2024 U.S. Flight Cost Index: The Cheapest Airports and States for Domestic Flights
American air travel habits are changing all the time — and so are the costs. To get the best-priced tickets, it helps to stay informed about these trends. But with over 45,000 flights and 2.9 million passengers in and around U.S. airspace each year, even the airlines have found it challenging to fathom recent fluctuations.
Those changes in habit and price vary between airports and from state to state. And recently they’ve been affected by extreme weather patterns and changing post-pandemic travel habits, among other factors. In 2023, increased peak time travel and fewer tickets bought for off-peak weekday travel have had ripple effects on dynamic pricing.
But while business travel plateaued at the peak point of its recovery from the lockdown period, general enthusiasm for air travel continues to grow. “U.S. travelers are still more than willing to pay more for a flight today than they did four years ago ,” says Airline Weekly — and that was before COVID.
With all this in mind, the team here at NetCredit has once again analyzed air ticket prices around the U.S. for a new edition of our U.S. Flight Cost Index. We found that the price of the average domestic flight got cheaper in 44 states this year, only rising significantly in Wyoming and Alaska. To find out which states are getting the best deals on flights overall and in comparison to local wages, please scroll on to our full report.
What We Did
We analyzed data on average domestic fares from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and ranked states based on the average fare for all airports in each state. Then, we ranked them for affordability by comparing these prices to average local wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also measured the change in average prices between 2022 and 2023.
- West Virginia remains the state with the most expensive flights, averaging at $578.37.
- America’s cheapest airport is Orlando Sanford Intl., in Florida, where the average flight costs $143.56.
- Flights are most affordable in New Jersey, where it takes 8.63 hours of work at the average local wage to afford the average flight from a local airport.
- Wyoming is the state where flight prices have risen the most, soaring by +$58.74 year-on-year.
- Westchester County Airport in New York is the airport where prices have fallen the most, decreasing by -$58.18 since 2022.
The U.S. States and Airports with the Cheapest and Most Expensive Domestic Flights
The average ticket from a West Virginia airport costs $578.37, around twice the cost of a ticket from New Jersey ($293.98) or Hawaii ($272.50). This figure is also $153 more than the average across all states. West Virginia leads a band of largely rural, landlocked and lower-population states among those with the most expensive tickets.
A new partnership between the state of West Virginia and low-cost carrier Breeze Airways promises budget tickets to cities around the U.S., potentially impacting prices in the state over the coming months and years. “I’ve said over and over that our airports in West Virginia are our lifeblood,” commented Gov. Jim Justice. Breeze’s CEO explained that the move is intended to “fill the gaps left by larger carriers in midsized markets.”
The cheaper states for air travel tend to be traditionally associated with tourism. And this pattern follows through at the level of individual airports, too. Florida airports account for four of the ten cheapest, followed by Hawaii with three. The cheapest of all is Orlando Sanford International, which has developed a fierce rivalry with the ninth-cheapest Orlando International Airport after years of “long, peaceful coexistence.” The airports are currently locked in a legal battle over the use of the place name “Orlando.”
America’s most expensive airport, Yeager, is in the state with the most expensive flights, West Virginia. But tickets from America’s second-most expensive airport are only a few cents less. The average flight from Huntsville Intl. in Alabama costs $577.47. Huntsville was the most expensive airport in the U.S. according to our 2023 report, following which the city arranged a paid agreement to keep low-cost carrier Breeze operating locally.
“I think a little competition being generated right now could lead to better service, more flights and additional air carriers coming to Huntsville in the future,” said Huntsville City Council member Bill Kling. However, while the average ticket from Huntsville has fallen by $49.24, price reductions from other airports make Huntsville Intl. the second most expensive airport.
The Most and Least Affordable U.S. States and Airports for Domestic Flights
Next, we compared local flight costs against local wage levels to determine the affordability of flights from every state and airport. New Jersey, the second cheapest state overall, is the number one most affordable, thanks to its wage levels. An intern at New Jersey’s Ogilvy Health made the headlines this summer for commuting from South Carolina each week by air.
“Rather than spending paying $3400+ a month for rent […] I book a $100 round trip flight from SC to NJ on the one day a week I work in-person,” explained Sophia Celentano. “[M]y untraditional commute provides me with more lifestyle freedom, and I genuinely look forward to my weekly adventures.”
Meanwhile, the state with the most expensive domestic flights is also the least affordable. It takes 24.47 hours of work at the average West Virginia wage to afford the average ticket out of the state. Mississippi, while fifth most expensive, is second least affordable. Brandon Presley, who recently missed out on unseating State Governor Tate Reeves, has proposed raising the minimum wage above the federal standard of $7.25 an hour in Mississippi, where the average flight costs $510.87.
