The Airports With The Least Affordable Airfare In The United States

The most expensive airfares in the country are at Washington Dulles airport, followed by San Francisco, Detroit, Portland and New York JFK. That’s according to Department of Transportation data for 2021. They tend to be either expensive airports with limited competition (New York JFK is slot-controlled) or dominated by a single airline without as much ultra low cost competition as those on the other end of the list.

Among the 45 busiest airports, the places with the cheapest airfare are Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas and Miami. These are all busy airports with plenty of leisure traffic in destinations that have been open throughout much of the pandemic. The first three feature a heavy presence by ultra low cost carriers, while Miami – a high cost airport – has seen increasing ultra low cost carrier penetration.

Here are the 45 largest airports ranked from lowest average airfare in 2021 to highest fare:

Rank Airport Avg Fare Fare vs 2020
1 Fort Lauderdale $233.36 $18.49
2 Orlando $241.01 $25.08
3 Las Vegas $247.53 $37.58
4 Miami $263.76 ($2.06)
5 Tampa $270.88 $10.97
6 Chicago Midway $271.84 $37.20
7 Dallas Love $278.31 $18.82
8 Oakland $279.15 $29.13
9 New Orleans $281.04 $27.34
10 New York LGA $289.65 $9.74
11 Nashville $292.70 $21.74
12 Cleveland $295.22 $38.59
13 Denver $295.80 $42.99
14 Chicago O’Hare $309.70 $32.81
15 San Jose $310.74 $54.03
16 Austin $310.99 $25.40
17 Phoenix $312.37 $31.62
18 BWI $313.50 $46.08
19 Cincinnati $313.71 $47.66
20 St. Louis $316.16 $15.05
21 Raleigh $317.89 $29.07
22 Pittsburgh $325.72 $32.87
23 Atlanta $327.99 $28.75
24 Washington National $329.17 $13.41
25 Newark $331.69 $25.80
26 Honolulu $332.77 $36.39
27 Sacramento $333.16 $50.42
28 Orange County $334.43 $9.16
29 Houston Intercontinental $334.98 $10.48
30 Minneapolis $338.11 $29.35
31 Dallas Fort Worth $338.24 $14.74
32 Philadelphia $340.07 $46.96
33 Indianapolis $340.29 $53.74
34 Kansas City $342.63 $33.81
35 Seattle $346.47 $59.51
36 Boston $347.43 $56.90
37 LAX $350.25 $58.84
38 San Diego $352.58 $69.75
39 Salt Lake City $356.30 $26.74
40 Charlotte $356.60 $21.33
41 New York JFK $360.94 $16.59
42 Portland $364.40 $75.56
43 Detroit $366.33 $52.54
44 San Francisco $400.66 $62.55
45 Washington Dulles $408.08 $28.92

Chicago Midway is dominated by Southwest Airlines, and affordability is driven by carrier and passenger mix for the alternative airport to O’Hare. A siimilar situation prevails at Southwest’s base at Dallas Love Field, and with fewer business travelers among Southwest’s customers than in prepandemic times. Tampa has seen significant interest in the past couple of years as virtually any flight to Florida could be filled.

I’m surprised to see Austin in the top third of this list, despite having a significant presence from Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. There are simply more passengers than the airport’s infrastructure supports and gates in the main Barbara Jordan terminal are well-utilized.

I wonder how much 2021 data (what the DOT has to report on at this point) will be indicative of 2022, as airfares have gone up broadly. I’ve been seeing some $1500 advance purchase roundtrip coach tickets recently on non-premium cross country routes, albeit involving one of the most expensive airports on this list (San Francisco).

The airports that have had the biggest gains in affordability are Washington National, St. Louis, Houston Intercontinental, Newark and Dallas – Fort Worth. The airports The airports that have jumped the most in unaffordability are San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Boston. The biggest year-over-year cost increases were Portland ($75.56 higher average fare), San Diego ($69.75 higher average fare) and San Francisco ($62.55 higher average fare). That’s all before the bulk of the Omicron wave after which airfares have shot up markedly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The bottom line is GREED, pure and simple. Airlines will always look for ways to enhance profits.
    (screw the customer).

