It feels like everything is getting more expensive, and if you’ve recently looked at booking a flight for an upcoming trip, you might have winced at just how hard the cost of a plane ticket is hitting your wallet.
The most recent average airfare price in the U.S. is $357.10, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. When you’re looking at booking for multiple family members, that can take a big bite out of your travel budget.
It may surprise many people that base airline prices have remained steady or have even gone down a little bit since 2009. In fact, a Bureau of Transportation Statistics report shows that the average cost of an airline ticket in 2009, when adjusted for inflation, was $378.71. In other words, in today’s dollar value, the average cost for a flight 10 years ago was about $20 more expensive than today’s ticket.
That sounds great, but are we really saving money on our flights compared to 10 years ago? So many things have changed since 2009 in the airline industry that simply looking at the base price of a ticket is only part of the story. Airfare pricing has experienced some significant turbulence over past 10 years!
What happened? At the start of 2009, airlines started adding on a variety of charges onto tickets to protect themselves from rapidly increasing fuel costs. In 2008, The New York Times reported fuel costs rose 84 percent over the previous year, which forced airlines to add fees and cut services to its passengers.
This pushed airlines to make one of the biggest changes to the cost of flying: the addition of baggage fees. In May 2008, American Airlines introduced the checked bag fee and the rest, as they say, is history. Almost all airlines followed suit, and now it’s almost impossible to check a bag without a fee (unless you fly Southwest). Fuel prices dropped, but airlines kept their fees.
Among airlines that charge a checked bag fee, the lowest price is $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. So, when you add in the fees for a checked bag, that average price of $357 in 2019 goes up to $387 if you check one bag for $30 — about $10 more than the average cost in 2009.
Other extra expenses added since 2009 include seat assignment selection, food, beverages, pillows and blankets. Now, many airlines charge you to choose your seat. This summer, a USA Today reporter found the range of costs for an assigned seat on an American Airlines flight was $9-$62! And Southwest, which does not have assigned seating, charges $15-$25 (each way) for their Early Bird service that ensures you’re getting on the plane relatively early and thus getting a better seat.
You might be paying less on the base price of a ticket, but those extra fees can really make a great deal disappear into thin air. In other words, keep an eye out on those added fees and be on the lookout for airline deals on travel destinations to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.