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The air fare wars are back!

Over the past few weeks, airlines held the line on ticket prices to see just how much summer travel would be off because of the recession.

A lot, judging by the fare war that erupted Tuesday and is clearly aimed at filling a lot of empty seats between now and early winter.

Three discount carriers got the whole thing started.

Southwest Airlines Fare SaleSouthwest Airlines is offering fares of $30 each way on flights of 400 miles or less, $60 for flights between 401 and 750 miles, and $90 longer trips. You’ve got to travel between Sept. 9 and Nov. 18, those fares aren’t available on Fridays and Sundays, and tickets must be purchased before the end of the day.

AirTran Airways has cut fares as low as $39 each way, with the cheapest tickets available for flights on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can travel from mid-July through Nov. 11, but tickets must be purchased by Thursday.

Frontier Airlines’ sale covers travel from Aug. 10 through Jan. 15, with blackout dates around the holidays, and you have until Tuesday to buy tickets.

With most competitors scrambling to match those prices, this is an excellent time to book a trip you might have been planning.

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