When we set out to uncover how much airfares have increased since last year, we expected to find swiftly rising prices. Inflation, the airline industry’s lingering capacity issues due to staffing shortages, and increased traveler demand have created a perfect breeding ground for higher airfare in 2022.
Our research looked at 128 million airfares in April in cities across the United States.
How much more can you expect to pay for a domestic airline ticket in 2022?
Our data shows that the lowest domestic airfare is up 26% from 2021. In the peak days of the pandemic in 2020, when most flights were grounded, airfares cratered. In the intervening years, travel has slowly rebounded, with 2022 seeing an acceleration in a return to leisure travel, exacerbating demand. The desire for travel came back so intensely, industry experts coined a new term for this post-pandemic enthusiasm – revenge travel. Business travel hasn’t rebounded quite as fast, but it too is on an upswing. With accelerated demand in a still capacity-strapped industry – fares are trending up, and show no sign of slowing.
What does this mean? Will we all pay 26% more for our flights in 2022?
In short, no. There are significant variations depending on where you live. We found that bigger cities are experiencing smaller increases, and the smaller cities are feeling a more serious squeeze.
Which cities saw the biggest increase in airfare?
It turns out that city/market size was a determining factor in our data. The cities with the biggest increases in airfares have smaller airports, servicing smaller metropolitan areas. The larger airports with more traffic saw airfare increases as well, just not to the extent of the smaller cities.
Here’s an example. The city we show with the biggest increase is Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is serviced by Cox-Dayton International Airport, located 10 miles outside of the city. If you live in the Dayton municipal area, you can expect to pay 42% more (a difference of $109) for an average domestic airline ticket than you did last year. The Cox-Dayton International Airport offers commercial service on 5 airlines, and in a typical year transports about 1 million passengers. In 2021, according to StratosJets, Dayton ranked at just #103 on a list of the country’s busiest airports. Clearly, not a massive airport.
This trend holds up across all our data. Smaller cities have the largest fare spikes.
The cities with the greatest increases in average fare over 2021:
You can see across the board the biggest increases in airfare are in smaller markets.
Why do smaller flight markets show larger fare increases in 2022?
We can speculate a bit about why that might be. Perhaps the biggest factor is the limited number of flights and airlines operating out of some of these airports. Smaller airports offered fewer flights and itineraries than other, bigger cities, but during the pandemic things really shut down. And now that the country’s travelers are ramping back up, there’s still a more limited flight schedule than can support the consumers right now. When scarcity meets demand, you get inflated prices. In the past you may have had a choice of 4 flights, for example, to choose from. Now, you might only have one – and the increased demand means you’re forced to pay more for that flight.
Which cities offer the best departure value?
In a word, the big cities offer the best value.
These cities have the smallest increase in airfare from 2021 to 2022:
What can travelers do to keep their airfare budget-friendly?
In 2022, if you’re shopping for airfare on a budget, you’re going to have to book early to increase your odds of getting one of the lower fares. And if you’re in a smaller market, at least for the time being, get used to much higher fares in general. If you don’t mind a drive to a larger airport, you could also shop in your nearest major market to compare fares. If it saves you hundreds of dollars, you might make the calculation to drive a bit further to capture better savings.
In the meantime, CheapAir.com can also help you save money. Just reference The Best Time to Buy Flights for a breakdown on when you should purchase domestic flights this year. There’s also monthly payments to help travelers take a trip and pay over time, and CheapAir.com protects your airfare with a free Price Drop Payback program. We’ll give you back up to $100 a ticket, should your fare go down after you purchase. We’ve got your back!
Here’s a quick reference for tips on how to combat higher airfare prices:
- Start your search early and look at the best time to buy flights for each city to understand the airfare landscape
- If you live in a smaller city, consider alternative airports in nearby major markets
- Book your flights on the early side to lock in a “good” flight price
- Spread out upfront costs with monthly payments if that helps your budget
- Protect your purchase with Price Drop Payback in case airfares change
This report covers domestic airfares, and check back soon for insights on international airfares from CheapAir.com.