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2nd group seeks probe of NWA fees

By Joshua Freed

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- A second travel group is asking the Justice Department to investigate new Northwest Airlines fees that took effect Wednesday.

The fees incensed travel agents, who said the $7.50 charge for a round-trip ticket purchased through systems used by travel agents amounts to a fare increase.

The Business Travel Coalition wrote to the Justice Department this week to assert that Northwest added the fee hoping that other carriers would follow because it hasn't been able to raise fares directly.

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"The pre-announcement is a clear invitation to Northwest's competitors to follow its lead and agree to this across-the-board price increase," the Business Travel Coalition wrote. "Northwest knows it cannot sustain such a fare increase on its own -- and is therefore plainly engaging in the price negotiation with other carriers that DOJ has expressly forbidden."

A Northwest spokesman didn't immediately respond to written questions about the coalition's complaint.

No other airlines have matched Northwest's new fees.

"We're going to monitor the situation, but at this point we're not matching," said United spokesman Jeff Green.

"I don't have anything new to tell you," American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said.

The DOJ rule cited by the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group representing the interests of buyers of business travel services, expired Aug. 10. The coalition's Kevin Mitchell said Northwest's timing of the fee, announced Aug. 24, was "interesting."

Mitchell, whose group represents corporate travel purchasers, said Northwest's fee is exactly the kind of thing that drives travel purchasers toward ticket sellers like the online discount sites.

"That is not the way corporations want to be treated. They want to be negotiated with, not dictated to," Mitchell said.

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