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Passengers departing Northwest Arkansas National Airport saved $17.8 million in this year’s first quarter compared to if they had made the same trips in 2019.

That’s based on an analysis of airfares paid by the 1,566 people a day who departed from XNA during this year’s first quarter. The daily savings was $200,410.

Two factors — the presence of more low-cost carriers and the airline industry’s slow-but-steady recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — are largely responsible for the $17.8 million in savings.

The airfare and passenger data used in this analysis comes from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Biggest winners

People headed to the Tampa metropolitan area benefitted the most from flying from XNA this year, saving about $330 per trip compared to if they had flown in 2019. Their combined savings was $2.3 million.

It’s easy to draw a direct line from the fare decrease on the Tampa route to the presence of two low-cost carriers flying there from XNA.

Breeze Airways flies to the Tampa airport, and Allegiant Air jets off to the nearby St. Pete/Clearwater airport. The fares averaged $188 roundtrip. Neither airline flew there in 2019, meaning passengers had to make connections and paid an average of $518 roundtrip to reach the Tampa metro.

A similar analysis of data from the fourth quarter 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2019 showed savings of $2.6 million on the Tampa route. The low-cost carriers were the primary influence then, too.

While Tampa travelers saved the most, people headed to other leisure destinations came out ahead. Fliers to Austin, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio, New Orleans and Phoenix/Mesa saved more than $1 million per destination during the quarter.

Business routes saved

People traveling on business-focused routes saw meaningful savings as well, but it’s less clear as to why. There were savings of more than $1 million for the people who traveled to New York, Chicago and Denver. People headed to Chicago saved a average of $252 per person, more than those headed to Denver ($204) and New York ($130).

While the Denver route is the only one with a low-cost carrier (low-cost Frontier Airlines competes with United Airlines), all three routes have competition. New York is served by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines; American competing with United for Chicago-bound customers.

It’s possible COVID-19 factored into the improved airfares. Because not as many people were flying in the first quarter this year as compared to the first quarter 2019, more available seats may have caused airlines to reduce their fares to gain the attention of travelers.