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Why Are Flights So Expensive in 2024? | A Pilot Explains

Why Are Flights So Expensive in 2024? | A Pilot Explains

Why are flights so expensive in 2024?

Flights are currently expensive due to factors like inflation, increased fuel costs, and high demand. Booking strategies, such as choosing non-stop flights and timing of the booking, significantly impact airfare prices. Understanding these dynamics can help travelers find cheaper options, such as opting for layovers and avoiding peak travel times.

Airfare is up 14-30% across the board this year, but why are flights so expensive now? It’s a combination of 10 factors working together to contribute to higher airfare worldwide. 

You’ll be able to uncover cheaper flights and sidestep today’s pricier routes by learning these factors and making a few changes to the way you book your next flight. 

Why Are Flights So Expensive? 10 Reasons, Explained

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These days, if you want to fly to your destination, it’s gonna cost you. Average domestic airfare is up 14% (about $378) and international airfare is up over 30% (about $1300).

But why are flights so expensive?

There are multiple factors that contribute to the overall price of flying today. From inflation to added fees and the day/time you book your flight, the reason flights are so expensive isn’t as simple as identifying a single factor. 

Instead, there are 10 reasons flights are so expensive today. Let’s take a look at the biggest factors in the price you pay to fly – and some helpful tips to unlock cheaper fares! 

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1. Inflation

Inflation is hitting every sector hard and the added costs ripple through to the airline industry. You’ll see (and feel) it in the nearly 30% higher airfare prices around the globe – ouch. 

Average airline fares are up around 28.5% on average this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this increased cost are a lot of factors – rising fuel costs, increased labor costs, and added costs to provide the usual airline amenities (snacks, drinks, etc.).

It makes sense that if you’re paying more for everything from groceries and rent to haircuts and electricity, you’ll see higher airfare prices as well. 

2. Distance and Fuel Cost

The distance you’re flying has a lot to do with why flights are so expensive these days. Longer flights mean more fuel usage, and with fuel costs on the rise, you’ll end up paying more for your tickets. 

It’s easy to understand why a long-distance international flight costs more than a short domestic flight a few states over. But even quick, short-distance flights are going up in price due to the increased cost of fuel. 

The current price of oil is going up as demand surges and supply dwindles, with the cost per barrel averaging nearly $75. Jet fuel costs are even higher, averaging around $102/barrel and rising week over week. 

If you’re keeping an eye out for cheaper airfare, watch the price of fuel as an indicator. When it dips, you’ll be able to find cheaper fares.

3. Non-stop vs. Layovers

If you’re focused on finding non-stop flights vs. flights with layovers, you’re going to see more expensive airfare. Non-stop flights with no stops are typically more costly. 

Non-stop flights are undeniably faster and more convenient than flights with layovers, but you pay for that ease and convenience with higher airfare. 

If you choose flights with layovers (just make sure you leave plenty of time to catch your connecting flight) instead of non-stop flights, you’ll save money on air travel. 

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4. Booking Day and Time

Did you know that the day of the week you book a flight has a lot to do with how expensive the ticket price is? Airlines use advanced algorithms to calculate airfare prices by the day and time based on current supply and demand. 

Since airlines have a bird’s eye view of how many empty/filled seats they’ll have on a given flight, the day and time you book your flight can translate into much more expensive – or much cheaper – plane tickets. 

Sunday is widely considered the best day to book flights. Google Flights found that airfare is anywhere from 5% to 20% cheaper when tickets are booked on a Sunday. 

As for the time of day you book, Skyscanner has determined 5AM to be the best time of day to book a cheaper flight. If you’re not booking your flights early in the morning on Sunday, you’ll probably be shown more expensive flights.

5. Booking Far in Advance or Last Minute

How far in advance should you book a flight? If you book too far in advance – or too last-minute – you’re going to see more expensive flights. 

The key is hitting the sweet spot in between booking super far in advance or too close to your planned trip dates.

For domestic flights, that’s between 1-3 months in advance. For international flights, booking 2-6 months out is best for nabbing airfare deals. 

While there can be exceptions to the rule, it’s almost never a good idea to book flights at the last minute. Airlines usually jack up ticket prices as the flight departure date approaches, leaving last-minute travelers paying a lot more for airfare. 

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  • Millions of flight and hotel options
  • Flexible dates helps you find the best days to fly
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6. Flight Day and Time

Not only is the booking day and time a major factor in flight costs, but the actual day and time of your flight matters, too. Airfare can be around 15% higher when you fly on certain weekdays and times, according to Google Flights

If you’re not aware of the cheapest days to fly (Tuesday-Wednesday for domestic flights; Wednesday-Thursday for international), you might end up paying a lot more for airfare by flying on the most expensive days and times. 

The busiest days to depart or return on a flight tend to be Sunday, Monday, and Friday, when you’ll pay a 15% premium due to the increased number of people flying in or out of their destination on these weekdays. 

It’s not just the day of the week that counts in your total airfare cost – it’s also the time of day your flight is scheduled. Flights scheduled later in the day tend to be more expensive than early (5AM to 8AM) flights. 

Pay attention to holidays and events happening around your planned trip dates, too. Flying around Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. means you’ll pay more to fly. 

7. Business Travel Routes

Business travelers are an airline’s bread and butter – they represent about 75% of an airline’s profits because they fly direct, often, in business-class or first-class seats, and tend to book last-minute flights.

