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Continental rolls back airfare hike, then reinstates part of it

Forget Six Flags. Welcome to the roller-coaster world known as airfares.

Hours after bailing out of the industry's latest attempt to raise prices, Continental Airlines re-instated part of its increase on many of its routes, raising fares by $40 roundtrip, the top end of the weekend price hike, according to farecompare.com.

The airline, however, did not reinstate a $20 roundtrip increase on other routes, Rick Seaney of farecompare.com said in an email.

"We have seen this behavior in the past on fuel surcharges in the past when an airline tries to tweak the rules of airfares and is off a bit," he said. But it's "rare" to see such a "wholesale change" from an airline in such a short period of time, he said.

Seaney noted at the lunch hour that Continental travelers have about two hours to book fares at Continental's lower fares, before the new higher ones take effect at about 2 p.m. Central.

Southwest Airlines, in an unusual move, led the industry's latest fare hike late last week. Over the weekend, all of the major non-discounters -- American, United, Delta, Continental, Northwest, and US Airways -- raised fares up to $40 roundtrip. But they largely sidestepped Southwest on routes where they compete against each other.

Seaney said there were "some signs of softening" by Southwest's rivals over the weekend, as they "began to tinker some rollbacks."

"Airline ticket prices are going to be highly volatile in the coming weeks and months as airlines search for just the right mix of ticket price, add-on fees and flight cutbacks to stem the flow of red ink caused by record high fuel prices," Seaney said. "Air travel consumers should be aware of this volatility and take advantage of down swings – like the one most likely to occur later today as other legacy airlines are apt to rollback in the wake of Continental."

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808

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