Northwest Arkansas National Airport has quite the history when it comes to airfares, but this summer should be telling as the airport should shake free of its pricy reputation.
Three low-cost carriers — Allegiant Air, Breeze Airways and Frontier Airlines — are flying from XNA now, and the region’s travelers should benefit from a series of decisions by those airlines that stand to make XNA budget-friendly more often.
Those airlines sell roundtrip airfare for $125 to $250 roundtrip most of the time, and their new destinations from XNA should start altering the airport’s reputation if they can fill enough seats.
Allegiant Air, which has served XNA for a decade, takes off Friday with new nonstop flights from XNA to Austin and St. Petersburg-Clearwater. It comes just two weeks after XNA newcomer Breeze Airways started flying to Tampa.
There’re more low-cost offerings waiting in the wings.
Breeze, which was launched this year by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, will be the first airline to offer nonstop service from XNA to New Orleans and San Antonio. Those flights start July 15.
Frontier, which started its Denver flights from XNA in 2019, is going to try XNA to Las Vegas, starting in mid-August. It creates competition for Allegiant Air, which has been flying that Las Vegas route from XNA for many years.
That’ll be followed by Allegiant’s other move: A twice-a-week nonstop to Fort Lauderdale that starts in October.
The abundance of places to fly at a low cost wasn’t always an option at XNA as Allegiant for years was the only low-cost carrier in town and it has never been a big portion of the airport’s travelers.
From 2008 through 2018, XNA’s average roundtrip fare topped $500 eight times in the 11 years, and it wasn’t much lower in the other three years. Fares reached their highest point in 2017, averaging $538. It was $191 more than the national average that year.
But even as the Covid-19 pandemic stymied travel throughout 2020 and XNA fares plummeted to an average of $373 because legacy carriers American, Delta and United were scrambling to fill seats, those prices remained higher other airports were seeing. Among the nation’s 100 largest airports, Washington Dulles was the only one with a higher average fare than XNA.
Now, the fares on the legacy carriers are back where they used to be as summer travel continues to pick up, and it’s difficult to find those rock-bottom prices on those airlines.
Yet, if the low-cost carriers can lure enough fliers with their $125 to $250 fares, it seems within reach that they can cause XNA’s average roundtrip to slide downward, saving the region’s travelers millions of dollars each year.
If travel had been $10 less expensive in 2019, the airport’s 922,000 passengers that year would have saved a combined $9.2 million. It’s possible that the average could decline by $40 to $80 in the coming months, meaning the overall savings would be far bigger.
The decrease might be more except that American, Delta and United carry the vast majority of XNA’s passengers despite their fares.
Allegiant and Frontier in the first five months of this year accounted for just 15% of XNA’s travelers, and Breeze didn’t start its service until June. The 15% will increase in the coming months because so many low-cost flights are available, but whether they’ll grow to account for 20% or something more will depend on how many travelers are willing to use them.
It’s been an incredible low-cost airline run for XNA, that kicked off with Allegiant’s announcement in February that it would fly to Austin. By the time that Allegiant flight to Fort Lauderdale takes off in October, the three airlines will have added new nonstop service to seven airports in six metropolitan areas. XNA has never had nonstop service to five of those metros: Austin, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, San Antonio and Tampa.