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"Low Cost Airlines" Aren't Always the Cheapest

by Jack Penning

Posted on May 9, 2006 at 5:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

As NewsChannel 8 reports tonight, our own survey of 14 different trips shows the full-service, "legacy airlines" offered lower fares than "low-cost carriers" more than 60-percent of the time out of PDX. In cases where the LCCs had better fares... it was often by a small margin. Complete results of our survey are listed below.

Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) are considered airlines that offer generally low and uncomplicated fares, with few frills. LCCs typically offer only one class of service and fly many point-to-point, non-stop routes. Traditional low cost carriers serving Portland include Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and jetBlue.

Legacy airlines are the traditional "majors." These airlines usually offer a first or business class. They fly complicated route structures based on transferring passengers through hubs. They offer complex frequent-flyer programs, and many of them fly far-flung international routes around the world. Legacy carriers at PDX include Air Canada, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, America West/US Airways, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Lusthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

Some legacy airlines are working to "re-brand" themselves as low-cost carriers by streamlining their ticketing policies and route structures. America West/US Airways (the two will be fully merged in the next year) argues that it's the largest low-fare carrier in the world. But it still has first class and complicated ticketing rules. Likewise, Alaska Airlines says it's transformed itself into a low cost carrier... but most still consider it a legacy airline due to frills offered on board.

The most important information to note, though, is that there isn't much price difference between the LCCs and the legacy airlines. Most are very competitive on all routes. LCCs are charging more than ever before... mainly due to increasing fuel prices... so the legacy airlines are able to match or beat their lowest fares. These days you can't just assume Southwest will be cheapest because they always have been. We've found Southwest is often more expensive than Alaska, United, and many others out of PDX.

Low Cost Carriers vs. Legacy Airlines
Survey completed at noon on Tuesday, May 9th.
Survey uses airlines' own websites to determine fares for specific dates of travel.

These Trips Depart July 22nd and Return on July 29th

PDX to New York City
Continental (to Newark): $387
Southwest (to LaGuardia, via ATA Airlines): $428
jetBlue (to Kennedy): $439

PDX to San Francisco/Oakland
United (to SFO): $164
Southwest (to Oakland): $191

PDX to Chicago
United (to O'Hare): $445
Southwest (to Midway): $471
Frontier (to Midway): $588

PDX to Washington, DC
United (to Dulles): $430
Southwest (to Baltimore/Washington): $455
Frontier (to Reagan National): $687

PDX to Boston
US Airways: $429
United: $452
jetBlue: $494

PDX to Las Vegas
Southwest: $258
Alaska: $275

PDX to Phoenix
Southwest: $283
Alaska: $345

PDX to Los Angeles
Southwest (to LAX): $279
Alaska (to LAX): $317
United (to LAX): $317

PDX to Denver
Frontier: $287
Southwest: $307
United: $321
American: $321
Northwest: $321

PDX to Orlando
Southwest: $441
American: $454
jetBlue: $498
Frontier: $736

These Trips Depart on May 12th and Return on May 15th

PDX to Las Vegas
Alaska: $399
Southwest: $405

PDX to New York City
Northwest (to LaGuardia): $395
jetBlue (to Kennedy): $509
Southwest (to LaGuardia, via ATA Airlines): $656

PDX to Los Angeles
Alaska (to LAX): $408
Southwest (to LAX): $457

PDX to San Francisco/Oakland
Alaska (to SFO): $291
Southwest (to Oakland): $291

The legacy airlines have equal or better fares in 9 of the 14 markets tested. In one market where Southwest wins (Orlando), jetBlue and Frontier are two of the most expensive airlines.

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