Detroit Metro lags the nation in decline in airfares

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The average price for a domestic flight dropped significantly nationwide in 2009 because of the recession and airlines scrambling to lower prices to keep people flying.

But pricing stayed about the same in Metro Detroit, where airfare battles between low-cost carriers haven’t been as aggressive as in some other major metropolitan cities, analysts say.

On average, Metro Detroiters paid about $335 for domestic airfare in the fourth-quarter of 2009, about on par with what they paid in 2008, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation .

In Grand Rapids, the average airfare — $412 — in late 2009 was among the third-highest in the country, but it also declined about 10 percent from the same period in 2008.

Meanwhile, average airfare nationwide fell from $345 in late 2008 to $319 in late 2009 on domestic travel, the largest year-over-year drop since 2001, according to federal data. Figures are based on domestic fares round-trip or one-way and don’t include other fees, such as for baggage.

“Detroit didn’t get killed in 2009,” said Tom Parsons, CEO of bestfares.com. “You still had some bargains.”

But the heydays of bargain airfare are over, with prices shooting up this summer on domestic and international travel, Parsons said. That’s because many low-cost airlines — the typical price setters in the industry — are pulling back on summer sales as the economy picks up and more people take to the skies.

“Did you get your fair share of deals in 2009? You better believe it,” Parsons said.

Fliers can expect to pay 20 to 30 percent more this summer for those same flights, he added.

Scott Wintner, a spokesman for the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, attributed the slight variation in Detroit airfare to a strong market where there is little excess supply in flights. Delta Air Lines , which is Metro Airport’s largest carrier, operates its second-largest hub out in Detroit.

“If airfare drops, that means there is too much supply,” Wintner said. “And Delta could start pulling flights.”

Earlier this year, Delta put the final touches on its merger with Northwest Airlines , a tie-up that has established the Atlanta-based airline as the world’s largest carrier.

The merger, however, likely had little influence on ticket pricing in Metro Detroit, industry observers say.

Low-fare airlines such as Southwest and Air Tran typically dictate the airfare in most markets and Detroit is no exception, Parsons said.

 

Source:The Detroit News/Christina Rogers

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