Comparing Fuel Costs and Fares


Average US domestic fares and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS)
Average US domestic fares and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS)

Earlier today I scrolled past this data point about aviation fuel prices in the US market:

It is interesting to me for a variety of reasons but mostly just because I like data. I retweeted it and that engaged fellow DLD cohost Stephan who wondered what the parallels are between the fuel prices and fares.

And, like I said, I’m a fan of data so I went looking. Unfortunately the data made easily available is domestic-only but I also was able to get another view of the fuel cost data which is domestic so that evens the playing field a bit. Airfares are also summarized quarterly while the fuel prices are monthly. I chose January and Q1 as my metrics because I’m the guy making the charts and it seems just as useful as any other set of data. Bet you’ll be surprised by the results.

Average US domestic fares and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS)
Average US domestic fares and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS)

The numbers exclude most ancillary revenue avenues and that’s harder to track down overall; the BTS does collect the data but it isn’t included in the same data set and doesn’t map over so well. Airlines do report the numbers in their earnings releases and the spread is decent, from $55 at Spirit down to $23 at United. I faked an average and scaled it down over the past few years and put it in to a new chart which is likely less statistically valid but closer to reality.

Average US domestic fares + average ancillary fees and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS + other sources)
Average US domestic fares + average ancillary fees and fuel price per gallon (Data from BTS + other sources)

Average fares are definitely higher than they were a decade ago, even without the ancillaries. Also, not really tied to fuel prices so much, despite that being one of the main cost factors for airlines.

I don’t really know what the data means. But I thought it was an interesting exercise posed by Stephan and worth sussing out what the reality is. Of course, I also know that average airfares are only a mediocre measure and that fares vary much more broadly in different markets than fuel costs do. So lots of this doesn’t matter at all anyways.

Data mostly from http://www.transtats.bts.gov/fuel.asp and http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/airfares/national/table.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

One Comment

  1. Is it possible to plot annual profits over time as well? That might explain the difference in trend

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