As of 4 p.m. EST Thursday, United rolled back its fare increase of up to $10 on round-trip flights after other major airlines failed to match it.
United raised the fares on most of its domestic routes late Tuesday. But by Wednesday afternoon, only Delta had matched it with a similar increase on many of its routes. On Thursday Delta rolled back its fare hike and United followed a few hours later, says Rick Seaney of the fare tracking site, FareCompare.com. Seaney says it was the 14th time this year that an airline had tried to boost fares, and it was the eighth attempt that failed.
But it was unclear late Wednesday whether other airlines would follow United's lead.
United raised one-way fares between $2 and $5 Tuesday night. But by Wednesday evening, only Delta had begun "significant matching,'' says Rick Seaney, of FareCompare.com which tracks ticket prices.
Attempts to raise fares often falter if they're not matched across the industry, as no carrier wants to be too out of line in pricing against its competitors.
United's move was the 14th attempt by an airline to boost fares this year. But Seaney says only six so far have stuck.
Last year, airlines tried to boost ticket prices 22 times. Nine of those attempts succeeded.
The industry has said past increases were necessary to offset the volatile cost of fuel. And United said its latest price bump "will help cover the increased cost of doing business,'' according to spokeswoman Christen David.
Airlines have had leeway to charge more since they've cut back on flights and seats in an effort to make sure their planes are flying full in a move to make an often elusive profit.
U.S airlines raised fares last month after Southwest sparked an increase of $5 each way on about 400 routes. Other airlines then followed suit. Southwest also led the way in hiking fares in August, again with increases on selected routes.
But some fare watchers have said that passengers are getting to the end of their rope, and may choose to stay home rather than come up with more cash to fly.
"Some will stay home or drive,'' says George Hobica, founder of the fare deal site, airfarewatchdog.com. Still, fares are lower than they were in the 1990's. "It's not like we will ever go back to 1959, the dawn of the jet age, when it cost five or six times what it costs today to fly coast to coast.''