An air of confusion | AspenTimes.com

An air of confusion

ASPEN ” Competition between United Express and Frontier Airlines is keeping Aspen airfares in check for travel to and from several major markets, at least for now.

Savvy shoppers could still find favorable fares Friday on the airlines’ websites, even during peak ski season. Frontier, for example, was selling a round-trip ticket between Los Angeles and Aspen during the Christmas and New Year’s week for $592.38, with travel on Saturdays, according to its website. A nonstop flight on United Express at the same time was $772.

During the heart of spring break in March, United Express was offering a $699 round-trip ticket between Los Angeles and Aspen; $441 between Chicago and Aspen; and $508 between Dallas and Aspen. Frontier’s fares for travel on March 14 and 21 was up to hundreds of dollars more expensive.

“We’re seeking some low fares throughout the winter,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency and the local business community’s liaison with the airlines. Tomcich warned people planning to fly this winter to grab a good fare when they see it because it might not last. Fares are changing daily.

“There’s no rationale to what we’re seeing out there,” Tomcich said. “It’s constant change. It’s almost like a roulette wheel.”

Airline officials and industry analysts say many carriers will make drastic changes after Labor Day weekend. The number of flights will be slashed and fares will soar as airlines struggle to deal with high fuel costs.

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For now, it appears more seats on commercial flights will be available at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport during ski season compared to last year. Tomcich said he learned Friday that United Express added a third non-stop daily flight from Los Angeles for ski season. In addition, it announced it will use its CRJ-700 more often for service between Aspen and Denver and reduce use of its Dash-8 turbo prop aircraft. The CRJ holds 66 passengers while the Dash-8 holds 37.

United Express has 11 daily flights scheduled between Aspen and Denver right now, with 10 of those on the larger aircraft. Additional weekend flights are typically added.

Frontier started service between Aspen and Denver on its subsidiary Lynx Aviation in the spring. It has four daily flights scheduled for ski season.

Those flights will offset the seats lost from earlier moves, which included United Express reducing direct flights from Chicago to two from three, and flights from Denver from 14 to 11, excluding weekend additions.

“We probably are going to have a slight increase this winter,” Tomcich said.

But he remains concerned about industry’s struggles and the potential impacts on Aspen. United has made drastic reductions in its number of flights from major markets into Denver International Airport. That could make it more difficult for travelers ultimately bound for Aspen to find a flight from their home cities to Denver. Competition for seats into Aspen could be so intense that price hikes could scare away some travelers.

Tomcich said travelers from South Florida and New York might experience difficulties finding flights at all.

The completed and anticipated cuts will make airlines more flexible to react to demand. That could be an advantage or disadvantage for Aspen, Tomcich said. If advance bookings by skiers are high, United, Frontier and Delta might be inclined to add service or at least maintain it, he said. But if bookings are slow the airlines might be forced to react.

One thing is certain. Airfares will soon increase for peak periods like holidays and Saturday travel because of the nationwide reduction in flights. “It’s strictly a function of supply and demand,” Tomcich said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Los Angeles-Aspen

Date / Frontier / United

Sept. 20-27 / $358 / $428

Dec. 27-Jan. 3 / $592 / $772*

Feb. 14-21 / $459 / $463*

March 14-21 / $703 / $699*

Chicago-Aspen

Date / Frontier / United

Sept. 20-27 / $358 / $428*

Dec. 27-Jan. 3 / $766 / $1,276

Feb. 14-21 / $520 / $441

March 14-21 / $705 / $441

Dallas-Aspen

Date / Frontier / United

Sept. 20-27 / $378 / $458

Dec. 27-Jan. 3 / $704 / $892

Feb. 14-21 / $498 / $508

March 14-21 / $658 / $508

* Direct flight

All fares are roundtrip for Saturday arrivals and departures. All flights have one stop in Denver unless otherwise noted. Sources: United and Frontier websites as of Friday, Aug. 29.

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