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All aboard: US Airways and NWA join rivals in hiking fares

US Airways and Northwest Airlines joined their four major non-discount rivals in hiking fares by $20 roundtrip Thursday, making it the latest in a string of increases the airlines have ripped off this year as they try to cover record-high fuel prices.

Earlier in the day, Delta Air Lines matched the American Airlines-initiated $20 roundtrip fuel surcharge hike, leaving US Airways and Northwest as the only major non-discounters still on the sidelines.

United and Continental "joined in" last night, the farewatcher reported.

Graeme Wallace, of FareCompare, said it appears the American-led fare hike is "successful."

He said there's little difference between raising fuel surcharges and tacking extra on base fares.

The fuel surcharge is added to the base fare, "and then sales tax is applied," he said in an email message.

"Airlines gain a small marketing benefit from calling it a fuel surcharge, and one small advantage for the airlines is that corporate discount contracts are normally taken off the base airfare only, so fuel surcharges are not discounted," he said.

"A lot of fully refundable/changeable tickets now have at least a $140 fuel surcharge."

American launched the increase earlier in the week, after two industry attempts to raise fares failed over the weekend.

"Again, it's American Airlines throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if this attempt will stick," Wallace said then. "This increase marks the 19th attempt this year to raise airfares."

American's hike came in the form of a $20 roundtrip fuel surcharge on about half of its routes, Wallace said. The increase, as was typical of the airlines' multiple and largely successful attempts to raise prices this year, mostly sidestepped routes where American competes againsts discounters such as Southwest, Wallace said.

"Any overlap with Southwest was restricted to low traffic markets - for example Buffalo to Amarillo," Wallace said.

American launched a $20 fare increase Friday night on a third of its routes, then expanded it across the bulk of its route system later in the weekend. The increase unravelled, but United Airlines then stepped in Monday and tried to resurrect it. That attempt failed.

This year's airfare hikes have largely sidestepped routes that compete directly against discounters such as Southwest Airlines.

If American's latest attempt to raise prices falls apart, that "would obviously indicate that something has changed in the marketplace, given that all fare increases since the end of March have succeeded," Wallace said after American launched the fare hike.

Staff writer Scott Nishimura contributed to this report.

Trebor Banstetter, (817) 390-7064