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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

First Quarter 2021 Air Fare Drops As Passenger Numbers Increase

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

BTS 45-21
Contact: BTSNews@dot.gov

The average U.S. domestic air fare declined in the first quarter of 2021 to $260, down 1.2% from the inflation-adjusted fare of $264 in the fourth quarter of 2020. The first quarter fare of $260 was up 5.0% from the lowest inflation adjusted fare of $248 in the third quarter of 2020.

 

Adjusted for inflation (constant 2021 dollars) the average 1Q 2021 air fare was:

  • Down 24.0% from 1Q 2020 ($343)
  • Down 1.2% from 4Q 2020 ($264)
  • Down 34.7% from 1Q 2016 ($398)

 

Air fares declined as passenger demand decreased. U.S. airlines reported 33.4 million originating passengers in the first quarter 2021, down from 60.8 million passengers a year earlier.

 

 

Itinerary Fares: Round-trips, but includes one-way tickets if no return is purchased.
Breakout of trip types: one-way, 43% ($205); round-trip, 57% ($305).

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Inflation-Adjusted Average Air Fares  
First Quarter 2021 fare ($260):
Compared to all first quarters: Down 50.9% from the highest 1Q fare, $530 in 1999.
Compared to all quarters: Down 50.9% from the highest fare for any quarter, $530 in 1Q 1999.
Start of BTS records: Down 49.7% from 1Q 1995 ($518).
Recent high: Down 34.7% from 1Q 2016 ($398). 
Recent low:  Up 5.0% from 3Q 2020 ($248).
All-time low: Up 5.0% from the previous low 3Q 2020 ($248).
All-time first-quarter low: Down 24.0% from the previous low 1Q 2020 ($343).

 

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 58.5% of total operating revenue of $10.4 billion from passenger fares during the first three months of 2021, down from 88.5% in 1990.

 

 

Unadjusted Average Air Fares  
First Quarter 2021 fare ($260)
Trend: Down 0.2% from 4Q 2020 ($261)
Compared to all first quarters: Down 33.3% from the highest 1Q fare, $390 in 2015
Compared to all quarters: Down 35.3% from the highest fare for any quarter, $402 in 2Q 2014
Start of BTS records: Down 12.3% from 1Q 1995 ($297) (compared to 74.4% consumer price increase)
Recent low: Up 6.3% from 3Q 2020 ($245)
Recent high: Down 27.6% from 1Q 2016 ($359)
All-time low: Up 6.3% from 3Q 2020 ($245)
All-time first-quarter low: Down 8.1% from 1Q 1997 ($283).

 

Fares by Airport

 

 

Fares by airport group:
Highest: three airports with 46,000-49,999 originating passengers ($293)
Lowest: 16 airports with 500,000-999,999 originating passengers ($241)

 

Additional data: see Top 100 Airports or All Airports. Second Quarter 2021 average fare data will be released Oct. 19. 

 

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 Q1 2021 results based on all itinerary fares, the standard error is 0.34 and the median fare is $205.84. The 90% confidence interval ranges from $259.76 to 260.86. For results based on round-trip fares, the standard error is .57 and the median fare is $255.08. The 90% confidence interval ranges from $303.99 to $305.88. For results based on one-way fares, the standard error is .36 and the median fare is $162.73. The 90% confidence interval ranges from $204.74 to $205.91.