New low airfares available for flexible Sea-Tac traveler

An old-fashioned airfare war has broken out at Sea-Tac Airport as new competition battles with incumbent airlines for passengers.

While winter usually triggers airfare price reductions, this year’s discounts in some cases harken back to when airlines routinely cut fares to win business.

How good are those fares? How about $97 roundtrip fares to San Francisco? To Los Angeles-area airports, some fares are now as low as $137 roundtrip.

And in some cases, the under-$100 one-way fare is back to the East Coast. Alaska Airlines, for instance, is offering a roundtrip from Sea-Tac to Philadelphia for $197 on limited days.

Other battleground routes are Sea-Tac to Denver where Delta Air Lines is entering the market to compete with Alaska, United, Southwest and Frontier airlines on nonstop flights. Some airlines are offering $197 fares for return trips to the Mile High City.

Sacramento, California, also is available for as little as $97 roundtrip on Alaska, and New Orleans, Tampa and Houston are priced at $257 roundtrip on several airlines.

While fares are advertised at low prices, airlines are carefully restricting the availability of the lowest fares to low-traffic days in midweek and to flights at less popular departure and arrival times.

The high-traffic days just before major holidays typically aren’t available for the lowest fares, and whole weeks during popular school holiday periods are blacked out in the fare sales.

Day-to-day prices can vary widely. Virgin America, for instance, is offering limited flights to San Francisco for $91 each way on some late Christmas Eve and Christmas Day flights, but flights returning to Sea-Tac on Sunday, Dec. 28 are priced at $249 and up. The Sunday after Christmas is the most popular travel day during the holiday period.