Atlantic City International Airport is solidifying its reputation as a travel hub for cheapskates.
For passengers, that’s not a bad thing.
Newly released figures by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that Atlantic City continues to have the lowest average fare among the nation’s top 100 airports.
Atlantic City International has held the title of cheapest fares since the second quarter of 2009. In the most recent figures, encompassing the third quarter of 2013, Atlantic City’s average fare was $157, compared to $390 for airports nationwide.
Working in Atlantic City International’s favor is the fact that it is served by Spirit Airlines, a discount carrier that aggressively promotes its “insanely low” fares. Spirit is Atlantic City’s only scheduled airline. It specializes in flying budget-minded leisure travelers from Atlantic City to vacation spots in Florida.
“The single airline that serves Atlantic City International is one that uses a business model of low fares coupled with fees,” said David Smallen, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Atlantic City’s average airfare has been falling through the years. It has declined from $254 in the third quarter of 2000 to $157 in the third quarter of 2013, a nearly 40 percent drop, according to the DOT report. That places Atlantic City among the five airports nationwide with the biggest decline in airfares in the past 13 years.
In addition to compiling Atlantic City’s average airfare, the DOT gave a breakdown for the ticket prices for Spirit’s flights from Atlantic City to Atlanta and some Florida cities. In the third quarter of 2013, the average one-way fare from Atlantic City to Atlanta was $94, to Tampa was $103, to Orlando was $107, and to Fort Myers was $107.
Spirit keeps its base fares low, but it also is known for its add-on charges for such things as seat selection and baggage. It even charges for a bottle of water, at $3 a pop.
Smallen noted that in the first nine months of 2013, Spirit collected 63 percent of its revenue through fares, compared with the industry total of 71 percent. Those figures underscore just how important Spirit’s add-on fees are to its overall revenue.
The latest DOT report focuses only on base airfare. It does not include figures for the extra fees charged by Spirit or any other airline. Spirit did not respond to requests for comment about its fares.
Although Spirit currently dominates the Atlantic City market, it will get some competition when United Airlines launches daily service to Atlantic City from its Chicago and Houston hubs beginning April 1. Spirit is resuming seasonal flights to Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit on May 1 as part of its spring and summer buildup coinciding with Atlantic City’s peak tourism rush. The Atlantic City-Chicago route will put Spirit in head-to-head competition with United.
In the airline industry, Atlantic City is known as a leisure market. Leisure travelers tend to be vacationers who can plan their trips well in advance and hunt for budget fares.
“Atlantic City is a leisure-dominated market, which tends to have lower fares,” Smallen said. “If you look at the five airports with the lowest fares, you’ll see that there are other leisure-oriented markets on the list.”
Joining Atlantic City among the five airports nationwide with the lowest average fares are Bellingham, Wash., Long Beach, Calif., Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Fort Lauderdale is one of Spirit’s hubs.
Huntsville, Ala., was ranked as having the highest fares in the third quarter of 2013, an average of $559. Cincinnati, Houston, Washington Dulles and Newark Liberty International Airport rounded out the top five airports for the most expensive average fares.
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