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What's the Deal: Will Open Skies Mean Lower Fares?

Carol Sottili

If you've been putting off buying that ticket for spring travel to London in the hopes there will be a sale, get out your credit card. It's time to buy.

Virgin Atlantic, United, US Airways, British Airways and others are all offering fares of about $600 or less, including taxes, for travel in April and May. The lowered fares are a direct result of the new "open skies" agreement between the United States and Europe, which will go into effect this weekend.

Under the old rules, only four airlines- - British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United and American -- were allowed to operate between London Heathrow and the United States. Now that the doors have been opened to other carriers, lots have jumped in. Here's the line-up:
* US Airways daily from Philadelphia starting tomorrow.
* Continental twice daily from Newark and twice daily from Houston starting tomorrow.
* Delta twice daily from JFK starting tomorrow.
* Northwest daily from Detroit starting May 1, daily from Minneapolis starting tomorrow and daily from Seattle starting June 1.
* Air France daily from Los Angeles starting Sunday.
* United daily from Denver starting Sunday.

There will also be new service to London Gatwick and London Stansted.

All these new flights mean competition, so strike now while they're all battling for market share. And remember, you've got competition: The European Travel Commission announced yesterday that nearly 13.3 million U.S. visitors traveled to Europe in 2007, an increase of 2.6 percent over 2006.

Don't expect the same type sales to other cities in Europe, Yes, open skies means more flights to other destinations throughout the Continent, but they are spread out among various cities, so competition is not as fierce. And most of the new flights don't start until later in the season, so sales, if they come, have not yet been announced. Keep your eyes peeled. Among the new routes:

* Delta six times weekly from Atlanta to Stockholm starting June 3
* Delta five times weekly from JFK to Paris starting June 2 (daily in July).
* American daily to from JFK to Barcelona starting May 1.

You may have noticed a dearth of new flights from foreign carriers. They've mostly responded to the open skies agreement by adding more codeshare partners. BMI, for example, plans to ticket using United flights into Heathrow, with connecting service on its planes. In June, look for British Airway's new airline, OpenSkies, which will offer nonstop flights from JFK to Paris using retrofitted Boeing 757s that will have just 82 seats, with only 30 of them classified as economy.

If you want a peek at this week's best deals, check out the Travel page later this afternoon when the What's the Deal? column is posted.

By Carol Sottili |  March 28, 2008; 6:12 AM ET  | Category:  Airfares , Carol Sottili , Deals
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