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Domestic Airfares Lowest Since 2010. But…

Does it feel like 2010 all over again? As far as U.S. domestic airfares go, it is. Or so the government would have us believe.

In its just-released Air Fare Data report, the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics pegs the average domestic ticket price at $361 in the first quarter of 2016, down 7.8 percent from the same period in 2015, and the lowest it’s been since 2010.

And the airlines would be happy to leave it at that: a good-news-for-consumers story. According to Airlines for America, the airline industry’s lobbying group, “Customers are benefiting from lower fuel prices and increased competition every day, as flying is affordable and accessible to the many, not just the elite few, as evidenced by the record number of people flying over the summer travel period.”

But the data come with a sobering qualifier. The Bureau’s analysis is based on the base ticket price, plus taxes and fees imposed by the government or airport authorities. Conspicuously missing from the airfare calculation are airline-imposed fees, such as those for checked bags, reserved seating, and the like. And those so-called ancillary fees have been steadily increasing.

What that means, of course, is that while today’s net airfares may be comparable to those in 2010, travelers today are almost certainly paying somewhat more for their flights than they did six years ago. We won’t know precisely how much more until the Bureau manages to capture all-in airfare prices, adding nuisance fees to the calculation, and includes the total cost of flying in its quarterly reports.

So it’s not really 2010 after all. But you already knew that.

Reader Reality Check

How much did “ancillary fees” add to the cost of your last ticket?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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