Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Tue January 12 2016

Airfare to College Football Title Game Skyrocketed Days Before Kickoff

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 12, 2016

Airfare to College Football Title Game Skyrocketed Days Before Kickoff

Alabama has already been crowned college football’s best team, but many of the fans who traveled to see the game will be left with a bad taste in their mouth (and a high balance on their credit card). Airfares to Phoenix, where the season’s final bowl game was held, skyrocketed in the days before kickoff. This was especially true for people from the Southeast and the Deep South, where most of the game’s attendees traveled from. 

Expensive airfares for Alabama and Clemson fans

Actually, thanks to new services from airlines like Allegiant, fares for smaller, “secondary” markets (like those in Alabama and South Carolina) have dropped in recent years. Phoenix is a major focus city for Southwest as well, so fans were probably expecting to be able to score reasonably priced flights. 

That was not the case, however. For people who waited until the last minute, fares to get from the airports nearest the Clemson and Alabama campuses were over $1,000 round trip. Since both the teams only qualified for the championship game a mere 12 days ago, there was not really much of a chance for people to buy their tickets early to avoid the inevitable price hike. Most had to make sure that they could score tickets to the game (which were quite pricey themselves) and then find a hotel before they moved on to searching for plane tickets. 

Different variables contributed to the cost

While the laws of supply and demand were certainly in effect for travelers heading to the big game, the timing also had something to do with it. Airfares are generally higher when you buy them closer to departure, and they are at their highest when bought within a week of the travel day. So because of the way the schedule was laid out (semi-finals on New Year’s Eve and championship on Jan. 11), there was a very brief amount of time left for people to get their airfares in order before the higher prices kicked in. 

The smaller local airports, which are generally served by smaller planes, also contributed to the severity of the price hikes. Airports in Greenville, South Carolina and Birmingham, Alabama are mostly served by smaller planes and commuter jets. This means that the number of seats is limited. The higher demand after Dec. 31 meant that airlines could get away with charging more for the limited number of spots. 

Avoiding the highest fares

Some fans were able to avoid the highest prices by driving to regional hubs instead of flying out of the smaller local airports. Savvy fans got tickets for Atlanta-Phoenix or Memphis-Phoenix. They had to drive for several hours to catch their flight, but they avoided the highest fares. 

Also, those who did not buy early enough had to take several different flights to get to the game. 

If either Alabama or Clemson make a return to the national championship next year, things won’t be so bad. The game will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, which is within a day’s drive of both South Carolina and Alabama. That said, as long as the college football playoff schedule remains like it is - with the championship game 10-12 days after the semifinals - fans who have to fly will most likely have to pay more than usual for their plane tickets. 

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