Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on the cheap... or is it?

Second highest airfares in nation

HEBRON, Ky. -- Candace McGraw, the CEO at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, says “price discipline” is what airport officials hope to achieve each time a new carrier announces it is opening up for business at the airport.

With each of those announcements, officials and air travelers alike hope CVG airfares will become more competitive. Over the past few months alone three new carriers have announced new service at the airport.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have more announcements of more air carriers in the months and years to come,” said McGraw. “We want to continue to attract new carriers and low-cost carriers; service diversity will give us price discipline.”

But while airfares at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky have decreased by nearly 17 percent since 2000, according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, average airfares here remain among the highest when fares at the nation’s top 100 airports are compared. The most recent bureau report found the average airfare at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky totaled $518.09 -- second highest in the nation in the second quarter of the year. Only airfares at Huntsville International Airport ran higher at $547.49.

Comparing average airfares at CVG with those other nearby regional airports -- Columbus, Dayton and Louisville – finds Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky the most expensive in 2013 – well above average airfares of $364 in Dayton, $381 in Columbus and $401 in Louisville.

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“US DoT data shows that Cincinnati had the second highest fares among US airports during the first quarter of 2013, so a few flights by two airlines is not really going to make a huge difference,” Lori Ranson, an analyst with the Center for Aviation, said of the recent entry of Frontier and Allegiant.

The new low-cost airlines touted by CVG may appeal to the vacation traveler but because they only serve a few markets they won’t make much of an impact on most of the airport’s travelers nor bring down overall pricing, she said.

Michael Mann, vice president and general manager with AAA Corporate Travel Service, has a more optimistic view.

“More airlines help,” he said. “I think we’re competitive right now because we have more choices. I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

For Mann the number of flights is important, particularly for business travelers.

“The size of city we are, we are fortunate to have the 125-130 flights on Delta,” Mann said. “We’re kind of stuck with high rates, but that gap is closing.”

For Cincinnati resident and frequent traveler Katy Crossen the direct connections and ease of travel are what matter most.

She travels four to eight times a year and the convenience to her work and residence, both in downtown Cincinnati, make CVG worthwhile.

“CVG makes that trip easy for me… direct on Delta. I think I paid around $300 for my round-trip ticket in August. I just booked a Thanksgiving ticket that cost me $500, but that ticket is prime travel times of Wednesday evening and Friday morning,”  she said.  “I don't mind paying the higher price for the convenience of direct travel and my desired flight times.”

She welcomes the new low-cost carriers at CVG and Ultimate Air Shuttle’s business traveler focused service that is expanding there.

“If I wanted to get to New York City for a quick, weekend getaway, I might consider the convenience of Ultimate Air Shuttle. The Allegiant Air trips to Orlando don't trip my trigger, but I like seeing the growing competition and am eagerly eyeing to see if CVG adds additional international destinations. I am traveling the Delta direct flight to Paris in December and would love to have more overseas options,” she said.

CVG’s McGraw sees the new service at the airport as only improving the climate for consumers.

“Competition drives all airlines to offer better product at a better price. Competition is king,” she said. “Frontier, Allegiant, are able to grow our passenger base. It’s going to stimulate traffic.”

Jim Huff, president of the Kenton County Airport Board, said airport officials will continue to work to bring more competition to CVG.

“[I] hope to see more of the same, continue attracting new carriers. We’re certainly working on that,” Huff said. “We’re going after everybody.”

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