Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
The Most Expensive Flights in the U.S. [2024 Data Study]
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Despite sharp increases in ticket prices since before the pandemic, 2023 marked a record year for U.S. air travel.¹ While there is some hope for relief² moving into 2024, airline prices remain high. To help travelers navigate this new normal, Upgraded Points analyzed the most recent airfare data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and calculated average ticket prices for every flight segment in the U.S.
U.S. Domestic Flight Price Trends
Domestic airfares increased sharply in recent years, but remain low relative to historic levels. Image Credit: Upgraded Points
Following a sharp decline at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, average ticket prices for domestic flights booked in the U.S., including both round-trip and one-way itineraries, increased from a low of $245 in mid-2020 to a record high of $397 in the first half of 2022. This 62% change, driven by a surge in travel demand post-pandemic, marked the fastest increase on record. Though average prices have slightly decreased since then, Americans still pay an average of $368 for their airfares.
It’s worth noting that, despite the perception of high prices, when adjusted for inflation, airfares are currently more affordable than in previous years. Compared to the early 2000s, today’s ticket prices are approximately 40% lower after accounting for inflation. For reference, the average airfare in early 2001 was $348, equivalent to over $600 in today’s dollars.
U.S. Domestic Flight Prices by Distance
Total airfares increase with distance, but cost per mile declines. Image Credit: Upgraded Points
Distance traveled is one of the primary factors that dictates airfares. U.S. flyers traveling under 1,000 miles can expect to pay around $200 or less each way. Longer flights, over 2,000 miles, average around $346. Despite the overall ticket cost increasing with distance, long-distance flights provide better value per mile. The cost per mile drops rapidly from an average of $0.85 for flights under 250 miles to just $0.15 for flights over 2,000 miles.
When comparing flying to driving, driving is usually cheaper for trips under 250 miles. However, once the trip exceeds 250 miles, flying often becomes the more affordable option. With standard driving reimbursement rates at $0.655 per mile, flying is generally cost-effective for all but the shortest trips.
The Most Expensive Flights in the U.S.
Among all U.S. domestic flights, the highest-priced itineraries share similar characteristics: they connect major cities to popular resort and vacation destinations. Specifically, 7 of the top 10 most expensive flights connect travelers in Florida and New York with the mountain destinations of Aspen and Vail (Eagle Airport) in Colorado and Sun Valley in Idaho.
Similarly, 2 of the top 10 connect San Francisco and Los Angeles to Nantucket, a popular summer destination for affluent travelers. At $770 one-way, the Aspen to West Palm Beach/Palm Beach segment is the most expensive flight in the U.S. and is 25% more expensive than a year ago.
Below is a complete breakdown of average airfare for more than 6,000 domestic flight itineraries in the U.S. The analysis was conducted by Upgraded Points using data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. For more information on the data, see the methodology section.
Airfare Outliers Based on Price and Distance
Certain flights stand out based on their overall price or price per mile. Flights between Colorado and the East Coast, with one-way fares exceeding $650, and those connecting the West Coast with Nantucket fall into this category. Despite their high overall prices, these flights average around $0.33 per mile, only moderately above the average.
Certain domestic flights are ~2x more expensive than expected, given their length. Image Credit: Upgraded Points
Conversely, some of the shortest flights tend to be the priciest per mile. For instance, the 135-mile trip between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., averages $365 each way, an astonishing $2.71 per mile. Similar high pricing relative to distance is observed for flights between Cleveland and Detroit and Aspen to Denver.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the best-value flights per mile are found between various U.S. cities and Sanford, Florida, the operating base for ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air and home to Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). Travelers can discover many medium- and long-distance flights in and out of Sanford for around $100 or less. The most economical flight in the U.S. on a per-mile basis is between Sanford and Las Vegas, averaging just $88, or $0.04 per mile.
The data used in this study is from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Domestic Airline Consumer Airfare Report. The statistics shown are for one-way trips, aggregated as directionless city pairs. In certain cities, data is aggregated across multiple airports to improve the quality of the fare estimates and to reduce redundancies in the data. For example, instead of showing multiple fare estimates for flights between San Francisco-area airports and New York-area airports, only one fare estimate is shown.
Airfares for each city pair include nonstop and connecting itineraries and were calculated using a weighted average of Q1–Q3 2023 data — the latest available — based on passenger volume. The distance metric is the nonstop distance, even if a nonstop option is not available. Only city-pair markets with data available for both 2023 and 2022 were included.
Despite increases in recent years, airfare prices are actually quite affordable when compared to years past and also when compared to other modes of transportation. While, due to high demand, certain itineraries are priced far above where one might expect based on distance traveled, the same is true on the low end, with some of the best-priced flights in the U.S. costing just pennies per mile.
1. U.S. Department of Transportation (2024, January 3). 2023 by the Numbers: More Flights, Fewer Cancellations, More Consumer Protections. Retrieved on February 4, 2024 from https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/2023-numbers-more-flights-fewer-cancellations-more-consumer-protections.
2. Kayak (2023, November 1). 7 things you can expect for travel in 2024. Retrieved on February 4, 2024 from https://www.kayak.com/news/2024-travel-trends/.
Featured Image Credit: Upgraded Points
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