Air Service in Chico – Fares

Apart from the issue of reliability, another reason some people in Chico cite for not flying out of Chico is the higher price they think they will pay compared with Sacramento and other airports.

Is that true?  It depends.

It depends on where you’re going.  It depends on when you’re going.  It depends on whether the people or computers that determine fares are paying attention to (or care about) comparable fares out of Sacramento.  And sometimes it just doesn’t seem to depend on anything other than if the moon is full or whether your cat slept well the night before last.

I’ve worked in the travel industry for most of my so-called adult life, and began on the airline side working initially in the TWA R.S.O. (“reservation sales office”, or “call center” in today’s parlance)  in San Francisco in 1979.  You may have read all or part of my lengthy blog series from a few years ago called “Airline Fare School” in which I teach the basics of airline fares to non-travel industry civilians.

Though I’m still in travel, I do not sell airline tickets – I operate a hotel  reservation service for business travelers who have more valuable things to do with their time than spend it fussing with hotel bookings.  However through the Apollo travel industry system I use to confirm hotels, I have access to the airline side of the house, and I enjoy playing around with fares and flights, and price different scenarios.  It’s my window on the glamorous airline industry.

One thing that is essential to understand about airline fares is that they can and do change a lot.  Competition, seasonality, systemwide strategic pricing changes, a bad hangover – lots of stuff enters into how an airline prices transportation.  Anything you see in this post was true as of the moment I wrote it, but will no doubt go stale shortly thereafter.  So take the spirit of it with you rather than the specific examples.

I have obtained some great deals out of Chico.  Three years ago I paid about $149 round-trip including taxes and fees to fly from Chico to Las Vegas.  Now you’d be looking at around $400 to make the trip.  By the same token when I was checking fares to LAX recently the best fare was $368 round-trip from Chico; the next day I saw fares of around $250 round-trip for a limited time period.  That’s the way things are in this industry.

Over the years I’ve seen times when fares out of Chico were actually less than out of Sacramento.  Why?  Perhaps an automated system or the person responsible for updating fares was asleep at the wheel.  Perhaps they were testing the Chico market.  It’s impossible to say.

United Airlines tariff (fare) display in Apollo
Chico-San Francisco, 20 May 2013
(Click on image to see it in larger scale)









At this moment I’d say there’s only one bargain price out there and it’s in the market probably the fewest people fly: simply between Chico and San Francisco and no further.  (The vast majority of passengers connect in SFO to or from other cities.)  United offers a round-trip requiring a 14-day advance purchase and Saturday night stay of $138.  Note that this price (and others for domestic travel in the Lower 48) includes the 7.5% excise tax, but not various other fees (fuel surcharge, security, airport facility, flight segment).  With all fees the $138 amount becomes $152.

This is the only round-trip fare published in the market.  Others are all one-way fares ranging from $109 to $401, depending on advance purchase and available inventory.  (The $1006 fare in the fare display for all intents and purposes never applies.)

There’s no point in comparing prices from Sacramento to San Francisco since hardly anyone flies it for local traffic, and certainly no one from Chico would drive to Sacramento and then fly to San Francisco.

Let’s now look at examples of other prices from Chico and Sacramento to popular destinations.

I would like to remind you of some basic guidelines:

– amounts are round-trip (in some cases the fares are published round-trips, in other cases they are one-way fares doubled)
– amounts only include the 7.5% excise tax, not additional mandatory fees or fuel surcharges
fares are subject to change at any time (and indeed some of these fares were not in the marketplace when I began writing this post)
– these are the lowest fares in the market and require varying degrees of advance purchase as well as travel on certain days of the week
– prices out of Chico can be less than what you see below when the fare is “broken” (ie. the system prices an itinerary using point-to-point fares such as Chico-San Francisco plus San Francisco-New York, instead of the thru fare between Chico-New York because the sum of the parts is lower).
– price comparisons are only with United Airlines, not other airlines that may fly in the market, unless otherwise indicated
– where you see two amounts – ex. $252/$256 – it’s because two similar fares apply but for different days of the week (Tuesday and Wednesday are often less expensive days of the week to travel)

Los Angeles (LAX) – from Chico: $246/$252 – from Sacramento: $146/150
San Diego (SAN) – from Chico: $252/$256 – from Sacramento: $152/$156
Las Vegas (LAS) – from Chico: $368 – from Sacramento: $150/$156
Portland (PDX) – from Chico: $368 – from Sacramento: $140/$176 (comparison is with Alaska Airlines)
Seattle (SEA) – from Chico: $408 – from Sacramento: $284/$292 (comparison is with Alaska Airlines)
Denver (DEN) – from Chico: $328/$336 – from Sacramento: $228/$236
Dallas (DFW) – from Chico: $440 – from Sacramento: $338 (comparison is with American Airlines)
Chicago (ORD) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $402/416
Atlanta (ATL) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $398
Miami (MIA) – from Chico: $438/$458 – from Sacramento: $338/$358
Asheville, N.C. (AVL) – from Chico $470 – from Sacramento: $476
Washington, D.C. (IAD) – from Chico: $364/$372 – from Sacramento: $264/$272
New York (JFK) – from Chico: $320 – from Sacramento: $220
Boston (BOS) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $324

In a moment I’ll show you when flying out of Chico is almost a no-brainer: flying internationally.  But let’s wrap up flying domestically.

