February 14, 2012 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Why would a flight to the destination city be less expensive than the same flight to the connecting city?

AVP (Scranton, PA) to Wichita, KS - connecting in Chicago - $351

AVP (Scranton, PA) to Chicago, same day, same flight, same airline - $467

Why would this be?

Related, maybe rhetorical:
I notice the above a lot. Now, generally flights in and out of AVP are expensive, Almost noting is a direct flight from there, so I understand that. To get a reasonably priced flight one has to drive to New York City, Newark, Philly or BWI. But here is an example of where the direct flight is more expensive than the longer flight.

Is it the Airport? Why are flights in and out of this airport so darn expensive?
posted by sandra_s to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Airfare prices have almost nothing to do with the cost of running the flight. Your airlines algorithm has determined that $351 is the price that will sell the most tickets to Wichita at that moment, and $467 will maximize profits on the Chicago trip. This is likely because there is far greater demand for flights which terminate in Chicago.

This has been the case for decades -- when I was growing up and my parents would book cheap flights for their personal business, they would often get a (cheap, possibly subsidized) ticket to Las Vegas that connected in Detroit or wherever and simply not board the connecting flight. Of course, you can't check any baggage in this scenario and I think nowadays the airlines void your return flight if you pull that trick.
posted by modernserf at 6:49 AM on February 14, 2012

See this New York Times article from last May. It's called "hidden-city ticketing," and the article has some tips for taking advantage of it.
posted by Fred Mars at 6:49 AM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I see this bullshit all the time. Seattle->Vancouver->Toronto is often cheaper than Vancouver->Toronto. Yes, it's often actually cheaper (significantly cheaper) to start in Vancouver, take a train to Seattle, get on a plane, fly back to Vancouver, and then fly to Toronto, than it is to stay in Vancouver and hop on that exact same plane from Seattle when it makes the stop. In our case, it's a function of the much smaller number of carriers operating in Canada relative to the US, I'm sure. Supply, demand, blah blah.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:03 AM on February 14, 2012

Fred Mars hit on the head.

Now that you know this, you can use this to your advantage when booking flight and finding the best rate (though, I should mention airlines would not like you doing that).
posted by Kruger5 at 7:14 AM on February 14, 2012

This is one of those topics that's hard to search for if you don't know what it's called, so don't be offended when I point out that this has been discussed here before: 1, 2, 3.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:33 AM on February 14, 2012

That Chicago to Wichita flight may be undersold, and the airline is trying to fill it up so they lower prices.
posted by smackfu at 7:45 AM on February 14, 2012

Oh, and to answer your other question: I mainly fly out of Albany these days, so I feel your pain. It's a general trend at small airports these days. Last year, Nate Silver ran a big ol' regression analysis on what airfares "should" be based on market size and distance traveled, but factoring out effects due to inter-airline competition or lack thereof. He actually found that Scranton's fares are pretty close to what they "should" be under this model. Basically, it's just a small airport, with lower demand and therefore less economies of scale.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:46 AM on February 14, 2012

Just be careful, some airlines will cancel the rest of your entire trip (meaning, the entire return trip from Wichita to Chicago to Scranton) if you miss the connection from Chicago to Wichita on the first leg.
posted by Grither at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2012

This is the field of yield management and you don't see it just in airline tickets. Another big area is auto rental, particularly truck rental.

I don't know if things are different now from the early 90s when I had family in the business, but at that time U-Haul exclusively used yield management to balance their truck fleet. Since population movement tended not to be perfectly symmetrical they had a choice - either pay people to drive some vehicles back where they needed to be or lower rates to try to encourage trips in the other direction. U-Haul endeavored to handle this with pricing, Ryder used more paid labor to rearrange trucks.

The airline has a similar need; they have to get a plane from point A to point C and need to run routes from A to B and B to C. The best possible world for them is to keep the plane full from A all the way through to C. It reduces the hassle at point B of unloading and loading passengers and keeps a seat paid for all the way through. If you unload at B they need to put a butt in that seat from B to C and the demand may not match up.
posted by phearlez at 8:08 AM on February 14, 2012

While demand management is a big part of it, supply management is also part of it. If an airline is a hub and spoke airline, it is most efficient for them to run flights to and from their hubs. They can run larger aircraft, which are usually more cost efficient. If they are full.

Think of the traffic like roads- it's usually cheaper and more efficient to build one big road and have many feeders to and from it, than it is to try and maintain a mesh of different roads all going to specific destinations.

Airport fees might be a part of it too- I think each airport charges for passenger boards and de-boards. If you aren't getting off the plane at ORD, you are not paying whatever ORD charges.

As smackfu says, they probably HAVE to get that plane to Wichita for some reason, and having it empty for the Chicago to Wichita leg is a waste. They'd rather entice some suckers to go from Scranton to Wichita so they can get some money flowing in, even if it might be at a loss. It's not that they are charging the Chicago customers *more*, rather, they are charging the KS customers *less* to keep their inventory balanced.
posted by gjc at 6:16 PM on February 14, 2012

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