Colorado Springs airfares at lowest level in 25 years | local news
Local business leaders and city officials call it the Southwest Effect — and with good reason.
After Southwest Airlines began serving Colorado Springs Airport nearly two years ago, local airfares fell to a 25-year low, according to the latest federal transportation data.
In addition, the gap between fares for passengers flying out of Springs and those bound for Denver International Airport has narrowed to its lowest level in 20 years, the data shows. As a result, flying from Denver isn’t the bargain it once was.
“We’re seeing the Southwest effect — fares have gone down and traffic has increased,” said Joe Nevill, Colorado Springs Airport’s flight services development manager. “Traffic is increasing and fares are going down in most markets (from Colorado Springs onwards).
“We believe we’re taking passengers off the Denver road,” Nevill said.
“We’re becoming more competitive relative to Denver, and that’s helping us hold more local traffic. The airlines see that and it leads to good results and further (service) expansion.”
According to figures from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics:
• The average fare for passengers departing from Colorado Springs Airport fell to $312.13 in 2021, the lowest annual average since 1997. That was the last year low-fare startup Western Pacific Airlines opened a hub from Springs Airport before moving to Denver and later filing for bankruptcy.
• The drop in local fares has also reduced the difference in average fares between Colorado Springs and Denver airports by half year-over-year to just $40, the bureau’s data shows.
• Annual data for 2022 will not be available until April, but similar data (which does not include passengers on connecting flights) from the US Department of Transportation shows that the difference in average fares between Springs and DIA has continued to narrow over the past year and was in the first three quarters of 2022 less than $20 each. This is the smallest price gap between airports since 2003.
“A smaller gap between Colorado Springs Airport and Denver International Airport fares gives our businesses more options and flexibility in their travel plans,” said Johnna Reeder Kleymeyer, President and CEO of Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.
“Remarkably, the ‘Southwest Effect’ continues as the data indicates a narrowing gap in overall fares since their arrival (in Colorado Springs).”
Doug Price, CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, the area’s leading tourism agency, said the narrowing fare gap between Colorado Springs and Denver is a sign of Southwest’s impact as well as Springs Airport’s cost-containment efforts.
Colorado Springs fares were lower than Denver from 1993 to 2001, Price said, but local fares were higher over the next 20 years, making the recent narrowing of the fare gap a welcome development for local travelers.
“At Visit COS we encourage both residents and visitors to do their research before booking,” Price said. “When comparing airports, it’s important to consider time value (for travel to each airport and for security checks) and cost (airfares, tolls and parking fees). Colorado Springs Airport, he added, “is going in the right direction.”
A note of caution: consumers should be aware that both US Department of Transportation datasets are average domestic fares, so people searching for flights may find higher or lower fares when searching the fares for specific flights departing from Colorado Compare Springs and Denver.
In any case, local passengers reacted strongly to the cheaper fares.
The number of planes — travelers boarding departing flights — out of Colorado Springs Airport totaled 1.07 million in 2022 — a 15% increase from 2021 and a 27% jump from pre-pandemic levels in 2019 .
Last year’s planes were the highest annual number since 2000 and the first time in 15 years that Colorado Springs Airport topped 1 million outbound passengers. The increase came despite Southwest canceling many flights due to operational problems in late December.
Southwest’s impact on fares was also demonstrated by comparing its average fare in the third quarter of last year, when fares in Colorado Springs were an average of $5 lower than Denver, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Average fares for the three other airlines flying to Colorado Springs were $64 higher than their Denver fares.
Nevill believes the gap between Colorado Springs and Denver’s rates will continue to narrow this year “as long as Southwest continues to be a big chunk of the market here.” Southwest carried nearly half of its departing passengers last year.
Southwest’s competitors in Colorado Springs — American, Delta and United — have responded by switching from 50-seat regional jets to larger-capacity aircraft with additional flights to their current destinations, significantly expanding seat capacity on flights from the local airport has said Nevill .
Sun County Airlines announced plans in November to expand to Colorado Springs and add seasonal services to Minneapolis-St. Paul beginning June 8, prompting Delta Air Lines to add that city to its local flight schedule and resume service to Atlanta, both on June 5.
Southwest has also expanded its initial schedule to 16 daily flights to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix from 13 daily flights. The low-fare giant has also been experimenting with holiday-season flights to Houston, San Antonio and San Diego.
Airline fares are likely to stay low for a while longer — Southwest launched a big fare sale this month to lure back reluctant passengers to book after the airline’s cancellations and delays in December.
Mike Boyd, an Evergreen-based aviation consultant who used to work with Colorado Springs Airport, said Southwest could cut flights locally and nationally in the coming weeks and months as it tries to resolve its operational problems. But his prospects for local air service remain optimistic.
“The market can support that (the current level of service) and maybe a lot more,” Boyd said, as the country’s major airlines and some low-fare newcomers struggle to attract passengers.
He warned that large numbers of local passengers will always head to Denver to reach a much wider range of destinations, particularly international cities popular with many travelers, such as London, Paris and Tokyo.
“Denver,” Boyd said, “remains the gateway to the entire region.”