daily flights from RDU to its JFK hub, with one-way introductory tickets priced as low as $69. For tickets purchased after April 30, the cheapest JetBlue fare from RDU to JFK goes up to $79.

The drop in ticket prices comes as airlines raise fares amid soaring jet-fuel costs. This week, JetBlue announced a quarterly loss, and CEO David Neeleman said the airline would scale back growth plans and increase average fares.

But for now, JetBlue's arrival is good news for Triangle travelers whose favorite destination is New York or other locations in the Northeast. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 726,140 passengers flew between RDU and New York in 2004. And prices are tumbling for other New York area airports besides JFK.

RDU to LaGuardia one-way tickets that were $134.30 two weeks ago will be $94.30 by July 20. RDU to Newark, N.J., fares will fall from $279.30 two weeks ago to $89.30 by July 20, Stull said.

Six-year-old JetBlue has attracted loyal passengers with free satellite TV and radio at every seat. The airline will connect to more than 40 destinations from its JFK hub. Fares are falling for some of those cities as well.

A one-way fare from RDU to Syracuse, N.Y., that costs $213.60 the week before JetBlue begins local flights drops to $139.60 for travel on July 20, Stull said. Rochester, which costs $159.60 for a one-way ticket, drops to $114.60 after July 20.

A one-way nonstop from RDU to Boston that costs $289.30 before JetBlue service arrives drops to $134.30 by July 20.

JetBlue's lowest one-way fares to Syracuse and Rochester are $99; to Boston, they are $139. All are via the JFK hub.

But Tom Parsons, chief executive of online travel site, said JetBlue won't offer the lowest fares to many markets from the JFK hub. A round-trip fare on rival Southwest Airlines to either Manchester, N.H., or Providence, R.I. -- airports near Boston -- costs as little as $158.

A round-trip fare to Portland, Ore., that costs $400 on JetBlue is $198 on American, Continental, US Airways, Northwest and Delta.

"The only place they really dictate the pricing is New York JFK," Parsons said. "When you look at the cities offered on ... [JetBlue's] Web site [via the JFK hub], you'll see lower fares in less than 50 percent of the markets served from RDU."

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