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Airlines cut fares for travel in the fall

Planning a late vacation this year may turn out to be a smart move: Several airlines are deeply discounting fall fares, in anticipation of a drop in traffic following a busy summer.

American Airlines, US Airways, and JetBlue Airways, all of which serve Logan International Airport, are each running extensive sales on domestic and international flights. Other airlines are offering giveaways or more limited sales.

While it's not unusual for airlines to put their seats on sale in the fall, airline officials said this year's sales are different because despite nearly full planes all summer, air fares were unusually low.

That's forcing the airlines to compensate this fall by offering even greater discounts than normal, and by starting their autumn sales as early as July instead of the first week of September. They are also under pressure to be more creative with the marketing.

''The fare sales have to be bigger and more impactful, and they were probably announced earlier this year than before," said Gareth Edmondson-Jones, a spokesman for JetBlue Airways. JetBlue, already a leader among low-fare airlines, unveiled its ''million seat sale" last month.

The carrier will offer 1 million rides at discounts of up to 50 percent. Included are flights to all seven of its destinations from Logan. A 14-day advance purchase is required, and the fares are valid for travel between Sept. 7 and Dec. 15 -- excluding several days around Thanksgiving. The sale will run until all 1 million seats are sold.

JetBlue typically offers fall fare sales, Edmondson-Jones said, but the million-seat gimmick was necessary this year because ''if we just said, 'Oh yeah, it's the fall again, and there are low fares,' well, there were low fares anyway. It's a little creative marketing push."

A rival low-fare carrier, Song, is doing some creative marketing of its own to fill seats: Fly one round trip between Sept. 7 and Oct. 6 to get 100 free song downloads from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes music service; two round trips to receive a free guitar; and three to get an Apple iPod portable music player.

Song started the promotion Aug. 1, and today is the last day to book and get a prize. The airline isn't making it that easy, though: Song is not currently cutting fares, and has even excluded its cheapest fares from the promotion. Song's parent, Delta Air Lines, is running its own fall fare sale, to domestic and international destinations.

''You'll see that fares are extremely low right now," said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for the carriers. ''Delta and Song are looking to stimulate traffic during a really slow period of travel, and to get people on our airplanes."

US Airways has put nearly all its domestic and international flights on sale for the fall, offering, for example, round-trip coach seats from Boston to Montreal for $151 and to Seattle for $238. Familiar restrictions apply, including a 14-day advance purchase. European tickets must be used by Oct. 31, and tickets for the United States and Caribbean must be used by Dec. 15. On domestic routes, the sale fares apply only to Tuesday and Wednesday departures. Tickets are nonrefundable more than 24 hours after purchase, and the sale ends Aug. 16.

US Airways kicked off its sale Aug. 1, the day after the airline completed its strongest July in history, in terms of passenger traffic.

American Airlines started its fare sale Aug. 5 and is letting passengers buy the cheap tickets through Aug. 16. The carrier has marked down tickets on most routes, but requires a round trip and is offering the fares only for coach seats on off-peak departures, such as afternoon flights at midweek. A 14-day advance purchase is required. Domestic travel must be completed by Dec. 15; European trips must take place by Nov. 25. A Saturday-night stay is also required.

American's website lists one-way sale fares from Boston to San Francisco at $119 and to Aruba at $203, taxes and fees not included.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.

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