This means, in most cases, that travelers between two cities with small airports and limited flights wind up saying ridiculously high airfares. But, that’s not always the case.
Some of these ridiculously high airfares are between major airports. For example, a regular business client called this week to make a day trip between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, with three weeks advance purchase.
The distance between the cities is 183 air miles, about 245 highway miles and a four hour drive. The least expensive fare without a three-day or weekend stay, $993.00 round-trip, with a $150 change fee.
By comparison, another consistently expensive city pair, Detroit to Cincinnati, which is 229 air miles, is $854 round-trip for the same one-day round-trip. Then take a look at Chicago-Ohare to Cincinnati, 264 miles, that prices at $915 round-trip. (Cincinnati, as a Delta hub with little competition, consistently has high airfares.)
So what do these particular ridiculous fares have in common, other than no competition? They are just far enough apart to discourage business travelers from driving. For leisure travelers, fares between these cities aren’t great for longer stays, but they are considerably better.
In addition, these fares are all in markets not served by discount carriers like Southwest, or Jetblue. (For example, fares from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia dropped dramatically when Southwest entered the market, as did fares to many cities from Atlanta when Airtran arrived.)
As United completes their merger with Continental, more other city pairs no doubt will join the high-price competition. The same day round-trip fare between their Chicago-O’Hare and Houston-Intercontinental hubs, which are 925 miles apart is $948. (Although Southwest competes with fares that are less than half that price between Chicago-Midway and Houston-Hobby.)
There are several other major city-pairs in the overpriced “Hall of Shame.” The other inspiration for this post was a client who needed a nonstop between Dallas and Boston, a 1,562-mile trip, and the one-way fare was $1,023 for a ticket purchased a month in advance. (By comparison, the fare from San Francisco to Dallas, almost the same distance, is less than half the price.)
No doubt the airlines involved here will just say they are trying to make a profit in tough times. Fair enough. On the other hand, for anyone unlikely enough to need to travel between these and other cities, it can be more than frustrating.
If any readers have another city pair or two to nominate for the “most overpriced airfare in America,” please note them in comments.
First, venting is good catharsis. Second, discount carriers are always looking for new markets. And if a route looks like the airline equivalent of really low hanging fruit (i.e very easy to undercut prices,) then who knows, help may be on the way.