Travelers’ purchasing behaviors are shifting in response to airline pricing trends, according to an in-depth report released this week by ARC.
The report shows that the long-held belief that round-trip airline tickets are more affordable than one-way tickets is simply no longer true — and as a result, more travelers are buying one-way tickets.
By examining more than three years of data, including over 350 million tickets sold by ARC-accredited travel agencies, ARC has identified the following purchasing trends:
One-way ticket sales are growing significantly. In 2014, only 29 percent of airline tickets sold were one-way, versus round-trip. In 2016, this number jumped to 39 percent, and the numbers have continued to grow throughout 2017, with 42 percent of flights sold in January to May 2017 being one-way, as opposed to round-trip.
One-way ticket prices have become more affordable in many U.S. markets. The premium on one-way tickets is decreasing dramatically in many U.S. markets — resulting in more affordable one-way ticket prices. In this report, ARC measured the premium paid for one-way tickets versus the cost of an equivalent trip ticketed with a round-trip itinerary.
Historically, the one-way premium could be as much as 50 percent or more for a one-way ticket as opposed to a round-trip ticket for a similar journey. But in 30 percent of the top 200 U.S. markets, the premium on one-way tickets has dramatically decreased — from $136 in selected markets each way in early 2014 to just $2 in early 2017. These markets include EWR, DFW, LGA, DEN, BOS and LAX, among others.
While this is not a universal trend, this figure represents tens of millions of trips in the U.S. every year by both leisure and corporate travelers. For other markets, the premium on one-way tickets remains around $50 per direction and has remained largely unchanged since 2014. These markets include DCA, PHL, SFO, MSP, DEN, BOS and others. (Note that BOS flights are included in both examples, as the effect is connected to markets rather than individual airports or airlines.)
Travelers should also be mindful of ticket change fees. If a traveler’s full itinerary changes, they may incur two change fees rather than the single fee for a round-trip ticket.
Airline ticket sales continue to grow overall. The change in traveler behavior to focus less on round-trip tickets has not reduced the demand for air travel. In fact, the demand for air travel has continued to grow: The number of passenger trips has grown steadily since 2014, with annual growth rates ranging from 1.8 percent in 2014 to 4.3 percent in the first five months of 2017. More data on airline ticket sales is available monthly from ARC’S Airline Sales Statistics page.
One-way ticket sales are increasing for a broad range of travelers. One-way ticket sales aren’t just increasing among travelers who book at the last minute. They’re also increasing among travelers booking more than three weeks ahead of time.
In the past, the longer the advance purchase window, the higher the likelihood of a round-trip ticket. But as of 2017, the percentage of one-way ticketing is almost the same (near 40 percent) regardless of the advance purchase window. In other words, this trend does not appear isolated to a specific profile of traveler and is starting to generalize across a broad range of travelers.
Leisure and unmanaged corporate travelers are driving one-way ticket growth. As part of the report, ARC conducted a parallel analysis of travel agencies selling primarily government and managed corporate travel (including corporate travel departments). For these agencies, one-way ticket sales have remained steady, from 31 percent in 2014 to 32 percent in 2017 — 10 percentage points lower than the general traveler population.
Although the findings of this report do not indicate that one-way tickets are always more affordable than round-trip tickets, they do highlight a significant ticket pricing trend in many markets, as well as a major shift in traveler behavior.
As the air travel landscape changes, ARC will continue to monitor and report on trends that shape the traveler experience. For more details on these trends, view the full one-way ticket report.
ARC first announced these findings at the 2017 Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention in Boston. To hear more about the report from ARC’s managing director of enterprise information, Chuck Thackston, watch the video below.