Got the urge to travel? Better buy tickets now

Airline, train, and bus passengers, hold on to your seats -- if you have bought your tickets already. You may soon be paying much more in areas where there is less competition between carriers of the same transportation mode, when discounts do not apply, and when companies cannot absorb the increasing cost of fuel anymore without passing it on to passengers. There are these illustrations:

* Airlines. By granting airlines the authority to raise many fares as much as they want, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), will, in essence, be providing those with the least competitive routes with the most incentive to hike ticket prices, informed industry executives say.

For example, these spokesmen say, on the highly competitive transcontinental routes a passenger may still encounter bargains as companies scramble for business.But on less competitive routes, such as the Eastern Airlines shuttle from New York to Washington, says one source, "the sky's the limit" on fares.

A spokesman for Eastern, which raised the New York-to-Washington ticket price out this possibility in the next few months.

Soaring fuel prices and past inability to raise fares adequately produced a first quarter loss of $74.9 million for Pan American World Airways, company chairman William T. Seawell told shareholders recently at a meeting in Miami.

Like the other airlines, Pan Am was delighted with the CAB's dramatic removal of price ceilings in its order of May 13.

But some industry officials worry that, given this new freedom, airlines will either price themselves out of the market or be accused of gouging passengers unfairly.

Industry officials see some consumer benefits in the CAB decision, which is part of the Carter administration's efforts to deregulate the airlines.

"With this new flexibility, we [ and other airlines] will be examining it [ fares] on a market-by-market basis," says Delta Airlines spokesman William Berry. Thus, while some fares do, indeed, go up, others may be subject to new discounts that are already more prevalent industrywide than this time last year.

* Trains. Amtrak, despite some recently offered discounts plans, raised most fares 7 percent April 27, and, according to spokeswoman Debra Marciniak, "We anticipate another increase in the fall."

But, because of higher fuel and other costs, an increase could come much sooner, she added. And some routes, such as the Washington-to-Chicago "Cardinal" run, were singled out for a 10 percent increase. On this hand and other routes, the cause for the fare hike was not so much a matter of competition but of inadequate revenues because of increasing fuel costs and low ridership.

Two months ago, Amtrak began offering a 40 percent discount fare for senior citizens traveling one way, and some round-trip discounts for nonseniors range from 15 to 30 percent.

But, unlike bus companies, which apply for and get fuel surcharges, Amtrak has to rely on general fare increases to cover increased fuel bills. Right now, Amtrak is paying 75 Percent more for fuel than it was one year ago, according to its latest calculation.

* Buses. The Trailways Bus System, the nation's second-largest private carrier, last raised fares in September -- 7 percent across the board. But the company is "going to be considering" raising fares generally in the next few months, a spokesman says. As with the airlines and trains, Trailways offers discounts -- one of the most popular being a 13 percent off rate for senior citizens.

Even here, however, ticket prices are going up, with the "hidden" increase being a fuel surcharge.

According to a spokesman for Greyhound Corporation, Trailways' chief competitor, its fuel surcharge has amounted to an increase of about "5 percent in the past year."

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