A Texas airport makes it to the list of least affordable airports, despite the state having reasonably cheap and affordable flights in general. McAllen Miller Intl. is America’s second least affordable airport. The airport welcomed record numbers of travelers last year, suggesting high demand could push up prices. But in fact, we found that the average ticket from McAllen was $46.64 less than in 2023 — when it was the least affordable airport in the land.
Florida’s St. Pete–Clearwater Intl. has leapfrogged neighboring Orlando Sanford to become the most affordable airport in the U.S. in 2024, based on average ticket costs and wages in the surrounding metropolitan statistical area.
The U.S. States and Airports Where Domestic Flight Prices Have Increased the Most
Finally, we compared our findings to last year’s report. We found that air travel prices have fallen in 44 states. Among those states where prices have risen, four increases are minor or negligible: South Dakota (+$12.96), New Hampshire (+$12.34), West Virginia (+$3.78) and Iowa (+$0.25). Only Wyoming (+$58.74) and Alaska (+$33.97) have seen significant rises — while a full 33 states saw an average price reduction greater than -$15.
The general fall in prices is not so much an abundance of cheap flights as a return to normalcy after the high costs of air travel in 2021 and 2022. The industry has adjusted to rising fuel costs, and flight numbers have risen back to pre-pandemic levels. These cheaper tickets are also attributed to more amenable options for cash-strapped travelers. “We are seeing lower base airfares, and things that are available à la carte, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” says travel journalist Sally French. “If you don’t check bags or get a drink, you can get a lower airfare.”
We identified four airports where tickets are more than $50 cheaper than last year, on average. Westchester County, near White Plains, New York, has enjoyed the best reductions. This has occurred in a year that has seen United Airlines pull out of the airport and budget airlines expanding locally.
Things are not so close among the airports with the biggest fare increases. Jackson Hole in Wyoming stands out with an average rise of $58.74 this year, an increase of more than $20 over second-placed Fairbanks Intl., Alaska (+$38.12). Jackson Hole airport switched its security detail to the Federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after 20 years with Aviation Security Management (ASM), with staff wages and benefits among the issues cited for the change.
How to Save on Air Travel
While particular states and airports may have more expensive tickets than others, there are still ways to ensure you’re getting the best price for your flight. Try following these tips to make your air journey as affordable as possible.
- Book early…but not too early. Around 21 days before travel, bookings will be recategorized as “last minute,” and prices will go up. For domestic flights, it is worth watching prices between one and three months ahead of travel and snapping up a ticket when it’s right for you.
- Be flexible. Do your research and check prices a day or two before or after your preferred travel dates. Consider different local airports, too — but be wary of incurring extra transit costs on an unfamiliar route.
- Consider sitting apart. Searching for a set of well-priced seats for the family limits your options. Airlines may have single seats available at a lower cost — or even allow you to individually purchase adjacent seats at varying prices if there is a limited number of lower-price tickets available.
- Use price tools and alerts. Websites such as Google Flights or Skyscanner automate the cheap flight search for you. If you don’t see a price you like, you can set up the service to email you if and when a better price appears.
- Look out for bargains — even after you’ve booked. Everybody knows the pain of buying a ticket only to find a cheaper deal elsewhere. In the old days, rebooking was a no-no — but since the pandemic, some airlines have scrapped rebooking fees, making it feasible to make a last-minute swap.
Just remember that cost isn’t everything, and considering the length and comfort of your trip and its impact on the environment can also help you make the best decision when buying a ticket.
To determine the states and airports that are cheapest for domestic flights, we reviewed data on average domestic fares from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Airports were ranked based on the average domestic fare in Q2 2023. States were ranked based on the aggregate average fare across all airports in the state. Only hub airports, as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration — receiving at least 0.05% of annual U.S. commercial enplanements — were considered.
Data used to calculate affordability came from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Airports were ranked based on the ratio of average domestic fares in Q2 2023 to the average hourly wage for all occupations in the surrounding metropolitan statistical area in 2022. States were ranked based on the ratio of average domestic fares across all hub airports within the state in Q2 2023 to the average statewide hourly wage for all occupations in 2022.
Data used to determine where the cost of domestic flights has increased and decreased the most also came from the BTS. Airports were ranked based on the raw change in average, inflation-adjusted domestic fare from Q2 2022 to Q2 2023. States were ranked based on the raw change in average inflation-adjusted domestic fares across all hub airports from Q2 2022 to Q2 2023.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (2023). Airport Rankings 2022. bts.gov
Hughes, C. (2023). Blue Grass Airport and United Airlines announce new non-stop Denver flight. spectrumnews1.com
Knef, S. (2023). Northern Kentucky airport expands low-cost options, with more on the way. spectrumnews1.com