AMR has decided not to prebook all the middle seats. The idea is to provide space for those who might be hit by canceled flights. In other words, AMR will voluntarily shrink its capacity. This action will lead to further price increases and an improvement in the travel experience of the passengers.
In the meantime, purely domestic carriers, such as Southwest Airlines (LUV) are getting hit especially hard by higher fuel prices. Thus, LUV will lead a series of fare increases. The average fare is still 11% below the 2000 peak. Adjusted for inflation, fares are 24% below the prior peak. With continued growth in demand, you can expect significant fare increases over the coming years. International carriers, such as Continental Airlines (CAL), have already raised ticket prices on long flights to offset higher fuel.
International carriers have used contract carriers to go toe to toe with domestic carriers. They are able to match price while providing continuing service to other destinations and while offering better perks such as airport clubs and frequent flier programs. Last week, AMR led a round of fare increases on non domestic flights and this week LUV is the leader on the next round of bumps.Yesterday, analysts used the numbers reported by AMR, DAL and NWA to adjust their CAL estimates. The biggest adjustment came from the most positive analyst at Credit Suisse. The result is a penny lower consensus of $2.17 and a reduction for 2008 to just below $5. The reduction to next year is part of the "game" of letting this improving industry build on its track record of beating analyst estimates. In an earlier report I detailed the high average percentage "beat" by CAL. Over at Legg Mason, Bill Miller continues to manage a few billion dollars well. One of his funds is better has an allocation of better than 7% in airline stocks. He owns all the majors with the exception of CAL. As you know, I believe getting the sector right is 90% of stock market performance. I am confident that Bill's fund will do well.