Winter-weary New Yorkers hoping to escape to warmer climates in April are apt to find airfares a bit friendlier than last year, because many airlines have added more service and are paying less for fuel, a new analysis shows.
Travelers flying domestically from April 1 through 15 out of either Kennedy or LaGuardia airports will pay on average almost 2 percent less than a year earlier, according to the analysis, done for Newsday by Airlines Reporting Corp. of Arlington, Virginia, which processes ticket transactions for airlines and thousands of travel agencies.
The average round-trip fare, including taxes and some fees: about $422, the analysis found.
While the decline from last spring is small, fares during the same period last year had soared by 13 percent from the same time in 2013.
The average fares include fees paid at the time of ticket purchase but exclude those paid at airports or onboard planes such as for checked bags, meals or beverages. Average fare information wasn't available for Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.
Travelers heading to international destinations from Kennedy during the same two-week period in April also will find lower fares -- averaging almost 3 percent less than in the same period last year, the Airlines Reporting analysis found.
From another source, Expedia, comes a similar assessment; the Bellevue, Washington, online booking site says fares to many popular spring break destinations are down this year -- including Las Vegas and Tampa, where fares average 10 percent and 6 percent lower, respectively. The calculations also include taxes and fees paid at time of booking but are for flights from anywhere, not just New York as in the Airline Reporting analysis.
Overall though, Expedia's calculations show the decline in fares is small. And there are exceptions. Fares to Orlando, the single most popular spring destination from New York, are unchanged from last year. "It's a very popular destination for families and for couples," said Ingrid Belobradic, senior editor at Expedia.
The generally lower fares this year are attributable mostly to some airlines adding more seats, said longtime airline industry consultant Robert Mann, of Port Washington. "The softness is chiefly due to higher capacity growth rates for carriers like Frontier, Jet Blue and Spirit," he said.
As a group, airlines have increased domestic flight capacity into and out of Kennedy and LaGuardia by about 3 percent for April from a year earlier, said Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics for Airlines Reporting. Internationally, the capacity increase is more like 8 percent, he said. "There's a whole lot of competition coming into JFK from airlines outside the U.S.," he said.
Another factor cited by some experts is falling jet fuel prices, mirroring the decline in crude oil, gasoline and heating oil prices since early summer. Fuel is an airline's single biggest expense, accounting for 28 percent of costs.
Mann said that, while jet fuel prices now are about 40 percent less than a year ago -- about $2.15 a gallon -- some carriers, like Delta, locked themselves into higher prices before the decline with hedging agreements, that are costly to exit. Others, though, including American, simply pay spot prices and are seeing significant savings, he said.
But, Mann notes, other costs are going up. American, for example, just signed new labor agreements that will add $1 billion a year to its personnel costs.
The bottom line, he said, is that fuel cost savings are at best a minor factor in softening fares.