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United cuts airfare for Guam-Saipan route amid protest over steep rates




By Bryan Manabat


Saipan-- On the heels of residents' protests over the "excessively" high airfares for the Saipan-Guam flights, United Airlines has lowered the rate for the route in question.


The new roundtrip ticket prices are $299 for basic economy and $399 for standard economy, including taxes and fees is a welcome change for both Guam and CNMI residents.


This developed following a complaint filed by Saipan residents with federal and local agencies against United, challenging the high airfare rates it sets for CNMI travelers.


The petitioners led by Glen Hunter sought an investigation into United’s “monopolistic practices, excessive fare increases and price gouging.”


“Private U.S. citizens and residents of the CNMI, have been directly affected by these practices, which we believe are exploitative and unjust,” said Hunter, the CNMI governor’s special assistant for Broadband Policy & Development.


The new roundtrip price quotes became available on April 8 and can be seen on United's 30-day calendar rates for the Guam-Saipan route.


Dan Weiss, United's managing director for Global Government and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a letter dated April 10 to Senate President Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero and House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez to provide updates on United's travel information.


Weiss said with revised resident fares, United offers a ticket price of $281 less than the rate typically being quoted around $580 for the route.


Resident fares are intended for residents. Travelers are required to input their island location in the United website or app before starting a flight search, he added.


United has also adjusted the mileage required to purchase a reward ticket on the Saipan-Guam route to 15,000 miles per direction or a total of 30,000 miles roundtrip.


"Generally, the rate of 15,000 miles is among the lowest mileage requirements that United offers on domestic segments with the U.S. mainland," Weiss said.


The mileage cut for reward bookings took effect on April 9.


“United hopes these price changes will be reviewed positively by the CNMI Legislature and community at large, and as an attempt by United to partner with our communities," Weiss said.

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Hunter, who filed his complaint as a private citizen, noted that previously the United roundtrip fare for a 120-mile, 25-minute flight on a Boeing 737 aircraft was $274. “However, in December 2022, a few months following the cessation of pandemic-related restrictions, the fare was abruptly increased to $580 without adequate notice, explanation or justification,” he said.


A price check online showed that a roundtrip ticket between Honolulu and Los Angeles, with a distance of 2,560 miles, costs between $249 and $273.


The CNMI-Guam price is not only disproportionate to the distance traveled but also stands as one of the highest-priced routes per mile operated by United,  Hunter added.


Hunter urged the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,  and the CNMI Office of the Attorney General to investigate United's practices.



 

 

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