As a result, certain travel routes mostly used by business travelers end up being a lot more expensive to fly. Airlines know the companies/employees will pay the higher airfare price because the flight is required for work. 

Business routes are typically to and from major metropolitan airports, like JFK to O’Hare. If you need to fly one of these busy business routes, calculate the cost savings of flying into a smaller airport nearby and renting a car to drive to your destination. 

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8. Flight Demand

Higher flight demand makes for more expensive airfare. Since the supply (empty airline seats) doesn’t raise with the increased demand, the seats that are available go up in price. 

That means flying during peak season, to popular destinations, or before/after holidays and large events (like Christmas or the Super Bowl) will result in your flight being much more expensive than flying during the low season or to less popular destinations. 

Flying during the low season for your destination (like flying to Hawaii in fall) is the key to getting better deals on airfare and making flights less expensive. 

You’ll also find that some airlines offer seasonal sales on flights, making crazy-low rates ($59 flight, anyone?) accessible during less popular times of the year to fly.

Southwest, for example, offers fall sale fares as long as you book your flight 30 days in advance within their sale period (typically about a month long in July). 

9. Airline Competition

When fewer airlines have routes to a destination, you’ll see more expensive flight prices. When there’s a lot of airline competition along a route, you’ll benefit with lower airfare across the board. 

Multiple airlines flying to a destination means they’re all competing to sell tickets to that destination. Prices drop as a result, but if you find yourself flying to a less-popular or off the beaten path destination, you’ll have the opposite experience. 

Flying to remote destinations that don’t have many airline routes on a regular basis – AKA less airline competition – means airfare is going to be much more expensive. 

10. The Passenger Fee

The Passenger Fee, or the September 11 Security Fee, is another (small) piece of the “why are flights so expensive” puzzle. 

Today, the fee is $5.60 per one-way flight. The Passenger Fee is tacked onto your airfare cost and serves to help the TSA cover the extra costs of “securing the nation’s aviation transportation system.” 

In 2022, The Passenger Fee generated nearly $4 million in revenue. So while an extra $11.20 fee on a round trip flight may not affect your final airfare cost by much, it certainly adds up when every US traveler pays it. 

Things to Consider

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Asking “Why are flights so expensive?” is a good way to lead yourself down the rabbit hole of discovering all the tips and tricks to get cheaper airfare. 

If you’re after cheaper flights, keep these considerations in mind. 

  • Events happening near your departure and return airports. It’s a good idea to do your research and know what’s going in the city you’re leaving or flying into to understand if airfare will be higher than usual. For example, even if you’re not a football fan, flying in or out of an airport in the city where the Super Bowl is held in early February means you’re going to run into much more expensive airfare. 
  • Know how to unlock cheaper fares. From booking during the low season to choosing smaller (cheaper) airports to fly to near your destination, knowing how to find cheap flights is the best way to combat the ever-rising cost of airfare.
  • Find a domestic destination. Since international airfare has increased in cost more than domestic flights (over 30% international airfare increase vs. 14% domestic increase from 2021-2022), you can always save money on flights by choosing a domestic destination when it’s possible. To double your savings, aim for the cheapest places to fly in the US!
  • Set up price alerts. You can find cheap flights with Expedia or Kayak, but it’s even better if you set up price alerts to look for the best airfare offers at the destinations you’re interested in flying to. When you set up price alerts, you’ll get emails notifying you when the flight price drops for your destination and ensure you’ll get the lowest airfare possible. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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Let’s address some of the most common questions travelers have about why flights are so expensive right now and what the future outlook is like for the cost of air travel. 

Why is it so expensive to fly right now?

Inflation, travel demand, higher fuel costs, an increase in international air travel, and booking differences are some of the reasons it’s so expensive to fly right now.

Higher airfare can be traced back to 10 basic factors, but fortunately, there are still ways to get around these higher flight prices and access very affordable flights.

Will airfare go down in 2024?

It’s very possible that airfare will go down in 2024, at least during certain months. In January and February, which tend to be less busy for airlines, passengers are poised to see much lower airfare at the start of 2024.

What is the cheapest month to travel in 2023?

The cheapest months to travel in 2023 are January and February (domestic), but August is 2023’s cheapest month to travel internationally.

Planning a winter trip after the new year is a great way to save on domestic airfare, while a fall (spring, if you’re going to the Southern Hemisphere) trip is perfect for a cheap international flight.

Find Cheap Flights
Expedia | Find Cheap Flights

Don't waste your hard-earned money. Get the best deal on your flight, hotel, or both by using

  • Save up to 10% bundling flight + hotel
  • Millions of flight and hotel options
  • Flexible dates helps you find the best days to fly
Browse Expedia Flight Deals
We may earn a commission when you click this link, at no extra cost to you.

So, Why Exactly Are Flights So Expensive?

We can lament the rising cost of airfare all we want, but in the end, asking “Why are flights so expensive?” demands a concrete, upfront answer. 

Flights are more costly today because of a combination of inflation, rising flight demand, an increase in international travel and direct flights, booking on the wrong days/times, booking too far in advance or too close to your trip dates, and added fees. 

Thankfully, there are still tons of ways to score cheaper flights, even with all these factors considered. Using flight aggregator sites to search for the best flight prices is always smart. 

Some factors are beyond your control (like the cost of fuel), but knowing the best days, times, and how far out to book your flights can make a big difference in how much you pay, too.

Flights may be more expensive today, but it’s still very possible to fly cheaply. It just takes a little more research and planning!