Average ticket prices continue to trend downward in 2016, but since 2014 there have been some noticeable changes in the variance paid across length-of-stay and advance purchase windows. Past assumptions—such as the idea that longer trips will save significantly on air fare—are no longer universally true. Average ticket prices are converging to be more consistent across these two dimensions, which is good for corporate travel managers trying to manage their air travel expense. Strict corporate travel policies that prohibit last-minute ticket purchases may have saved significantly in the past; however, those savings are now decreasing. This convergence will give corporate travel managers more opportunities to meet their travelers’ changing travel needs without a major impact to their travel budget… especially for last-minute and short-duration trips.
Analysis and Details
ARC determined the top 15 business travel destinations based on ticketed travel by over 2,000 corporate travel agencies defined for the ARC Corporate BI benchmark. This data represents a comprehensive view of corporate travel across all GDSs and all sizes of corporate travel management companies, large and small. To ensure this in-depth analysis was as accurate as possible, only round-trip travel was included. Both direct and connecting travel on all airlines settling their corporate travel through ARC were also included.
The analysis reinforced prior reports from ARC showing the gradual decrease of average ticket prices over the last several years. It also revealed some new information such as the consistency of ticket prices across several trip durations and advance purchase windows.
Analysis revealed some things have not changed with average ticket prices. A peak in average ticket price occurs in July of each year, with a low point in December/January [Chart 1]. This holds true in every destination with the exception of Las Vegas, where the spike in average ticket price occurs in January.
The 12-month moving average ticket price for the top business travel destinations peaked in late 2014 and has been on a steady, gradual decline [Chart 1]. In addition, the trend thus far in 2016 for average ticket prices in the first five months of the year (January-May) shows a drop of almost 8 percent, compared to only a 2 percent drop during the same five months in 2015 [Chart 2].
In addition to average ticket prices, ARC also did an analysis on trends by advance purchase in four categories: zero to two days (last-minute), three to seven days, eight to 14 days, and greater than 14 days [Chart 3]. While there’s no surprise that average ticket prices are lower when purchased earlier, ARC was able to quantify the average premium paid for last-minute ticket purchases into the top 15 business travel destinations.
The data showed that the premium for purchasing last-minute versus three to seven days before travel is not as significant as might be expected. Savings averaged only 7 percent (around $47) three to seven days before travel versus last-minute. However, the premium paid for last-minute ticketing versus two weeks or more was significant, averaging over 50 percent (more than $250 on average).
The other surprise uncovered by ARC in this analysis was that the premium paid for last-minute versus 14-day advance purchase has decreased significantly over the past year. The premium paid for last-minute travel dropped starting in 2015 and has remained lower throughout 2016. The premium now averages around $200, compared to the historical $250 premium for last-minute average ticket prices—a drop in premium paid by over $50 per ticket [Chart 4].
Moreover, ARC’s research looked at average ticket prices based on length of stay. Historically, the assumption was that the longer the trip, the lower the average ticket price. In other words, if you stay four nights instead of two, the average ticket prices will be significantly lower [Chart 5]. It is important to note that this analysis focused on a length of stay of one, two, three or four nights only. The data included only tickets from travel agencies ARC identified as corporate travel agencies. This is the same set used for corporate benchmarking in ARC Corporate BI and other products. In total, this is around 2,000 U.S.-based travel agency locations. By filtering this data, most tickets with a Saturday night stay were eliminated, thereby increasing the integrity of the analysis.
The data showed that for overnight or two-night stays, the average ticket price was noticeably higher in years past. There was essentially no difference in average ticket price for three- and four-night stays. Surprisingly, this difference has started to steadily decrease since 2014, and so far in 2016, the only premium is for an overnight trip [Chart 6]. All other length-of-stay average ticket prices have converged with almost no difference in average ticket price. Further, the premium in average ticket price for a one-night stay has dropped from over $100 to only around $20 compared to a longer stay. This is an 80 percent drop in premium for overnight travel versus longer-stay average ticket prices.