Seasonal airfare discounting has spread to United States routes with return tickets dropping below $900 return and one-way tickets falling to $599.

The fares, pushed lower by more competition and capacity, are a quarter of what they were a generation ago, when adjusted for inflation.

In contrast to the current ''golden age of travel,'' the cheapest Air New Zealand economy class return fare to Los Angeles was $2196 in 1983. That's when Sir Robert Muldoon was prime minister and the year Lorraine Downes was crowned Miss Universe.

Adjusted for inflation, that fare is $4740 in today's dollars.

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Falling Fares:



Air fares have been dropping progressively as competition has increased, aircraft have become more efficient and airline running costs cut.

Flight Centre was offering fares as low as $899 to Los Angeles return travelling on
American Airlines between January 20 and June 30 next year. The agency also had Hawaii return flying on Air New Zealand for $699 return at the weekend.

House of Travel is advertising Air New Zealand one-way fares to its three mainland United States destinations - Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston - for as little as $599 for next March.

''Early Bird'' fares are put into the market at this time of the year by airlines which are trying to fill their planes well in advance to get certainty around revenue.

House of Travel marketing director Ken Freer said competition between long-haul carriers to Europe was pushing down fares on those routes and the same was happening across the Pacific to the US, with the entry of American Airlines in particular.

''With substantial extra capacity to Europe, airlines need to keep North America very competitive or else they would lose business, he said.

Last week Malaysia Airlines return fares to London were marketed at $1259.

With substantial extra capacity to Europe, airlines need to keep North America very competitive or else they would lose business.

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Sales to North America were up 20 per cent at his company.

About 140,000 Kiwis visited the United States during the past 12 months, with 15 per cent growth expected this year.

Freer said the economic feel good factor was helping boost those numbers with the dollar strong against other currencies, good GDP data looming and Auckland house prices, in particular, soaring.