Again, I emphasize that this is a snapshot in time from when I wrote this post, and only touches on the lowest fares in a market.  Fares with less or no advance purchase at all, commonly used by business travelers, are significantly higher from any airport.

If you are deciding whether to fly out of Chico or Sacramento, you also need to weigh the additional costs that come with Sacramento.

First you have the drive – 172 miles round-trip from my house – that includes a big, dreary, 2-lane highway/non-freeway chunk whether you take 70 (my route) or 99.  (It’s 12 miles round-trip from my house to the Chico airport.)  Do the math yourself for the fuel cost considering the mileage your vehicle gets.

Secondly, you have parking in Sacramento, the least expensive of which is $10 per day.  Parking at the Chico airport is currently free.  While the City is considering imposing parking fees, my hunch is that this will not occur for some time.

Lastly, consider the additional time required to use Sacramento from two different perspectives.  Besides the long drive, it simply takes longer to get around the Sacramento airport and to your flight.  In Chico, well it’s sort of like boarding the aircraft from your living room.

And the other time factor is the nature of flights available from Sacramento vs. from San Francisco.  Sacramento is simply not a Big League airport in the same way that San Francisco is.

That means, in order to get to many important destinations from Sacramento you have no choice but to use connecting flights.  A nonstop from San Francisco to Boston gets there a lot faster (and more reliably) than a connecting flight from Sacramento via Chicago (or Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc).

None of this is meant to say you shouldn’t fly out of Sacramento.  It’s your choice, and on many occasions it might make better sense from one or more standpoints.  But compare all of the elements of the trip, not just the ticket price alone, before you write off Chico.  If you are being taken to (or picked up in) Sacramento you may also find it handy to fly out of Chico but back to Sacramento, or vice-versa.

International travel

Now let’s look at some examples to illustrate that you really must consider Chico when you’re flying outside of the United States.  I don’t think most people from Chico fly out of Sacramento for international travel – they drive and leave their car at San Francisco.  But in so many instances, United common-rates fares (applies the same price) out of Chico and San Francisco so that for all intents and purposes you fly for free between Chico and San Francisco to connect with international flights.

These examples are using the same flights from/to San Francisco, with the Chico flights added at either end.  Because there are fuel surcharges and lots of taxes and fees for international travel, I’m providing the total price for an apples-to-apples comparison.  When higher from Chico, the amount is small, and usually due to the application of fees or taxes.  Look closely at the difference – sometimes it’s actually less to fly out of Chico!

London – 20 May to 20 June – from Chico: $1279.40 – from San Francisco: $1275.40 (difference: $4)
Munich – 10-21 October – from Chico: $1305 – from San Francisco: $1291 (difference: $14)
Paris – 4-16 August – from Chico: $1646.90 – from San Francisco: $1653.90 (difference: $7 less out of Chico)
Mexico City – 10-17 May – from Chico: $620.62 – from San Francisco: $641.62 ($21 less out of Chico)
Sydney – 10 June-1 July – from Chico: $1982.80 – from San Francisco: $2068.80 ($86 less out of Chico)

If you have a fear of missing your connection out of San Francisco on an international flight you can book a really long connecting time – up to 24 hours – without paying extra.  I wrote about this in Airline Fare School.  For all international destinations except Canada, the connecting time in domestic airports may be up to 24 hours without causing a break in fare (i.e. paying more).

Let’s wrap this up.

Is it in general more expensive to fly out of Chico for domestic travel?

Yes, but not always, or at least not always by an exorbitant amount.  I suggest that Chicoans check rates from both Chico and Sacramento, and then weigh the factors of cost, convenience, and reliability, and choose accordingly.

Could prices be more attractive?

Yes, in particular to other cities in California, adjoining states and elsewhere in the western United States.  Perhaps this is by design to encourage passengers to mostly use flights from Chico to San Francisco to connect with long-haul United flights, but since so much air travel is regional it may dampen potential demand.

Knowing who at United sets prices, and what criteria they apply (and what grounds for flexibility they have) would be very useful in efforts to make flying from Chico more attractive.


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1 Response to Air Service in Chico – Fares

  1. tay-tay says:

    ever since the merger between United and COntinental, I’ve had a much harder time finding those scenarios where time ande convenience are enough to make up for the extra cost associated with flying out of chico. I usually fly for business, so I don’t always have a month’s notice before booking a flight. Even with that, before the merger I could almost always get a flight that was well within the range of making it the better option for my employer (when you consider time, mileage reimbursement, and parking). Now, it’s much less frequent. I hope to fly out of Chico as much as possible to help make sure we never lose the service, but can’t say it’s been easy.

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