Get ready for an airfare war: Dallas Love Field reopens

Harriet Baskas | NBC Today

There's plenty for deal-seeking passengers to love about the recent expiration of the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field.

Enacted in 1980, the federal rule hoped to foster growth at the then-still-new Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport by, among other things, banning long-haul flights from originating at the older and smaller Love Field, just 20 miles away.

For years, flights from Love Field could only land at other Texas cities, although the rule was later relaxed to allow non-stop flights to states bordering Texas, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.

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But as of last week, long-haul flights to anywhere from Love Field are allowed. That means "more competition, more choices and, inevitably, better fares for travelers heading to and from Dallas," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research.

On the competition and choices front, the change was immediate: last Monday, Southwest Airlines launched seven long-distance routes from Love Field (to Denver, Chicago Midway, Baltimore, Washington (DCA), Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Orlando.) Eight more destinations will be added in November and two more in January 2015.

"After 43 years, when it comes to Southwest and Love, we ain't no Virgin," said Southwest CEO and Chairman Gary Kelly, referencing Virgin America's Monday switchover of service from DFW to Love Field.

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Virgin America now offers three daily nonstop flights from DAL to DCA, LAX and SFO, and starting October 28th, it will have four daily nonstop from DAL to New York's LaGuardia Airport.

"I have enormous respect for Southwest," said Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson after Virgin America's Monday first flight to Love Field, "but we'll give them a run for the money."

United Airlines, which operates two of Love Field's 20 gates, has plans to add additional flights as well. "We successfully compete with Southwest and Virgin America on routes across the country and welcome the competition," at Love Field, said United Airlines spokeswoman Mary Clark.

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All this competition should translate into great deals for passengers at Love Field and at DFW, where American Airlines will likely match any fare cuts on competing route.

At least for a while.

The window for using the celebratory discount codes and booking the kick-off sale fares on both Virgin America and Southwest have already expired. But going forward, "airfares will drop on average from 5 percent to 20 percent from both airports on competing routes," said Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of Fare Compare.

Data compiled by FareCompare shows average roundtrip fares (purchased 30 days in advance) between Love Field and BWI were $255 before full repeal of the Wright Amendment and $201 after. Flights to LAX also dropped, from an average of $285 to $259 and, from $378 to $206 between Love Field and DCA.

"The marketing departments and American, Virgin America & Southwest are going to wage weekly skirmishes on all their new nonstop routes from Love Field for at least 8 months, until summer hits," said Seaney, who predicts the airlines will soon start tossing in loyalty bonuses on the new routes as well.