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Airlines Hold End-of-the-Year Fare Sale

THANKSGIVING and year-end holiday travelers are being treated to a fresh round of air-fare discounts on many domestic and international routes. Most major airlines followed the price cuts of up to 50 percent announced by Delta Air Lines earlier this week.

Airlines traditionally cut fares to increase ticket sales in the sluggish winter months but industry-wide traffic has been flat compared with last year, prompting a string of discount sales in the recent weeks, say airline analysts.

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Delta's cuts of up to 50 percent include travel to destinations in Canada and the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Round-trip, nonrefundable tickets must be bought seven days before travel, and the deadline for purchases is Nov. 20. The discount covers flights from Nov. 20 through Feb. 29, but some holiday dates are blacked out.

For travel to 30 destinations in Europe, India, and Singapore, no advance purchase is required, and purchasers may travel between now and Dec. 13 and between Dec. 25 and Feb. 29. No other holiday blackouts apply.

Trans World Airlines announced a sale of up to 50 percent on US flights and 30 percent on international routes.

The fare cuts come at a time when the US airline industry, still smarting from recent losses, is expected to consolidate through buyouts and mergers.

This week, United Airlines backed off from making an expected a bid for USAir Group Inc.

Large US carriers will have to build their businesses through mergers as newer, lower-cost carriers siphon passengers, said Michael Culver, an analyst with First Equity Development Inc.

''One of the ways to get growth for shareholders is to acquire something,'' Mr. Culver said. ''There are still a lot of reasons to consolidate in this industry.''

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United's decision was expected by many industry analysts who said the deal would have cost more and required greater worker concessions than UAL's employee-owners could tolerate.

USAir said it would seek other solutions to its financial problems. The Arlington, Va.-based company has reported annual operating losses for each of the last five years. ''This industry will change in the years ahead; that is inevitable,'' USAir Chairman Seth Schofield said. ''And this airline will be ready and fit to play a leading role in that change.''

Acquiring USAir, valued at an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion, would have given United a stronger presence along the East Coast, including a lucrative New York-to-Washington shuttle.

But detracting factors included USAir's costs - the industry's highest - and the difficulties of bringing USAir employees into UAL's employee stock ownership plan.

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