UPDATE 1-United Airlines profit up on higher fares, last-minute purchases

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NEW YORK, Jan 23 (Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc reported a higher quarterly profit on Tuesday, helped by higher fares and more last-minute ticket purchases.

The No. 3 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic reported fourth-quarter net profit of $580 million, or $1.99 per share, compared with $397 million, or $1.26 per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Excluding special charges, United reported profit of $1.40 per share, beating Wall Street's average estimate of $1.34 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Its shares rose almost 3 percent in after-hours trading.

In the fourth quarter, United reported a 0.2 percent increase in passenger unit revenue, in line with the carrier's earlier guidance.

The Chicago-based airline's results follow a strong fourth-quarter performance and quarterly outlook by rival Delta Air Lines Inc, which reported better-than-expected profit earlier this month. (Reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Bill Rigby)