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Stay Longer or Pay Higher Airfares

Carol Sottili

Once upon a time, before discount airlines became major players, the legacy airlines typically required Saturday-night stays to discourage business travelers from scooping up the cheaper leisure fares. That changed when airlines such as Southwest and Airtran started gaining market share with cheap fares, and far fewer restrictions. The legacy carriers fell into line, getting rid of most minimum stay requirements, especially on routes where they competed with the discounters. But that's changing.

Many of the cheapest fares are again requiring minimum stays, but airlines are getting creative. Saturday-night minimums are still kicking around, but two-night or three-night minimum stays during the week are also popping up.
Here's some typical language for a cheap seat on American Airlines between Washington National and Chicago: "When departure from fare origin is Sunday-Thursday, then travel from last stop must commence no earlier than two days after departure......When departure from fare origin is Friday-Saturday, travel from the last stop must commence no earlier than one day after departure." In other words, the language prohibits overnight weekday travel, which is common among business travelers.

It's no surprise that airlines are trying to restrict the cheapest fares to leisure travelers. A study by American Express Business Travel Monitor recently concluded that, in the face of rising ticket prices, companies are encouraging their employees "to modify their behavior by purchasing tickets in advance and on lower classes of service when appropriate."

Basically, more bodies are fighting for the cheap seats. And the airlines want their bread-and-butter passengers, namely business travelers, to continue paying the bigger bucks.

By Carol Sottili |  September 2, 2008; 9:52 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
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