February 13, 2004 -- United's somewhat anemic three-fer deal, announced earlier this week has spurred Northwest to come back with a wishy-washy response of its own. But budget travelers shouldn't despair; Northwest's spring fare sale offers some pretty good-looking international tickets.
First, the Fares
Northwest has put almost all of its routes on sale this week, but the real deals are in international, not domestic fares. To get these fares, fly by May 4 for Europe or April 22 for Asia. For February fares, the Europe fares listed here are just so-so -- but for April, they're great.
- Grand Rapids, Mich.-Frankfurt: $398
- Detroit-Paris: $398
- Memphis-Amsterdam: $418
- Minneapolis/St. Paul-Milan: $438
- San Francisco-Lisbon: $502
- Omaha-Vienna: $512
- Washington, D.C.-Hong Kong: $598
- Dallas-Busan, South Korea: $668
- New York-Shanghai: $698
- Boston-Beijing: $698
To get these fares, you must buy by Feb. 22 and fly Monday-Thursday. Tickets to Asia must be bought at least 7 days before traveling; tickets to Europe require a 14-day advance purchase. Asia fares require a six-day minimum stay and a 30-day maximum stay; fares to Europe require a Saturday night stay and a 30-day maximum. Interested? Buy online at www.nwa.com.
Now, the Three-Fer
Northwest's three-fer is less exciting than their fares. Here's the deal: sign up at this Web page (www.nwa.com/promo/123free2) by April 15, fly three roundtrips by June 15, and you'll get a free ticket good for travel in the lower 48 US states or Canada for use between September 2004 and next June.
Are there catches? Of course. Your free ticket has plenty of blackout dates and seats probably won't be available on popular flights or at popular times. And fares booked in the cheapest fare classes, the ones starting with L, T, and K, don't qualify for the promo.
For a flight between Detroit and New York, for instance, Northwest's cheapest roundtrip fare is $151 -- but that doesn't qualify. Their cheapest qualifying fare is $209. Spirit, meanwhile, can sell you a ticket on this route for $141.
For a flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam in early March, the cheapest Northwest fare does apply -- it's $401, a "V" class fare. But Icelandair, Continental and SAS all offer fares up to $80 less.
For a flight between Portland and Tokyo, once again, Northwest's lowest published fare of $643 qualifies. But United has several competing fares that are up to $100 cheaper.
Considering how restricted these "free" tickets are and how much you need to fly to get them, we don't think they're worth overpaying more than $40-50 per flight -- and that's only if you know in advance that you're going to be flying three times in the next few months specifically on Northwest. Keep that in mind when booking your tickets, and shop around.
Editor's Note: As we went to press yesterday afternoon, two more airlines jumped on the three-then-free bandwagon. Click here for Continental's promo or click here for USAirways' sale. A quick review showed the same piddly pay-offs as both NWA's and United's schemes: the cheapest fares are excluded.
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