  2. Washington Dulles is an expensive airport becasue the WMAA who runs the airport so corrupt. Example: Replacing 20 United Express ground gates at IAD with 14 jet bridge gates but spending $800 mm for plain steel frame and glass curtain wall building. No one except an unaccountable government agency can get away with this!

  3. Gary,
    Hope that you will be able to do an extended column on the deteriorating situation at the Austin Bergstrom Airport. It is a total mess and one of the most unpleasant airport experiences anywhere. Over crowded, horribly understaffed, long lines with no end in sight. I will pay more for a ticket and use San Antonio to avoid Austin. Your thoughts.

  4. I am confused. Are these rankings based on flying in to or flying out of these airports?

  5. What does this really tell us, it seems pretty meaningless to me. You can fly anywhere on earth from JFK or SFO, the same really can’t be said for MDW, or BNA, or CLE. I’m also surprised by the average fare out of HNL. Clearly intra-island traffic brings down their average, further making this analysis meaningless.

  6. @Daryl Higgins – I have actually covered this, insufficient TSA staffing is a major piece of the problem but lines can stretch out even driving into the airport at peak times and the physical infrastructure can’t support the number of flights and passengers. The airport has long-term plans that will expand airport capacity but those won’t solve all of the issues or come quickly enough. More TSA screeners would be the thing that makes the biggest difference quickly.

  7. As a previous poster pointed out, if, as appears to be the case, the fare calculations are not somehow weighted for distance, this is a totally meaningless statistic. JFK average fares are heavily weighted to intercontinental traffic and, I imagine, on of the reasons LGA appears relatively “inexpensive” is that the 1500 mile rule keeps its average stage length quite low.

  8. @Gary Leff — to the extent we can advocate for anything at all, I would suggest as a first step, rolling out PreCheck for all travelers. This is a zero taxpayer expense move since we don’t have to hire any more screeners to do this. A PreCheck lane’s throughput is almost an order of magnitude higher than a regular lane.

    Replacement of the baggage x-ray machines with CT scanners will also speed lines although this has already been done in many airports. I do not know about Austin in particular.

    Doing away with the document check would also help. Many checkpoints now only require your ID, no boarding pass, unless your ID can’t be read or matched to the list of departing passengers. However, why check ID at all? It’s revenue protection for the airlines who sell nontransferable tickets. ID has nothing to do with the content of one’s luggage or pockets.

  9. My office is routinely paying $2000 for roundtrip coach on AS from SEA-IAD ($999 each way). It used to be around $300-600 on average. Seattle and DC are truly insane right now.

  10. There is a high correlation between passenger enplanement costs (the fees that each airlines has to pay the airport for each passenger using the airport.) and the cost of tickets. High enplanement fees usually means fewer discount or traditionally low fare carriers and thus higher average fares. Again, use my home airport as an example: At times, they have had the highest enplanement fees in the USA. Jet Blue bailed out as did Frontier. Spirit never showed up. Think about that $59 ticket on Jet Blue I used to buy: $59 less government taxes and fees of $18 leaves Jet Blue with $41. They pay IAD $25 in enplanement fees and they are left with $16 to provide transportation. That’s less than the taxes! No wonder discounters like JetBlue stay away from IAD.

  11. Looking at average fare by airport still tells a consumer “this is an expensive place to fly from, going to the places people go from here.”

    Adjustments for stage length are useful for understanding some of the *why* of the data, but that’s not necessarily the question that the DOT is answering here.

    It’s a total misunderstanding to call this ‘totally meaningless’ because it doesn’t get at the question you find most interesting…

  12. More Gary on Math and Science on the last response. Stick to shilling for credit card companies. At best, the data are useful for understanding price change at a specific airport. Without controlling for change in composition of destinations, even those conclusions are not well supported. As volume of European flights from JFK returns, average fares will increase. That does not make it an expensive airport. This is basically click bait with an extra serving of Gary math to fuel his inner carnival barker.

  13. Miami: I guess a better list would be “what airports charge the most fees per passenger” then extracombobulate from there. Makes about the same sense…..

