Budget-minded air travelers can fly out of Atlantic City International Airport for the cheapest fares in the country. A U.S. Department of Transportation report released Wednesday shows Atlantic City continues to have the lowest average domestic airfare among the nation’s top 100 airports.
Atlantic City’s average fare was $159 in the second quarter, compared with $378 nationally. David Smallen, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, said Atlantic City has held the title of cheapest airfares since the second quarter of 2009.
Working in Atlantic City’s favor is the fact that it is dominated by Spirit Airlines, a discount carrier that specializes in flying cost-conscious leisure travelers to vacation spots in Florida.
Atlantic City International’s airfares cited by the DOT report are exclusively Spirit’s because Spirit is the only scheduled airline serving the Atlantic City marketplace.
“We’re proud that our ultra-low fares are giving millions of customers the opportunity to travel who otherwise couldn't afford to do so if it weren’t for Spirit,” company spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in a statement. “We’re going to continue offering travelers exactly what they say is the most important factor to them when purchasing an airline ticket — low fares.”
Spirit aggressively promotes its low-cost fares, although the airline does charge extra for things such as seat selection and baggage. The DOT airfare report does not include add-on fees charged by Spirit and other airlines.
George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com, which tracks airline ticket prices across the country, called Spirit the nation’s “only really low-cost carrier.” He said Spirit’s fares are much cheaper than average ticket prices for flights by other airlines out of Philadelphia and Newark, Atlantic City International’s main competitors.
“Even if you add in all the fees, their fares are still lower,” Hobica said, comparing Atlantic City to Philadelphia and Newark.
Philadelphia had an average domestic airfare of $405 in the second quarter, while Newark’s was $474, according to the DOT report.
Hobica, however, said Atlantic City International has the misfortune of not being well known among the flying public, so many travelers may not be aware of the airport’s cheap ticket prices on Spirit.
“I think it is under the radar. But they’re doing their best to get the word out,” Hobica said.
Kevin Bryan, an industry analyst with the DOT, said smaller-market airports such as Atlantic City International sometimes have the advantage of offering lower fares, particularly if a discount carrier is the dominant airline.
“That explains a lot about why it is so cheap,” Bryan said of Atlantic City’s low-cost fares on Spirit.
On average, it is 55 percent cheaper to fly out of Atlantic City than other airports nationwide, Bryan said.
Atlantic City International recently came under the control of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the transportation giant that also oversees Kennedy, LaGuardia and Stewart airports in New York and Newark and Teterboro airports in New Jersey.
The Port Authority is supposed to develop a growth strategy for attracting new airlines and flights to Atlantic City, but has not yet made its plans public. The agency did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment about the DOT’s airfare report.
Atlantic City International has struggled this year, suffering a 25 percent drop in scheduled airline passengers. Airport officials have blamed the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy for the decline. Figures compiled by the South Jersey Transportation Authority show the airport has handled 767,385 scheduled airline passengers through September, compared with slightly more than 1 million for the same period in 2012.
Earlier this year, Spirit cut back on some of its flights, citing lower demand following Sandy. Spirit’s daily service out of Atlantic City includes flights to the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg as well as the golfing mecca of Myrtle Beach, S.C. It resumes seasonal service today to West Palm Beach, Fla.
In addition to compiling the airport’s average fare, the DOT also gave a breakdown of one-way ticket prices for Spirit’s flights from Atlantic City to Florida. For the second quarter, the average one-way fare to Orlando was $101, to Tampa was $103, to Fort Lauderdale was $103 and to Fort Myers was $107.
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