Federal travelers will have an incentive to plan their business trips early this year, thanks to a new airfare program negotiated by the General Services Administration. The program offers prices even lower than the already discounted federal rates for a limited number of seats for airfares in 337 test markets. GSA chose the markets from a random sample of the federal government's 2,000 most-traveled markets. The restricted fares are anywhere from $20 to $100 less expensive than the traditional unrestricted, or "walk-up," rates available to federal travelers. But since they are available only on a limited number of seats, budget-conscious travelers will book the reduced fares early. "Federal travelers are going to have to make some changes," said Sue McIver, director of GSA's Services Acquisition Center. While it remains to be seen whether federal travelers will actually take advantage of the new test fares, airline carriers are happy because the early booking will help them manage their inventories better, said McIver. Tickets can still be bought under standard government rates at the last minute if seats are available. There are no cancellation fees on the special discounted fares. Unrestricted standard fares will continue to be available in the test markets. This year, GSA awarded contracts for walk-up fares to 14 airlines at an average 72 percent savings over unrestricted coach fares offered to the general public. Walk-up fares are negotiated each year under GSA's city-pair program. The contracts are awarded competitively based on the best overall value to the government for travel between specified pairs of tickets. Walk-up tickets don't require advance purchase and have no minimum or maximum stay requirements, travel time limits, charges for cancellations or blackout periods. The terms of the agreements are so favorable to travelers that airlines refuse to extend the rates to government contractors. Federal fliers will have almost 5,000 routes to choose from in fiscal 2002. Discounted fares for federal employees include $37 one-way from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National airport (down from $40 in 2001); $90 one-way from Chicago's O'Hare to Washington Reagan (up from $52 in 2001); and $66 one-way from Boston Logan to Washington Reagan (down from $70 in 2001). The 2002 contracts include 91 additional markets offering nonstop routes. "In 95 percent of markets where nonstop was available, we were able to offer it," said McIver. The contract awards and prices are effective Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 30, 2002. Travelers can search for fares online at GSA's city-pairs Web site: http://www.fss.gsa.gov/citypairs/
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