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Virgin starts ticket price war by matching BA offer

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic yesterday opened up a furious discount ticket price war with British Airways, claiming to have trumped BA's high-profile marketing campaign with the Sainsbury supermarket giant.

Virgin attempted to steal the limelight from BA by unveiling what it said were the lowest prices for a decade on its long-haul routes, including London to Los Angeles and New York. The move was in response to the BA price promotion, launched last week, which offered half-price tickets if participants spent money on groceries at Sainsbury's.

"We thought we could match that and we have the capacity to do it. So we decided to take them on," said a Virgin spokesman.

The Virgin offer matches the pounds 153 price of a return ticket to New York under the BA promotion, but the spokesman said it did not link the offer to purchases elsewhere. Other reductions include a pounds 220 ticket to Los Angeles and a pounds 280 return to Johannesburg.

Applicants have to ring Virgin by the weekend to take up the offer and must travel between January and May next year. Virgin has allocated 100,000 seats for the promotion and said it expected to sell all the seats by this weekend, after receiving hundreds of calls yesterday.

BA last night dismissed Virgin's promotion. A BA spokesman said: "Our scheme has clearly got people talking, including our competitors. Competition is excellent news for consumers. We've got hundreds of thousands of seats available and we think this is going to be popular."

Virgin would not reveal the cost of its price cuts, but insisted many of the seats would have otherwise not been filled on its fleet of 20 jets. "If we fill these seats with the promotion, it's better than not filling them," said the spokesman.