Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published April 22, 2014 at 11:05 AM | Page modified April 22, 2014 at 2:47 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

US says average airfares rising slowly; $381 in 4Q

The average price of an airline ticket for travel within the U.S. rose by just $1 last year, although prices are still modestly higher than they were five years ago.


AP Airlines Writer

advertising

DALLAS —

The average price of an airline ticket for travel within the U.S. rose by just $1 last year, although prices are still modestly higher than they were five years ago.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday that the average domestic airfare rose to $381 in the fourth quarter of 2013, a 0.3 percent increase from a year earlier.

The government said that the highest average fares were in Huntsville, Ala., at $528, and the lowest were $249 in Long Beach, Calif.

The figures, which are adjusted for inflation, mostly count round-trip fares, but about one-fourth are one-way trips if that's what the passenger bought. Taxes are included, but fees for checking bags, boarding early or getting an economy-cabin seat with more legroom are not.

In the 12 months that ended last Sept. 30, the latest figures available, more than a dozen of the largest U.S. airlines raised more than $6.1 billion from fees on checked bags and reservation changes, according to government figures.

That's made airlines less dependent on raising ticket prices to boost profits. Airlines got 71.5 percent of their revenue from fares in 2013, down from 87.6 percent in 1990.

"The base fare may not be much higher, but because of the add-ons, it feels worse," said Rick Seaney, CEO of travel site FareCompare.com.

Seaney added that airlines are also pushing up fares for nonstop trips -- in some cases charging 30 percent to 50 percent more for the convenience of avoiding connecting flights.

The airlines are able to do all this because they are successfully limiting the supply of seats. After four major mergers since 2008, the four biggest airlines now control more than 80 percent of the U.S. air-travel market.

Most planes are likely to be full this summer during peak vacation season. That means when flights are canceled because of thunderstorms at big, hub airports in Dallas, Chicago and elsewhere, it could be days before stranded passengers find a seat on another flight.

The airlines have long argued that airfares have risen more slowly than many other things consumers buy, from a gallon of milk to the cost of college tuition.

Airfares are up 10.2 percent from 2009, when the U.S. was digging out from the worst of the Great Recession. But they are down 16.3 percent since 2000 -- the peak year for airfares -- while overall consumer prices have risen 33.9 percent, the government said.

"It's a great time to fly," said Jean Medina, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade group. "Air travel is one of the best consumer bargains in America, given its superior speed and price versus other modes of travel."

It's also a great time for the airlines.

Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. are expected to report this week that they earned a combined profit of more than $700 million in the first three months of 2014. That's usually the slowest time of year for travel, and it was considered remarkable when those airlines earned $200 million in the first quarter of last year.

Among the big four, only United Airlines parent United Continental Holdings Inc. is expected to report another large loss.

George Hobica, founder of the travel-shopping site airfarewatchdog.com, sees a connection between glowing financial reports and the slower pace of airfare increases.

"The airlines are profitable, and they've reached the limits of what consumers can afford, so they've dialed back on fare increases," he said.

___

Contact David Koenig at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

The Seattle Times Historical Archives

Browse our newspaper page archives from 1900-1984


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►