Last updated: 09:01 AM ET, Tue March 08 2016

Which Airports Are America's Most Expensive?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 08, 2016

Which Airports Are America's Most Expensive?

Airlines might be raising fares, but there are still deals to be found at most major airports around the country. This is especially true if you happen to be flying on highly competitive routes. At some airports, however, promotional fares are few and far between and the overall price of a ticket can seem exceedingly high. 

A formula for high fares

Competition, or even the potential for competition, keeps fares down at most major airports. However, when you take some of that competition away, there is really nothing to keep prices from rising. The law of supply and demand is in full effect at places like Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania and Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Harrisburg had the second highest average fare of any airline in the country last year. On average, passengers at the Pennsylvania airport had to spend $480.32 for their ticket. Harrisburg fares were not as high as those at Dane County Regional Airport. Average fares here topped the $500 mark ($511.58 to be exact).

READ MORE: Frontier Airlines Sets Harrisburg Service to Denver and Orlando

Smaller markets are paying more to fly

Other small cities also came in near the top of the list. Knoxville, Tennessee’s McGhee Tyson Airport and Fresno Yosemite International were the next most expensive places to fly. (The large airport with the most expensive fares last year was Newark).

There are a few reasons for the high fares in these cities. First of all, most have a large population of fliers relative to their overall population. For example, Madison is a college town and a business hub for Central Wisconsin. There is a lot of demand for flights into and out of the city because people who fly into larger hubs in Milwaukee, Chicago or Minneapolis have to drive for several hours to reach Madison.

The same goes for the other aforementioned cities. Another issue is that, at these small airports, one airline often controls a majority of the slots. Delta operates more than 50 percent of the flights out of Dane County, giving it the ability to set prices as it chooses without having to worry excessively about being undercut by the competition.

READ MORE: Should Plane Tickets be Cheaper?

Looking to low-cost carriers to fill the need for more flights

Knoxville, which serves a high number of business travelers, provides an example of why passengers who have to rely on these pricey airports should have some hope. In May, Allegiant will launch two new routes at the Tennessee airport (to Baltimore and Las Vegas).

Low-cost carriers seem to be willing to serve these smaller markets. Not only could they bring more destination options, but their business model could allow them to offer lower fares.

Ideally, airlines like Frontier, Allegiant and Spirit would expand into Harrisburg, Madison, Knoxville and Fresno and, eventually, take them off the “most expensive fares” list. Until then, however, passengers face the choice of paying higher prices or traveling overland to a larger hub where fares are cheaper.

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