Update: This chart displays the same data with a Y-axis set to 0.
The Department of Transportation recently released average airfare data for the third quarter of 2013, and based on that update the chart above shows average annual domestic round-trip airfares, adjusted for inflation in 2013 dollars, from 1994 to 2013. Note: These airfares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include other fees paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft.
Here are some observations:
1. The average round-trip airfare in 2013 (through Q3) was $383.32, an increase of less than $2 (and less than 0.50%) from the average fare in 2012 of $381.56.
2. Average airfares have been below $400 for the last decade, and except for a possible recession-related drop in 2009 to $338.17, have remained relatively stable in a range between $365 and $383 since 2004. In other words, airfares have only varied moderately and have remarkably stayed within an $18 range for a ten-year period (excluding 2009).
3. Airfares last year were 16.5% (and $76) below the 2000 peak of $459.35, and below the average airfare in 1994 by 17% (and $79).
4. Over the last 20 years, domestic airfares have averaged $401.92, and last year’s airfare was below that average by 4.63% (and $18.60).
5. According to a different source (Airlines for America) with annual data through only 2012 right now, baggage fees were at an all-time high of $13.24 in 2012 and those fees are not included in the Department of Transportation data in the chart above. Airlines for America also reports the average miles flown per domestic round-trip, and that was at an all-time high of 2,356 in 2012, up by 21% from the average distance in 1979 of 1,947 miles. Once the Airlines for America updates its data for 2013, I’ll report those figures in a subsequent post.
MP: Many people complain about “high airfares” and many probably think that airfares are more expensive now than 5, 10 or 15 years ago. While it’s true that baggage fees have gone up in recent years, especially for those who can’t or won’t travel sparingly with carry-on bags, the base price of a round-trip ticket for domestic air travel has remained amazingly stable over the last decade. And compared to 15 or 20 years ago, air travel today is a real bargain. Bon voyage!
Update: In response to one of the comments, here’s a chart with data through 2012 of the real cost per mile of air travel, from 1979 to 2012, with and without fees. On a per mile basis, air travel in 2012 was about half the cost in 1979.