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Cheap Tickets? Depends Where You Fly

March 24, 2014, 10:10 PM by Angela Kennecke

Cheap Tickets? Depends Where You Fly

When he was elected in 2010, Mayor Mike Huether said one of his top priorities was to bring down the price of airfare out of Sioux Falls.

Four years later, that's happened, for some destinations.

These days the Sioux Falls airport is a bustling place.  With $23 million worth of improvements and a couple of new carriers, more people are choosing to fly out of the city.

"We've seen three consecutive years of record passenger traffic.  This year, we'll probably be close to having a million people fly through the Sioux Falls airport," Sioux Falls Regional Airport Executive Director Dan Letellier said.

Surprisingly, most of those passengers aren't complaining about ticket prices.

"You get cheaper out of larger metropolitan areas, out of Atlanta or Chicago or Dallas. But for a regional airport, it's pretty good," passenger Brian Thoreson said.

"We booked ours before Christmas time, so the prices were comparable if you fly out of bigger cities and stuff," passenger Denise Garvey said.

Booking well in advance can get flyers the cheapest fare.

"Even though the low fare is out there for a 21-day advance, if the seats are not there, you're not going to get that price," Travel Agent Lorie Buus said.

That's because while some fares are lower, there aren't as many flights and the planes taking off are smaller. The airline business has changed considerably since Mayor Mike Huether took office calling for lower fares. He helped bring Frontier Airlines into the city.  Frontier offered lower prices to the West.

"When we started here in 2010, we had four out of every ten travelers who wanted to fly out of Sioux Falls, flew out of somewhere else.  Now we've cut that in half," Huether said.

While flights to the West are now cheaper and more competitive with Omaha or Minneapolis, flying to Minneapolis or Chicago will cost you a lot more than it did four years ago.

"The flight to Chicago? It's cheaper out of Omaha. That flight from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis, you just as well drive.  That single connection. That single connection to Minneapolis; that single connection to Chicago is high," Buus said.

Adding another carrier such as Southwest with flights East could change that.

"There are hopeful signs within a couple of years they might add a couple flights to Chicago or St. Louis that are mini-hubs for them that might provide some additional competitive pressure going eastbound.  But there's no magic bullet that all of a sudden we have super low fares to New York," Letellier said.

"I heard that same thing four years ago.  I did. I was told, 'There's not an easy fix.  It's so hard; we can't make these improvements.' But guess what?  Collaboratively we have," Huether said.

"Any one person or one group, they're pretty limited in what can be done because the airlines are for-profit businesses and they control the supply, especially now when there are fewer carriers, they can consolidate their efforts.  They can control the amount of seats, much better than they could before," Letellier said.

Huether believes as long as people continue to choose to fly out of Sioux Falls, the airlines will come.

"But if you work toward it, if you devise a plan, if you execute the plan then ultimately yes, I think we've got a really good chance to make that happen," Huether said.

We compared airfare prices from four years ago to today.  While you can now get a flight to Denver for as low as $140, it costs as much as $200 more per ticket to fly to Chicago or Dallas than it did four years ago if not booked well in advance.

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