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Flying to Chicago, Denver and Tampa/St. Petersburg was far less expensive in this year’s second quarter compared to the same quarter in 2019, new federal data shows.

The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics information, which was analyzed by Volaire Aviation Consulting, shows travel to those three destinations from Northwest Arkansas National Airport was far below the airport’s overall average cost of a domestic roundtrip ($484).

The cheapest flights among the busiest XNA destinations were to Tampa/St. Petersburg, where passengers paid 60% less than in 2019 ($192 roundtrip compared to $484). The best deals were generally on Allegiant Air ($90 average) and Breeze Airways ($138).

Because those two low-cost carriers started flying nonstop twice each week to Tampa in 2021, the Florida metro has grown from a market that saw 23 people a day fly to it in 2019 to one that sees 97. American Airlines picks up some of the Tampa/St. Petersburg travelers because it goes there via a connection every day of the week, but its average fare in the second quarter this year ($576 roundtrip) was more than six times higher than Allegiant’s average.

Denver fares are 30% less expensive than in 2019 because low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines started flying from XNA to the Mile High City in June that year. With only United Airlines on the XNA-to-Denver route prior to Frontier’s arrival, fares routinely exceeded $500. In this year’s second quarter, flights to Denver averaged $284 roundtrip, with equal numbers of travelers relying on United and Frontier.

It’s more difficult to explain why Chicago fares dropped 26% as both American Airlines and United have provided nonstop service to Chicago O’Hare for years. The average fare in the second quarter 2019 was $594; it was $442 this year.

Airport consultants continue to use 2019 for comparisons because the pandemic disrupted air travel so dramatically in 2020, 2021 and early 2022.

Big Apple loses its bite

For the first time, Chicago became the top destination from XNA during this year’s second quarter.

Prior to the pandemic, New York was No. 1 from XNA, but the pandemic changed that. With business travel way down, leisure destinations such as Orlando/Sanford and Destin rose to top postitions in 2020 and 2021.

As mandatory face mask requirements were eliminated by airlines in the spring 2022, New York was again king of the hill at XNA by 2022’s second quarter. It remained there until both Chicago and Orlando/Sanford moved ahead of it in the most recent quarter.

Chicago saw 158 people a day fly to it from XNA in the second quarter.

It was among eight cities that saw at least 100 people a day fly to it from XNA. The others were Orlando/Sanford (146), New York/Newark (144), Denver (138), Los Angeles (125), Dallas/Fort Worth (116), Atlanta (112) and Houston (106).

International costs up

While domestic roundtrips overall were $4 less expensive from XNA than in the second quarter 2019, the average international roundtrip was $168 more expensive.

The 270 people a day who started their international trips at XNA paid an average of $1,306. The average price was generally less on American ($1,198) than Delta Air Lines (1,508) and United ($1,244).

The 22 people a day who flew from XNA to Cancun, the airport’s top international destination, averaged $618. That was 26% higher than in 2019.

Fares to No. 2 destination London and No. 3 San Salvadore were more expensive, too. London averaged $1,562; San Salvador went for $728.