Ouch: US airfare spikes 18%, the highest one-month jump ever

May 11, 2022

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Already expensive airfares are getting even more expensive.

New government data released Wednesday showed airfare jumped 18.6% on a seasonally adjusted basis from March to April, one of the largest categorical increases in the entire consumer price index and the largest-ever month-over-month increase for airfare. The spike from March to April follows another large jump — 10.7% — from February to March.

The “sold-out summer” is already well underway.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free biweekly Aviation newsletter.

Airfare is skyrocketing for a few reasons, perhaps most importantly because the public is not resisting the higher fares — both at full-service network carriers such as Delta Air Lines and ultra-low-cost carriers such as Frontier Airlines. Airlines took a massive hit to their balance sheets during the COVID-19 pandemic and are taking advantage of very high demand to boost fares to shore up balance sheets and retire debt.

“We haven’t seen a lot of resistance to the price points that we have in market, and our goal is to have reasonable price points in market up to day of departure,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said at last month’s earnings call, adding that the company believes its customers are willing to pay more for a higher level of service compared with its competitors.

At Frontier, the average customer paid just shy of $70 in ancillary charges — things like bag fees and seat selection — in the first quarter, 21% more than passengers spent in the first quarter of 2019.

Airlines are also facing high jet fuel prices due to both the war in Ukraine and more normal market fluctuations — and are passing some of those higher costs on to consumers.

Finally, capacity is becoming constrained for multiple reasons, which naturally leads to higher fares when demand stays strong. American Airlines is being forced to run a smaller summer schedule because some of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners it has on order are being held up pre-delivery by the Federal Aviation Administration for quality and safety reasons. United Airlines just suspended seven long-haul routes for June because some of its older Boeing 777s continue to be grounded — well after the airline anticipated their return. Also, an ongoing pilot shortage means that airlines are also being forced to trim the schedules of the regional airlines that operate flights for them.

More: Why are airfare and hotel rooms so expensive right now? 

This would all normally create a bleak picture for airlines. But with consumers willing to go along with the higher fares — for now, at least — it’s actually good business for airlines, which are now largely expecting quarterly profits for the rest of 2022 — their first real stretch of profitability since 2019.

If you’re looking to book travel, prepare for some sticker shock. The best advice we have right now is to be flexible if possible, and search around for various dates and trip lengths before booking your flights.

Delta’s Hauenstein agrees.

“If you’re looking for lower fares, you have to be flexible in terms of which days you’d be willing to fly,” he said.

Featured photo by Eric Lee/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.