Interactive Fees Calculator Can Reveal Your True Cost of Flying

Published on May 27, 2014 by

Summary

  • To see what each airline costs in a specific market and for your specific set of chosen amenities, check out Hopper’s interactive fees calculator
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently proposed rules requiring that standard service fees be disclosed at ticketing time, but this is not currently the case.
  • Because many airline fees, for amenities such as luggage, snacks, and WiFi, are not included in the ticket price adding them in can significantly increase the true cost of flying.
  • Because these costs vary between airlines, the choice of amenities often change which airline is cheapest.
  • Hopper took a look at how different airlines stack up once amenity fees are added in.
  • For the “no frills” domestic traveler, Spirit Airlines tends to be the cheapest airline
  • For weekend travelers, family travelers, and business travelers flying in the US, American Airlines consistently provides the best deal

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently proposed a new set of rules aimed at protecting airline travelers that would require airlines to disclose fees for services including checked bags, carry-on items and advance seat assignments. Although the new disclosure rules could lead to increased base fares to offset lost ancillary revenues, we believe the consumer is better served by understanding the total cost of travel up front.

 

Example Travel Scenarios

Many airlines charge fees, which are not included in a listed price ticket, for amenities such as luggage, snacks, and WiFi.  Depending on the set of amenities selected, the least expensive airline can vary by market.  Hopper looked at domestic markets with at least 500 searches a month, and compared prices for AirTran, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, United, US Airways, Virgin America depending what amenities are selected.  We created an interactive fee calculator (Figure 1), where you can check how the airlines compare for a given market, based on the services you require.  Please note that the tool does not include Southwest because we do not have flight pricing data for them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 8.11.21 AM.png

Figure 1: Hopper’s interactive fee calculator

 

Hopper checked how these airlines compare, on average, for all US flights and for four different scenarios:

  • The No Frills Flyer assumes no carry-ons and no food or drink (Table 1)
  • The Weekend Traveler assumes 1 carry-on, food and drink, and no checked luggage (Table 2)
  • The Family Traveler assumes 2 checked bags, carry-on, food and drink, and seat selection (Table 3)
  • The Business Traveler assumes a carry-on, WiFi, seat selection, extra room, and food and drink (Table 4)

Each table ranks the airlines from cheapest to most expensive for that specific scenario.  For the No Frills traveler, Spirit Airlines is the cheapest in 77% of markets where they provide service or about 261 markets.  Frontier and American Airlines come in second and third respectively.  For the Weekend Traveler, American Airlines comes in first followed by Airtran and Spirit.  American Airlines is the cheapest airline in this category for about 56% of served markets or 3851 markets in the US.  For Family Travelers, American Airlines comes in first again, followed by Jetblue and Frontier.  For the Business Traveler, American Airlines is first again followed by Frontier and United.

 

Airline Total Routes Served Number of Routes where Cheapest % of Routes Served where Cheapest % of Total Routes where Cheapest
Spirit Airlines 340 261 77% 2%
Frontier Airlines 1,459 839 57% 6%
American Airlines 6,828 3,691 54% 24%
AirTran Airways 1,033 412 40% 3%
JetBlue Airways 1,387 495 36% 3%
United Airlines 12,214 4,023 33% 26%
US Airways 11,292 3,282 29% 22%
Delta Air Lines 10,406 1,946 19% 13%
Virgin America 212 35 17% >1%

Table 1: No Frills Flier

 

Airline Total Routes Served Number of Routes where Cheapest % of Routes Served where Cheapest % of Total Routes where Cheapest
American Airlines 6,828 3,851 56% 25%
AirTran Airways 1,033 529 51% 3%
Spirit Airlines 340 156 46% 1%
JetBlue Airways 1,387 559 40% 4%
Frontier Airlines 1,459 555 38% 4%
United Airlines 12,214 4,048 33% 27%
US Airways 11,292 3,291 29% 22%
Virgin America 212 41 19% >1%
Delta Air Lines 10,406 1,946 19% 13%

Table 2: Weekend Flier

 

Airline Total Routes Served Number of Routes where Cheapest % of Routes Served where Cheapest % of Total Routes where Cheapest
American Airlines 6,828 3,824 56% 25%
JetBlue Airways 1,387 776 56% 5%
Frontier Airlines 1,459 680 47% 4%
United Airlines 12,214 4,011 33% 26%
US Airways 11,292 3,307 29% 22%
AirTran Airways 1,033 300 29% 2%
Virgin America 212 59 28% >1%
Spirit Airlines 340 82 24% 1%
Delta Air Lines 10,406 1,942 19% 13%

Table 3: Family Travler

 

Airline Total Routes Served Number of Routes where Cheapest % of Routes Served where Cheapest % of Total Routes where Cheapest
American Airlines 6,828 5,573 82% 37%
Frontier Airlines 1,459 653 45% 4%
United Airlines 12,214 4,728 39% 31%
AirTran Airways 1,033 368 36% 2%
JetBlue Airways 1,387 467 34% 3%
US Airways 11,292 1,913 17% 13%
Delta Air Lines 10,406 1,249 12% 8%

Table 4: Business Traveler

 

Data and Methodology

The data presented in this analysis comes from Hopper’s combined feed of Global Distribution Service (GDS) data sources which includes about 10 million queries and 1 billion trips per day.  Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases, and is calibrated across all GDS sources for each market.  Good deal prices are represented by the 10th percentile prices.  For example if the 10th percentile price is $800 dollars it means that only 10% of trips are priced at or below this price.

For this study we looked at domestic flights with at least 500 searches in the past month and included AirTran, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, United, US Airways, and Virgin America airlines.

 

6 Comments

  1. MarkKahler | MarkKahler

    [...] Surry of Hopper.com published a study of how fees impact the true costs of flying. Surry found making changes in variables such as change fees and wi-fi availability “can [...]

  2. [...] embedded here from travel data site Hopper. Enter your starting airport and end airport, check the fee-adding features you need, and hit Go. [...]

  3. Brice McIver

    I know that you don't have data from Southwest Airlines as part of the GDS sources, but it would be useful to mention that somewhere in the post. It is very likely that Southwest would come in first for the family traveler.

    • Patrick Surry

      Good point, we've added a note to that effect. Southwest won't share their pricing or demand data, so it's difficult to draw conclusions either way.

  4. [...] embedded here from travel data site Hopper. Enter your starting airport and end airport, check the fee-adding features you need, and hit Go. [...]

  5. [...] these costs vary between airlines, the choice of amenities often change which airline is cheapest. Hopper took a look at how different airlines stack up once amenity fees are added [...]

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