2019 US Airport Cost Rankings: See How Airfare Compares at the Nation's Busiest Airports

Our rankings show which airports are the best and worst for your bank account.
10/13/19 | By Tracy Odell
Man Checking Airfare Comparison at the Nation's Busiest Airports

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FinanceBuzz looked at average domestic airfares from the 45 busiest airports in the U.S. to learn which airports budget-conscious travelers will want to frequent — and which they may want to avoid.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a choice, but for those who live in metro areas serviced by three or more airports, we took a deeper dive into the data to see which airport in each area offers the cheapest fares.

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Least-expensive and most-expensive airports to fly from

We compared airfares from the 45 busiests airports in the U.S. using data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Together, these airports serve as the departure point for over 500 million passengers annually.

McCarran Airport in Las Vegas tops our list with the cheapest fares, followed by two Florida airports, Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport and Orlando Airport. The average airfare from these three airports comes in under $250.

Compare that to the three most expensive airports on our list: Washington Dulles Airport, Charlotte/Douglas Airport, and Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. The average ticket from these cities comes in at $422, a whopping $177 more than the average from our three least expensive airports.

The nation's two busiest airports, Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago O'Hare, fall in the middle of the pack. LAX comes in at number 29 with an average fare of $352.79 and O'Hare is number 19 on the list with a ticket price of $338.55.

Cost Rank Airport State Passenger
Volume
Rank
Avg Airfare
1 Mccarran International Airport (LAS) NV

15

$240.35

2 Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL) FL

20

$245.35

3 Orlando International Airport (MCO) FL

13

$249.74

4 Oakland International Airport (OAK) CA

31

$287.64

5 San Jose International Airport (SJC) CA

27

$298.98

6 New Orleans International Airport (MSY) LA

42

$301.66

7 Denver International Airport (DEN) CO

3

$302.55

8 Dallas Love Field (DAL) TX

37

$303.32

9 Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) IL

28

$305.63

10 Tampa International Airport (TPA) FL

24

$308.88

11 Baltimore / Washington International Airport (BWI) MD

19

$318.44

12 Miami International Airport (MIA) FL

30

$319.52

13 Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) OH

41

$319.80

14 San Diego International Airport (SAN) CA

17

$326.66

15 Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) MA

6

$328.21

16 Portland International Airport (PDX) OR

23

$329.09

17 LaGuardia Airport (LGA) NY

11

$329.16

18 Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (SEA) WA

7

$337.31

19 Chicago O'hare International Airport (ORD) IL

2

$338.55

20 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) AZ

12

$338.57

21 Hobby Airport (HOU) TX

45

$338.79

22 Sacramento International Airport (SMF) CA

33

$339.37

23 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) TX

25

$341.51

24 Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) NC

32

$344.17

25 Indianapolis International Airport (IND) IN

40

$346.15

26 Kansas City International Airport (MCI) MO

36

$348.32

27 Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) PA

43

$349.92

28 Nashville International Airport (BNA) TN

34

$350.04

29 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) CA

1

$352.79

30 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) DC

21

$357.42

31 Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) UT

26

$359.45

32 Atlanta International Airport (ATL) GA

4

$360.85

33 Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) MO

35

$363.48

34 Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP) MN

14

$372.21

35 John Wayne Airport (SNA) CA

44

$372.27

36 Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) MI

18

$373.37

37 Honolulu International Airport (HNL) HI

39

$374.36

38 Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) PA

16

$379.26

39 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) CA

5

$379.43

40 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) TX

9

$383.43

41 John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) NY

10

$390.20

42 Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) NJ

8

$403.74

43 Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) TX

22

$413.66

44 Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (CLT) NC

29

$425.77

45 Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) DC

38

$427.37

If you're thinking these airfares don't look too bad, you're right. Average domestic air fares in 2018 were the lowest (with inflation adjustments) since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics began collecting these records in 1995.

It's not all good news for travelers, though. These airfares do not include extra fees paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft, a growing source of aggravation for travelers and revenue for airlines. As airlines reduce fares, they're adding and increasing fees, like those for baggage and seat selection, that can increase overall costs for passengers. Looking at the first nine months of 2018, 74% of U.S. passenger airlines' total operating revenue came from fares, down from 87.6% of their total revenue in 1995. In short, that means more of their revenue is coming from fees that aren't always included in ticket prices.

Savvy travelers can sometimes reduce or avoid these extra fees by paying them online before arriving at the airport or using a co-branded travel credit card that offers free checked bags.

How costs vary when there's multiple airports in a metro area

We also compared airfares in several metro areas where travelers have a choice of three or more airports (within a 70-mile radius) to fly from. We looked only at airports who serviced at least 100,000 passengers last year.

We found that costs vary widely. Flyers in these areas who are willing to shop and travel to an airport a bit further from home could see substantial savings. Even in Boston, where we saw the least discrepancy between metro airports, average fares varied by 17%. In LA, where we saw the largest discrepancy in prices, there's a massive 73% variance between the four regional airports.

Metro Region Airports Price Variance
New York City John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
Stewart International Airport (SWF)
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
41.7%
Los Angeles Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR)
John Wayne Airport (SNA)
Long Beach Airport (LGB)
72.6%
South Florida Miami International Airport (MIA)
Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
36.1%
San Francisco San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Sonoma County Airport (STS)
Oakland International Airport (OAK)
31.9%
Boston Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
T.F. Green Airport (PVD)
Manchester Airport (MHT)
17.2%
Washington DC Baltimore / Washington International Airport (BWI)
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
34.2%

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in NYC

In the New York City metro area, where there are five major airports to choose from, prices vary by 42%.

