CVG widens airfare gap: Are flights getting less expensive?

HEBRON, Ky. – The airfare gap between the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and its biggest regional rivals to the north and south is widening.

CVG – for the second consecutive quarter – proved a less expensive option than both Dayton and Louisville, airports that, in years past, bled local passengers in search of cheaper flights.

An average round-trip ticket via Cincinnati cost $411 in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the most recent federal data released Tuesday. Fares at Dayton and Louisville were $416 and $415, respectively.

That ranks CVG 22nd among the top 100 airports in the U.S. – its lowest ranking since the U.S. Department of Transportation first compiled such reports in 1995. It had held the No. 1 spot – as the county's most expensive airfield – as recently as 2014.

It also widens the gap between CVG and Dayton and Louisville. It virtually pulled even with the two in the third quarter report; it was cheaper by mere pennies. Dayton now ranks as 18th most expensive and Louisville No. 19.

“The significant improvement in CVG’s average airfare position is a big win for both the airport and the community,” Candace McGraw, CVG CEO, said. “Lower fares are stimulating strong traffic growth at CVG.”

Ticket prices have fallen steadily at CVG since 2013. Average fares have declined year-over-year for the last nine consecutive quarters and 11 of the last, McGraw said.

That's a continued credit to the presence – and growth – of low-cost carriers Frontier and Allegiant. Allegiant Air is adding new service to Baltimore/Washington, D.C., this week and new service to Destin, Florida, next month. Frontier Airlines just added four new markets in April including San Francisco and Los Angeles and reached the one-million passenger milestone last month.

But even CVG's legacy carrier, Delta, has seen year-over-year growth in local traffic, and on five fewer routes. The airline ceased service to Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Richmond, Phoenix and Madison, Wisconsin, last year. February marked Delta's fifth consecutive month of growth, Bobby Spann, CVG's vice president of external affairs, recently told the airport board.

"We've spent the last three or four years banging Delta over head, (but) Delta is now starting to see some local traffic growth that they had not experienced in years past," he said. "As a result of schedule changes and hub changes with Delta, it's freeing up seats for the local travelers. That's a significant contributor to our overall performance."

A CVG two-way ticket still costs roughly 13 percent more than average. Fares at like-sized airports, or those with between 1-1.9 million originating passengers in the quarter, was $359. CVG ranked highest among those peers, which include Milwaukee, Jacksonville, Florida, and Omaha, Nebraska. The overall average domestic airfare nationally was $363.

Both Dayton and Louisville had less than 1 million originating passengers for the quarter.

While making progress, Patrick Sowers, founder and past president of the now-defunct Comair, which was once headquartered at CVG, says airport officials still need to increase competition on top business routes, like New York, Chicago and Boston, to break away.

"We’re still in the top 20 percent of highest fares nationally," he said. "Most of the fare reductions have been in the highly discretionary vacation markets served by Allegiant and Frontier. We now need to focus on our region's business travelers. We should stay laser focused on attracting JetBlue and Southwest to the mix in order to accomplish that goal."



Average ticket prices
Dayton $416
Louisville $415                  
CVG $411
Lexington $404                      
Columbus $378           
Indianapolis $364                  

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