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Travelers flying from Northwest Arkansas National Airport saw the average cost of a domestic trip increase 3.8%, new data shows.

The data, made public on Tuesday by the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, shows XNA’s passengers saw the average roundtrip fare rise to $405 in the first quarter this year. Domestic fares averaged $391 in the fourth quarter last year.

Airfares remained depressed nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic that started in early 2020. At its start, corporations opted to keep their business travelers grounded and leisure travelers limited their own flying. After having its best travel year in 2019 with 922,000 passengers, XNA saw a 61% decrease in flying in 2020. Flying increased markedly in 2021, and it’s continued to rise this year. Yet it remains below 2019 levels.

Restrictions Lifted

The cost of flying increased for months as COVID-19 travel restrictions eased in the U.S. and internationally, and as the public grew more comfortable with returning to the skies. There’s been a modest decrease in travel costs in recent weeks.

The new federal data shows the upward trend at XNA is consistent with what happened nationally and at airports in Fort Smith, Little Rock, Kansas City, Springfield and Tulsa. Fares at each of those airports increased in the most recent quarterly report

When compared to XNA’s $405 average, first-quarter domestic fares were more expensive in Fort Smith ($567) and Springfield ($417). Departures were less expensive from Kansas City ($359), Little Rock ($378) and Tulsa ($358).

True Cost of Flying

Using those alternative airports to take advantage of less expensive fares comes with considerations that are important to knowing the true cost of a trip.

Travelers who decide to make the 110-mile drive from Northwest Arkansas to Tulsa, for instance, must leave home earlier, pay a toll, spend more money on gasoline and risk on-the-ground complications such as car trouble.

That’s why FareFlightNWA in 2019 created a cost calculator to assist people in comparing the cost of flying from XNA, Tulsa and Kansas City. Generally speaking, the cost of flying from Tulsa or Kansas City rarely pencils out as a cost benefit after entering the airfare and other information into the calculator.

Beating the Average

An important consideration when reading about the federal data is that it focuses on an average, which is best used as a way to measure change over time. The average doesn’t mean travelers won’t be able to find far less expensive fares or see some that cost $700 or more.

In short, there are always outliers, and Kayak, Google Flights and other websites can be helpful when it comes to beating the average.

Additionally, XNA benefits from having low-cost carriers Allegiant Air, Breeze Airways and Frontier Airlines providing services, and those airlines rarely sell roundtrip fares that cost as much as XNA’s $405 average so long as those ¬†travelers avoid making last-minute purchases.

The $405 first-quarter fare was vastly different than what XNA travelers experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted Northwest Arkansas in February 2020. While the average fare had worked its way down to $485 in 2019, the average was $509 or more in each of the previous four years.