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

May 11, 2022
3 min read
Ouch: US airfare spikes 18%, the highest one-month jump ever
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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.

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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.

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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 image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.