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Passengers flying from Northwest Arkansas National Airport paid 5% less for flights than they did a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, federal data published this month shows.

Stats from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which were analyzed by Volaire Aviation Consulting, show the average XNA passenger paid $470 in the first quarter of this year for a domestic roundtrip flight. In the first quarter of 2019, $504 was the average.

Airport consultants such as Volaire continue to use data from 2019 for comparisons due to the pandemic’s broad impact on airfare and travel in 2020, 2021 and early 2022.

XNA’s average decreased to $470 primarily because of the growing presence of low-cost carriers. The average roundtrip fare charged in the first quarter this year by Breeze Airways ($98), Frontier Airlines ($104) and Allegiant Air ($124) were exceedingly low.

The other airlines weren’t so cheap.

The airport’s primary carrier — American Airlines —averaged $566.

Fares on Delta Air Lines averaged $586 roundtrip; United Airlines flights sold for $480 during the first quarter.

Top destination

New York held onto its spot as XNA’s top destination for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The Big Apple saw 117 people travel there each day followed by Orlando/Sanford (108 passengers), Denver (106), Dallas/Fort Worth (104) and Chicago (96).

The big mover on that list is Denver, which had about 50 people a day making the trip in the first quarter of 2019.

The availability of Frontier, which has flown to Denver three or four days a week since its arrival at XNA in mid-2019, has helped boost travel to the city by offering a low-cost option (averaging $88 in this year’s first quarter).

United has a far more expansive flight schedule than Frontier, going to Denver three times every day. Its average first-quarter fare was $408.

Phoenix rising

Nonstop flights offered by Breeze and Allegiant to the Tampa metro led to a massive increase in the number of people going to the city.

Now Phoenix is on the rise.

Allegiant Air has provided wintertime service to the Phoenix/Mesa airport over the past few years. However, new daily flights on American, which started Feb. 3, and the short-lived, twice-a-week flights offered by Breeze led to a big first quarter.

Phoenix went from being ranked No. 15 among XNA’s top destinations with 28 travelers a day in the first quarter of 2019 to No. 7 with 90 travelers this year.

Tampa Most affordable

The lowest average fare during the first quarter was for trips to Tampa-St. Petersburg at $190 roundtrip, but the airlines serving XNA charge wide-ranging fares to the people who want to go there.

Higher average fares to Tampa were charged by American ($500), Delta ($470) and United ($372). The trio garnered just 23% of the XNA passengers going to the Tampa metro.

Most travelers — 75% — boarded far less expensive flights on Allegiant (averaging $92) or Breeze ($96).

In much the same way, the presence of low-cost carriers at XNA and their affordable fares kept down the average cost of travel to Destin ($216), Nashville ($224), Denver ($250) and New Orleans ($282).

All four of those places saw far more people travel there, too. The 100 people a day who flew to those cities in 2019 swelled to 204 in the first quarter this year.