Interactive Fees Calculator Can Reveal Your True Cost of Flying

Patrick Surry - Jan. 31, 2016

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.

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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.

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