Revealed: America's most expensive airports

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Airport walkway

Houston is the costliest large airport to fly out of nationwide. Bush Intercontinental tickets cost about $85 above what they should, says a survey.

Newark and Dallas are the next worst offenders when it comes to high fares.

These are results from an analysis done by Nate Silver. He's the number-crunching superstar who jumped from accurately predicting baseball games to accurately predicting national elections. He now studies airfares, airline violence, and other non-travel mysteries.

Here's how the study worked. Silver studied prices for domestic round-trip tickets in coach class. He made an estimate of what a "fair" ticket price should be at each airport. His formula is complicated, but it's based on a simple question: What if no single airline had a near-monopoly at any airport.

For example, Delta controls about two-thirds of the traffic at Memphis's main airport. Silver says fares would be about $100 cheaper in Memphis if more airlines competed for business there. (We'll soon find out. Last month, Delta said it would soon cut one out of four of its flights departing from Memphis.)

On this score, the most expensive airport in America is Fayetteville, Ark. Its coach-class round trip tickets cost $527 on average. That's $158 above the estimate of "fair" prices. The reason is simple, says Silver: There aren't enough airlines competing to serve local customers there.

Here are the largest airports with bargain prices:

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Milwaukee, Wisc.

Orlando, Fla.

Tampa, Fla.

Las Vegas, Nev.

These are the five mid-sized airports with the lowest average fares:

Atlantic City, N.J.

Fort Myers, Fla.

Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Long Beach, Calif.

West Palm Beach, Fla.

These numbers aren't perfect, as critics Gary Leff and Seth "the Wandering Aramean" have pointed out. What's considered "fair" by one person may not by another. Yet there are clearly many airports in the country—especially ones not served by many airlines—where locals pay very high prices to fly.

The key lesson: Poor Texas! It's stuck with Houston and Dallas as costly gateways.


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