BA cuts European fares as it fights back against rivals

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The Independent Online

British Airways cut fares by up to a third on most of its European routes from Gatwick yesterday in a renewed effort to fight back against its no-frills rivals. But tickets at the new low prices were proving hard to find.

British Airways cut fares by up to a third on most of its European routes from Gatwick yesterday in a renewed effort to fight back against its no-frills rivals. But tickets at the new low prices were proving hard to find.

The move followed criticism of BA's decision earlier this week to slap a £5 fuel surcharge on all return tickets in response to the surge in oil prices. EasyJet described the levy as "disastrously counter-productive".

BA said the new low fares covering 38 destinations would remain in force throughout the year and meant savings of up to £30 on its previous lowest prices.

Return fares to Pisa, Prague and Naples have been cut from £99 to £69, including all taxes, fees and charges, BA said. Ticket prices to Venice, Barcelona and Madrid, meanwhile, start at £69 - a saving of £20 - while the lowest fares to Dublin and Jersey have come down from £69 to £59.

The new lower fares must be booked 28 days in advance, are limited to off-peak flights and are subject to availability. A quick trawl of BA's website, ba.com, yesterday also demonstrated that they are not very easy to find.

The cheapest flight to Prague, for instance, flying out in a month's time and travelling midweek to midweek, was £79.90, while a weekend flight, flying out on Friday and returning on Sunday, was £210.90.

The website quoted a price of £68.20 to Venice, again flying mid-week to midweek early in the morning or late at night. But for a weekend flight, the price was £270.20.

There was only one flight to Dublin, again midweek to midweek, which came in at under £59. The price of a weekend return was £102.80.

A BA spokesman said that some 200,000 flights would be available at the new low prices. Tiffany Hall, head of UK sales and marketing, added: "We operate more flights from Gatwick than any other airline and are now offering our best ever year round fares to Europe."

However, the no-frills airline Ryanair dismissed BA's move as "laughable" and claimed it was still "ripping off" customers, even with the new lower fares. Michael Cawley, the deputy chief executive added that BA was "running scared".

BA's European network has traditionally been heavily loss-making. In 2002-03, it lost £117m but in the year just ended, the deficit is thought to have been reduced substantially. Some of the airline's biggest cost-cutting initiatives in the last two years have been at Gatwick. BA no longer uses it as a hub airport and has cut its operations there by about 50 per cent.

BA reports its annual results on Monday, with analysts forecasting profits of about £200m for the year to April, 2004 compared with £135m the previous year.

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