Frontier Airlines' major expansion in Colorado Springs last summer sent local average airline fares in the third quarter of 2017 to the lowest level in nearly 20 years.
They were down 21.7 percent from a year earlier, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported Friday.
"This is great news," said Greg Phillips, the city's aviation director. "This reflects the commitment that Frontier put into our community with new flights and that those flights have been successful, allowing Frontier to keep fares low and forcing other carriers to respond.
"The benefits of flying from Colorado Springs continue to grow. These results make it easier (for travelers) to make the decision to fly from Colorado Springs, considering the cost, time and effort of driving to Denver. The value calculation has changed."
The $321.35 average fare is $14.48 less than the national average, the first time local fares have dipped below that national threshold in nearly five years, and $42.18 more than the $279.17 average for Denver International Airport, the new report says.
The Springs' average fare fell $46.15, or 12.6 percent, from the second quarter as fares nationwide also fell sharply during that period.
The local average was the lowest since the final quarter of 1997, until fares skyrocketed in the wake of the departure and later bankruptcy of Western Pacific Airlines.
Frontier added seasonal flights to seven cities in June and July, suspending some of them in November with plans to resume them in April.
The Denver-based, low-fare carrier resumed service to Colorado Springs in April 2016 after a three-year absence and expanded its local schedule several times since. Frontier announced plans last fall to add nonstop flights in April to Minneapolis, San Antonio and Seattle, and switch its San Francisco flight to San Jose, Calif.
"The decreasing average fare at COS (Colorado Springs Airport) reflects the fact that there is now competition to several major destinations. This is good news for our local citizens," Mayor John Suthers said Monday in a statement. "The fact that our fares are just $42 higher than Denver is also great news.
"Much cheaper parking, the cost of gas and the reduced stress makes flying from the Springs much more desirable than flying from Denver. My hope is that all of our citizens will continue to look before they book and help us attract more flights to more destinations."
Mike Boyd, an Evergreen-based aviation consultant used by the local airport, uses different numbers to compare airports, but the result is similar.
He said Colorado Springs passengers pay an average of about 16 cents per mile to travel by air, just slightly above the national average and a penny more than passengers pay in Denver.
"It's all good news. Colorado Springs is not even on the radar screen when it comes to being expensive" for air travel, he said. "But it all depends on the destination. You still pay more to go to places like New York and Tucson."
Phillips said the airport still is trying to persuade airlines to expand nonstop service in the Springs, meeting with American Airlines about flights to its Charlotte, N.C., hub and with United Airlines about its hub at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and American, United and Delta Air Lines about flights to New York. American added two daily nonstop flights to Chicago in July to its Colorado Springs schedule.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics report measures only domestic travel, based on round-trip fares, unless the passenger does not buy a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.
The fares are based on the total ticket cost, including taxes and government fees but not airline fees for baggage and other optional services. The average is based on a survey of 10 percent of the tickets used during the quarter.
Fares at DIA also fell. The third quarter average was down 6.2 percent from the second quarter and 9.1 percent from a year earlier. The national average of $335.83 was the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2010, down 5.6 percent from the second quarter and off 3.8 percent from the third quarter of 2016.
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