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'Marketplace' Report: Travel Deals

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'Marketplace' Report: Travel Deals

Business

'Marketplace' Report: Travel Deals

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

Airfares this summer are expected to be really high already. It's really expensive to fly almost anywhere, except between Columbus, Ohio, and California if you take a new airline called Skybus. They are charging as little as $10 a seat. Yes, $10 a seat.

MARKETPLACE's Amy Scott is here now. And Amy, $10? Is there a catch?

AMY SCOTT: Well, yes. As usual, there is a catch. Few travelers are going to end up paying just $10 bucks one-way. Skybus is one of the new so-called a la carte airlines, which means that $10 bucks buys a seat on the plane and that's it. If you want to check baggage, you have to pay for it. If you want a glass or a snack on the plane, you have to pay. A reserved seat costs $11 extra each way, and the airline is only promising 10 seats per flight at that low rate.

Some of the base fares I've seen are $300 or more roundtrip. So, you know, add a sandwich and a piece of checked luggage and you could wind up paying as much as or more than you would on a competitor.

BRAND: Maybe a seatbelt. So what are its chances?

SCOTT: Well, some analysts are really skeptical. Right now, the airline only flies between Columbus, Ohio, and a handful of out-of-the-way airports. Bellingham, Washington, for example, is about 80 miles from Seattle. So some wonder how far people are really willing to go to save a few bucks.

But I talked to Joe Brancatelli, who runs a Web site for business travelers called joesentme.com. He says there is a market for this kind of barebones travel.

Mr. JOE BRANCATELLI (Publications Consultant, Joesentme.com): If you carry on your luggage, don't care where you sit, aren't going to buy a snack or a beverage, there is nothing wrong with the strip-down fare. A customer has to truly look at their needs, not what the market says you need.

SCOTT: And, you know, this a la carte model has been really successful in Europe. You may have heard of Ryanair, which is based in Dublin. Brancatelli says the airline has created a whole new class of Europeans with second homes in Spain or France because they can fly so cheaply. And some other North American airlines are trying this.

Next month, Spirit Airlines is going to slash its fares but start charging for baggage and soft drinks. Air Canada has also started charging less for people who don't check baggage or collect frequent flyer miles.

BRAND: And Amy, I've heard another European Airline that's coming to the U.S., Virgin?

SCOTT: That's right. Virgin America is expected to start flying this summer. It's connected with British airline Virgin Atlantic. But they're really going the other route. They're offering more for less; something similar to JetBlue, you know, leather seats, entertainment system, mood lighting.

Now, I asked Joe Brancatelli, is this really a good time to be starting an airline, given the troubles in the industry? But he says if they really, you know, distinguish themselves from the legacy carriers, if they guess right about the market, they might stand a chance.

BRAND: Thank you, Amy. Amy Scott of Public Radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE. MARKETPLACE is produced by American Public Media.

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