Third Quarter 2020 U.S. Air Fare Drops to New Low As Passenger Numbers Decline

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The average U.S. domestic air fare declined in the third quarter of 2020 to $245, the lowest inflation-adjusted average quarterly air fare in Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) records dating back to 1995. The previous low was $262 in the second quarter of 2020.

Text - U.S. Airline Performance Trends

Third Quarter 2020 U.S. Air Fare Drops to New Low As Passenger Numbers Decline

Bureau of Transportation Statistics;

The average U.S. domestic air fare declined in the third quarter of 2020 to $245, the lowest inflation-adjusted average quarterly air fare in Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) records dating back to 1995. The previous low was $262 in the second quarter of 2020. 

Adjusted for inflation (constant 2020 dollars) the average 3Q 2020 air fare was:

Down 29.9% from 3Q 2019 ($349) Down 6.7% from 2Q 2020 ($262) Down 40.0% from 3Q 2015 ($408)

Air fares declined along with passenger demand. U.S. airlines reported 27 million originating passengers in the third quarter of 2020, down from 86 million passengers a year earlier.

The percent change is based on unrounded numbers. COVID-19 effects on travel were significant in the July-September reporting period.

Itinerary Fares: Round-trips, but includes one-way tickets if no return is purchased.Breakout of trip types: one-way, 45% ($202); round-trip, 55% ($285). Fare calculations by BTS*Based on a random sample of approximately 10% of tickets sold.Total ticket value: The price charged by airlines at time of ticket purchase.Included: Additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at time of ticket purchase.Not included: Fees for optional services, such as baggage fees.

Figure 1. U.S. Average Domestic Fares, 3rd Quarter 1995-2020 Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Origin and Destination Survey

Inflation-Adjusted Average Air Fares  

Third Quarter 2020 fare ($245):

Compared to all third quarters: Down 51.5% from the highest 3Q fare, $505 in 2000.

Compared to all quarters: Down 53.2% from the highest fare for any quarter, $524 in 1Q 1999.

Start of BTS records: Down 52.1% from 1Q 1995 ($511).

Recent high: Down 43.3% from 1Q 2015 ($432). 

Recent low:  Down 6.7% from 2Q 2020 ($262).

All-time low: Down 6.7% from the previous low 2Q 2020 ($262).

All-time third-quarter low: Down 29.9% from the previous low 3Q 2019 ($349).

Other Revenue: In recent years, airlines have increasingly obtained additional revenue from passenger fees, as well as from other sources. U.S. passenger airlines collected 65.1% of total operating revenue of $38.6 billion from passenger fares during the first nine months of 2020, down from 88.5% in 1990.

Third Quarter 2020 fare ($245)

Trend: Down 5.8% from 2Q 2020 ($259)

Compared to all third quarters: Down 38.7% from the highest 3Q fare, $399 in 2014

Compared to all quarters: Down 39.1% from the highest fare for any quarter, $402 in 2Q 2014

Start of BTS records: Down 17.6% from 1Q 1995 ($297) (compared to 69.9% consumer price increase)

Recent low: Down 5.6% from 2Q 2020 ($259)

Recent high: Down 37.3% from 1Q 2015 ($390)

All-time low: Down 5.6% from 2Q 2020 ($259)

All-time third-quarter low: Down 9.1% from 3Q 1996 ($269).

Fares by Airport

Figure 2. Fares by Airport Group based on Number of Originating Domestic Passengers 3Q 2020 Source: 

Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Origin and Destination Survey

Fares by airport group:

Highest: 18 airports with 38,000-49,999 originating passengers ($259)

Lowest: Nine airports with 500,000-999,999 originating passengers ($228)

Additional data: see Top 100 Airports or All Airports. Fourth Quarter 2020 average fare data will be released April 20. 

Standard error: Results for average fares are based on the BTS Origin & Destination Survey, a 10% sample of airline tickets used during the quarter. Averages for airports with smaller samples may be less reliable.

Note: Results for average fares are based on the BTS Origin & Destination Survey, a 10% sample of airline tickets used during the quarter. For Q3 2020 results based on all itinerary fares, the standard error is 0.30 and the median fare is $197.44. 

The 90% confidence interval ranges from $244.29 to $245.28.  For results based on round-trip fares, the standard error is 0.52 and the median fare is $236.70. The 90% confidence interval ranges from $283.03 to $284.73. For results based on one-way fares, the standard error is 0.34 and the median fare is $157.06. The 90% confidence interval ranges from $200.85 to $201.96.  

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