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When we add a new vacation destination, say Acapulco, the plane may go out full. If it does a turn around, ( comes right back to the origin city. ) it usually will come back empty, or with just a handfull of passengers.
Last year I had business on Guam (tough luck huh?) My company allowed me to fly business first on Continental. LAX to Guam was $4,400. But if I was willing to add a few days in Palau (fly on the same planes from LAX to Guam) the fare was only $4,000. They paid me $400 to take an extra flight and get 6 dives in Palau.
I won't complain, just wish I had more business in Guam.
Look up codeshare and you'll answer your own questions.
The Northwest, Continental, KLM codeshare alliance has been in place for some time. They signed an agreement with Delta last year. Your frequent flyer miles are good on all 4 airlines. You'll get different prices based on the day and even time of the day you look up the fares. You can buy a ticket on any of these airlines through any of their websites. And, some of the flights are operated by their regional carriers. Northwest has 2 main regionals, Mesaba and Pinnacle. Continental has Continental Express as a major regional carrier. Delta has several including Comair and ASA. Airline ticket prices change instantaneously as demand and supply seesaw. This is controlled by computer systems looking at seats remaining and days/hour before the flight. Don't try and figure it out, because I fly for one of the carriers mentioned above and still can't predict the price of a ticket. )