Stewart International, located 67 miles from midtown Manhattan, comes in the cheapest at $293.10. While the airport is connected to New York City via bus and train lines, it's a bit of a hike, so you'll need to balance time in transit versus cost savings. It's also much smaller than the big three (LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark), meaning fewer departure options. Still, at $110 cheaper per fare than Newark, it just might be worth it.

Airport Avg Airfare

Stewart International Airport (SWF)

$ 293.10

LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

$ 329.16

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

$ 390.20

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

$ 403.74

Westchester County Airport (HPN)

$ 415.37

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in LA

While LAX gets the award for busiest airport, it's Long Beach Airport that wins for lowest average fares. Long Beach and second-place Burbank Bob Hope Airport can also be much more convenient for flyers who want to avoid the notorious traffic delays at LAX.

Airport Avg Airfare

Long Beach Airport (LGB)

$ 215.62

Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR)

$ 267.28

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

$ 352.79

John Wayne Airport (SNA)

$ 372.27

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in South Florida

FinanceBuzz is headquartered in Delray Beach, FL, so these are airports we're quite familiar with. Unfortunately, both the Fort Lauderdale and Miami airports suffer from traffic congestion and construction delays, but Fort Lauderdale makes up for some of the inconvenience with lower average fares. While average fares at Palm Beach are almost $100 more than Fort Lauderdale, travelers who value a smaller, calmer airport shouldn't rule it out.

Airport Avg Airfare

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

$ 245.35

Miami International Airport (MIA)

$ 319.52

Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)

$ 334.01

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in San Francisco

When you think of San Fran, SFO probably comes to mind first, but it comes last in our rankings of average fares in this metro area. In some of the other cities we looked at, the cheapest airport requires significant extra travel time. But Oakland International is located just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, making it a great choice for the cost-conscious traveler.

Airport Avg Airfare

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

$ 287.64

Sonoma County Airport (STS)

$ 296.41

San Jose International Airport (SJC)

$ 298.98

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

$ 379.43

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in Boston

With only a $6 cost difference between T.F Green in Warwick, RI, and the much larger Boston Logan, it's tough to pick a winner based on price alone. Where you're located in the Boston area and how convenient each airport is for you should dictate which airport comes out on top.

Airport Avg Airfare

T.F. Green Airport (PVD)

$ 322.43

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

$ 328.21

Manchester Airport (MHT)

$ 378.03

Where to find the least-expensive airfare in Washington DC

Like we've seen in other metros, it pays to drive a little further to the airport in the DC region — as long as you drive north, not west. Baltimore/Washington Airport offers the lowest fares in the region. And while Dulles might be more known as a "DC airport" than Baltimore, the two airports are almost equal distance from downtown DC ( Baltimore airport is located 33 miles away while Dulles is a 27-mile drive), and airfare at Dulles is over $100 more expensive on average.

Airport Avg Airfare

Baltimore / Washington International Airport (BWI)

$ 318.44

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

$ 357.42

Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

$ 427.37

What causes the price differences between airports?

It's easy to see that fares vary widely among airports, even those within 70 miles of one another. It's harder to pinpoint exactly why prices vary so much.

Budget airlines drive down ticket costs

What do the three cheapest airports on our list have in common? Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando are all hubs for low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines. Spirit and other budget airlines offer very low ticket costs but have lots of add-on fees. In fact, Spirit Airlines makes almost half of its revenue in fees. Bottom line: Ticket prices are just the starting point. Be sure to calculate all the extra fees when deciding which airport will be cheaper to fly from.

Don't expect the higher-cost airports to be more efficient

We created an efficiency factor* to look at which airports are running the most smoothly. We found no correlation between how efficient (or inefficient) an airport is and its average ticket price. In this case, paying more isn't going to make having an on-time departure more likely.

How to save on airfare

While it's interesting to look at average airfares to understand how airports compare cost-wise, it's important to remember these are just averages. As you plan your travel, you'll find costs can vary widely at a single airport. With a little research and smart planning, you can find a deal at any airport.

Here are a few tips to save on airfare:

  • Timing isn't everything, but it's still important. Airfares fluctuate week to week — and even day to day. By monitoring airfares for your upcoming trip, you can buy when prices drop. You can track prices using an app like Hopper or set up a price alert on Google Flights.
  • If your travel plans are flexible, sign up for cheap flight alerts from a site like Scott's Cheap Flights or Dollar Flight Club. You'll get emails whenever the website finds a cheap fare, and if the deal looks enticing, you can book the bargain flight using instructions in the email.
  • Another way to save on airfare is to use credit card points to book your travel. The sign-up bonus alone on some cards is enough to earn you a free flight (or two). For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers a 60,000 point sign-up bonus worth $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Methodology

We looked at 2018 airfare data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation on April 16, 2019 to compare domestic airfares. This report calculated average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. "Itinerary fares" consist of round-trip fares unless a return trip was not purchased, in which case the one-way fare was used. Fares are based on total ticket value, including the price charged by the airline plus any additional taxes and fees levied at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at booking and do not include fees for optional services like baggage fees.

We also looked at the Federal Aviation Administration's airport boarding and airport performance metrics.

* Our proprietary efficiency factor was calculated using the following variables: passengers/flight, percentage of on-time departures, and average delay (in minutes).

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