Delta Airlines passenger jet and service truck at Atlanta International Airport .
Steve Allen—Alamy
By Brad Tuttle
July 23, 2015

CheapFlights.com has just released the latest edition of its Airport Affordability Report, and shockingly, the two most affordable airports in 2015 were among the nation’s most expensive a year ago.

America’s two cheapest airports based on average airfares found on CheapFlights are Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky (CVG) and Atlanta (ATL), where average domestic fares run $199 and $231, respectively. Last year, CVG and ATL ranked #77 and #74 in the country in terms of average flight prices. Several other big cities made significant leaps in terms of affordability ranking too: Chicago-O’Hare, Philadelphia, New York-LaGuardia, and Cleveland all landed in the top 10 in 2015, while none was ranked higher than #31 a year ago.

What caused Cincinnati and Atlanta airports in particular to become so affordable in such a short period of time? Cincinnati has traditionally been one of the country’s most expensive airports because it was long dominated by one airline, Delta. But years of airline mergers and reductions in service meant that flights decreased at hubs like Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Memphis, which were once overwhelmingly served by a single airline. Sensing opportunity, smaller airlines more likely to offer discount flights stepped in to occupy some of the space formerly occupied by the legacy carriers. As a result, overall fares at the airports dropped.

As the Cincinnati Business Courier reported recently, “Low-cost carriers like Frontier and Allegiant Airlines increasing flights have been responsible for a significant drop in average fares at the Cincinnati airport.”

Atlanta is another airport that has traditionally been largely dominated by Delta. But over the years Delta was forced to compete with the discount carrier AirTran on many routes. Southwest Airlines purchased AirTran in 2010, and for a while average fares increased as Southwest consolidated flights and flight prices rose as supply decreased.

In recent months, though, low-fare carriers such as Spirit and Frontier Airlines have significantly bolstered their presence at Atlanta with new flights at the major gateway. What’s more, Atlanta is always among the world’s busiest airports, and the presence of more and more carriers battling it out for all of those travelers puts downward pressure on pricing.

The bottom line is pretty simple: More competition translates to lower prices for travelers.

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