updated 1/17/2008 5:49:08 PM ET 2008-01-17T22:49:08

American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier, doubled its fuel surcharge Thursday to $40 per round-trip, just days after a slightly larger increase led by United Airlines failed.

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A spokesman for Fort Worth-based American confirmed that the airline raised its previous fuel surcharge from $10 one-way and $20 round-trip.

Spokesman Tim Smith said American's fuel costs rose nearly 30 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, and 33 cents of every dollar American takes in goes to pay for fuel.

"If fourth-quarter fuel prices had stayed the same as the year before, it is conceivable that we would have been talking about a quarterly profit in the neighborhood of $180 million instead of the loss we actually reported," Smith said. "We expect fuel prices to remain high and volatile."

American parent AMR Corp. reported Wednesday that it lost $69 million in the fourth quarter, its first loss since early 2006.

FareCompare.com, a Web site that tracks air fares, said the increase at midday Thursday applied to business and leisure fares on most of American's routes but not on those where the airline competes with low-fare leader Southwest Airlines Co.

United, the nation's No. 2 carrier, raised its surcharge to $50 per round trip late last week. That move was matched by American and others, but it crumbled this week as some airlines pulled back.

The retreating airlines were afraid of giving a price edge to competitors who didn't fully match the increase. For example, Houston-based Continental Inc. pulled the $50 per round trip surcharge when it saw that other carriers were matching — but on limited routes — an executive said.

Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare, said the prospects for American's increase were helped by limited airline capacity, firm travel demand and record fuel prices. He expected the other so-called legacy carriers — UAL Corp.'s United, Continental, Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp. and US Airways Corp. — to match the higher surcharge.

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