Weathering price storms

Oct 15, 2002 5:53 AM

   More Las Vegas-Washington flights could be in the air next month. And though National Airlines’ chance at those routes is a long-shot, the Las Vegas-based carrier’s presence is helping to keep prices down.

   National has two slots at Reagan National Airport, but has not been able to fill them because it doesn’t have any spare aircraft. That opens the door to America West or U.S. Airways, both of which pledge to expand their Las Vegas service.

   Still, twice-daily National’s service to Dulles International Airport in suburban Virginia is keeping competitors honest. Example: Rival America West is currently advertising $149 one-way fares between D.C. and Las Vegas, comparable to National’s rates. But AmWest flights between D.C. and its Phoenix hub, where National does not fly, are running double that.

   Industry analysts say such price gouging is common in monopoly markets. And that’s one big reason why travelers are hoping that National can overcome its financial woes. The carrier is scheduled to appear this week at another bankruptcy court hearing, which sources say should be “uneventful.’’ The airline last week reached an agreement with San Francisco International Airport to settle $580,000 in back fees to maintain service there.

   Meantime, National announced special cut-rate tickets to Reno/Tahoe, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth and the East Coast. A three-day sale, running through Wednesday, offers one-way fares of $79 or less between the East Coast and Tahoe and $69 fares between Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth and Reno/Tahoe. Travel dates are between Dec. 2-19.