  14. Oh, look, our favorite China bot is back. If you move everyone over to PreCheck then you have the same situation as before-long lines DUH! And who is going to pay their fees!!?? Precheck is for the rich entitled elite. I’m sure China would love for our security to get more “casual.”

  15. Nobody bothered to notice that MIA is the only airport that has seen a decrease in average fares since 2020 which bodes very poorly for the outlook for American’s MIA hub. There has been a huge increase in the amount of very low fare competition at MIA both domestically and to the Caribbean and northern Latin America. Given how important MIA is to AA’s network, this data confirms what many of us have been saying for years – AA has benefitted from an anti-competitive pricing structure for airlines by MIA itself while the recent changes are reducing the costs to operate there, bringing in lower fares and more service.

    As others have noted, adjustment for distance (looking at yield vs. average fare) is essential to draw any meaningful conclusions. Airports that have high percentages of longhaul traffic are going to have higher fares while airports with a high percentage of Florida esp. from cities east of the Mississippi are going to be lower. It’s not rocket science and it isn’t a question of what data one wants to see but what data actually matters. The government rarely provides the most meaningful data as the most accessible data but the data that matters is available with digging.

  16. Interesting to see so much gouging at UA hubs. It was not so long ago that IAD was super cheap compared to DCA due to perimeter limits at DCA. Maybe too many tech companies and tech bros with $$$ to burn on travel.

  17. Terrible metric, average airfare tells me nothing. If I’m booking from my flyover city to Europe, it’s often cheaper for me to book a positioning flight to those “expensive” cities and then a flight to Europe than it is to book straight through those same airports. And if I’m going through New York, there’s no such thing as a direct flight to JFK since I’m within the LGA bubble, I have to make the cross-city transfer anyway.

    The other misleading stat is that major hubs often have non-stop flights, which are usually priced more than connecting flights from flyover cities. Businesses prefer non-stops, even at the higher price, it makes their employees more efficient – it’s total cost, including employee time that counts, not just the cost of the ticket.

    Tossing all the flights into one bucket and giving me an average price tells me nothing about my individual flight.

  18. I’m sure the higher prices at Dulles are due to the Metro Silver Line extension and the added costs of building the station.

  19. Wish I knew where SAT stood on this list. Many San Antonians make the 75 mile drive to Austin because airfares there 99% of the time are lower than San Antonio.

  20. Charlotte is always among the highest. AA has little competition and can basically charge what they want

  21. These prices between airports don’t really mean much without weighting for distance and destination. Partly some costs can be attributed to passenger fees, general COL, and slotting/carrier competition for those lower down the list.

    However, me using LAX as my primary flight base, one factor that is immediately crossed off is carrier competition (unless they are colluding). Unlike many major metros LAX is a hub or focus city for most domestics and even some international carriers. Even accounting for distance I can tell you a flight from LAX to SEA is cheaper than LAX to PDX simply because of competition on the respective routes. As well, a large chunk of the top 10 cheapest fares cater to short-haul domestic while larger ones have a much larger share of trans-Pacific/Atlantic flights which are naturally more expensive fares. MDW might have a lower average fare than ORD but I doubt you’re getting a non-stop international flight via MDW.

  22. Comparing to 2021 or 2020 is not fair as airlines were still trying to push demand. This year they’re trying to reign in demand to keep ops remotely manageable since they shed aircraft in April of ’20.

    Best to compare 2019 to 2022, and adjust for the inflation spike…

  23. The author says this in a comment: Looking at average fare by airport still tells a consumer “this is an expensive place to fly from, going to the places people go from here.”

    I think the criticism of the article is that it does tell me that, but so what? Dulles is expensive to fly from BECAUSE it has lots of expensive international flights relative to its quantity of domestic flights. The problem is you take some data with no context and present it as a ‘story’. And, actually, I have no idea what DOT is up to with this study. Dividing one number by another is NOT a study. That would be as useful as saying people with large feet wear big shoes.

    It’s a meaningless article because it purports to tell us something interesting about the relative cost of airports but controls for nothing. It is literally meaningless to make the comparisons here.

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