Virgin America has just launched an online "Go!'' fare sale, featuring one-way fares from Logan as low as $99 to San Francisco and $79 to Los Angeles for travel between April 14 and June 10 or Aug. 25 and Oct. 14.
With this move Virgin joins an already pitched battle between JetBlue and American for Boston customers looking to travel to the West Coast in the spring, and it demonstrates the value of having more competition in the market and particularly from discounters.
Both JetBlue and American were already offering seats at prices comparable to those being offered by Virgin to SFO, and American also matched fares for LAX (JetBlue doesn't begin flying to LA from Boston till June 17).
JetBlue's sale ended on April 8, but I noticed on their website there were still some $99 discount fares available in May for travel to San Francisco, and the carrier is still running a Buy 2, [roundtrip flights] Get 1 Free promotion for trips to select Western cities, including San Francisco, booked and taken through May 31.
American also appears to be offering the bargain $79 and $99 fares through the end of May and is offering triple AA miles for travel to SF and LA through May 31.
Typically, airlines operating in the Northeast tend to see an uptick in north-south travel in winter and early spring -- obviously, folks trying to get to warmer climes. So they tend to offer discounts and other inducements for transcontinental trips then -- and this is particularly true this year because of the decline in travel amid the slumping economy. And the pattern is reversed in summer.
I asked JetBlue spokesman Sebastian White about why there were still some $99 Boston-San Francisco seats available even though the sale was over. He told me that if a competitor, like Virgin, cuts fares in the market airlines will often make some attempt to match.
That this tendency is playing out at Logan is apparent. My pal Nicole Wong reported in February that since Virgin announced in December that it would break into the Boston market, round-trip airfares for nonstop flights to San Francisco on competing carriers had fallen 41 percent in the first couple months of the year, according to Rick Seaney, chief executive of airfare comparison website FareCompare.com.
All of this will clearly bode well for Boston travelers as JetBlue adds to its schedule from Logan, and Southwest prepares to enter the market in the fall.
"Virgin America's arrival at Logan has triggered a fare war with American and JetBlue resulting in travel to the West Coast being more affordable than it has been in years," said Edward C. Freni, Massport's director of aviation. "Because no single carrier dominates activity at Logan, competition is heightened to the benefit of the consumer. Let the fare wars begin!"