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Passengers headed from Northwest Arkansas National Airport to its top leisure destinations saved about $158 per roundtrip compared to if they had made the same junket in late 2019.

That average per-trip savings in the fourth quarter last year was for the 557 people a day who flew from XNA to 10 warm-weather cities, including Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. When combined, the travelers saved $88,100 a day, and $8.1 million during the entire fourth quarter.

What’s less certain is why flights to nine of the 10 destinations were less expensive in 2021 than in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased presence of low-cost carriers at XNA were among the factors.

Analyzing the data

A Volaire Aviation Consulting report, which is based on information collected by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is shared with XNA officials once a quarter. That was the basis for this analysis.

Volaire’s report tells airport administrators how many people flew to destinations, how much the average passenger paid for a flight, and which airlines they flew most often. The most recent Volaire report compared travel in the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter last year.

This analysis focused on trips to 10 leisure destinations that all ranked among XNA’s Top 30 destinations. They were Orlando/Sanford, Las Vegas, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale/Miami, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Fort Myers/Punta Gorda, Destin and Phoenix/Mesa.

Biggest savers flew to Tampa

While the average savings on flights to the 10 cities was $158, the savings on flights to Tampa/St. Petersburg were twice as much.

XNA didn’t have nonstop service to Tampa until Breeze Airways arrived in June 2021. Allegiant Air reacted to Breeze by adding flights to a nearby airport that started in July.

Prior to those nonstop routes coming into play, people who flew roundtrip to Tampa paid $492 on average. With Breeze and Allegiant going there nonstop, the price fell to $180 in the fourth quarter last year.

That lower fare led to a massive increase in how many people flew to Tampa. What had been just 20 people a day making a connection to get to Tampa in 2019 swelled to 92 people flying there last year.

Those 92 people saw an average savings of $312 apiece. It was the biggest discount among the 10 warm-weather destinations. In all, the people who traveled to Tampa/St. Petersburg in last year’s fourth quarter saved $2.6 million.

The savings were significant to other cities.

Fares to Fort Myers/Punta Gorda were $252 cheaper in the fourth quarter 2021. Allegiant started flying to Punta Gorda nonstop in November last year, and its average price was just $60 roundtrip.

The third best savings came to those going to San Antonio, which went from having just 15 people a day flying from XNA to the city in late 2019 to 33 in 2021. That growth and the $232 average savings per trip can be linked to Breeze, which started its nonstop flights to the city in July last year.

Pandemic’s impact

While new low-cost flights to more destinations from XNA undoubtedly played a key role in lower fares to the warm weather cities, the impact of COVID-19 was important, too.

While airlines like American, Delta and United made dramatic cuts to their schedules throughout the pandemic, Allegiant Air did little cutting. It didn’t fly at all to XNA in April 2020, but it quickly ramped up its schedule for the busy summer travel season.

The demand for seats was less during the pandemic as many businesses eliminated or limited employee trips. That reduced the overall demand at XNA and nationwide, meaning the people who did fly saw airlines reduce fares in a bid to get their attention.

Cost to Destin increased

Among the 10 warm weather destinations, Destin was the only one with higher airfares when comparing the two quarters in this analysis. Allegiant Air started flying from XNA to the Florida Panhandle city in June 2018.

While the average airfares was more, prices to Destin remained good in the fourth quarter last year. Passengers paid $130 roundtrip in the fourth quarter 2019; it rose to $202.

The nine other destinations were all less expensive. While Tampa, Fort Myers/Punta Gorda and San Antonio were at the top, money was saved by people who flew to Fort Lauderdale/Miami ($210), Austin ($208), New Orleans ($152), Las Vegas ($108), Phoenix/Mesa ($68) and Orlando/Sanford ($58).