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US urged to probe Northwest Airlines fees

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Justice Department is being asked to investigate new Northwest Airlines fees that added $7.50 to the cost of a round-trip ticket purchased through systems used by travel agents.

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.

''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."

The American Society of Travel Agents filed a similar complaint last week.

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, unveiled Aug. 24, was ''interesting."

A Justice spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call.

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

Northwest has said the fees will be charged to travel agents, but travel agents have said they'll have to pass them on to fliers.

When Northwest unveiled its new policy last month, it also said it would charge $5 for buying a domestic ticket through its own call centers and $10 for buying a ticket at an airport ticket center. Buying through the Northwest website carries no fee.

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