How Much Does the Fuel Cost for Your Next Flight?

The Wall St. Journal has an interesting article looking at how much it’s costing airlines to fly you from here to there – you may be surprised to hear that upwards of 70% of your fare may be going just to pay the fuel bill. For example, American’s fuel bill for a roundtrip flight from New York to Los Angeles on a 767 is about $488. The average fare is $671. You can see the problem. JetBlue’s more fuel-efficient A320s only cost about $292 in fuel, but their average fare is only $414. Fares aren’t anywhere close to where they need to be, which is why we’ve heard about the airlines shrinking their routemaps — and we’ll see plenty more of that soon.

Fares are already pushing the point where leisure travelers are changing their plans – and we haven’t heard how hotels and resorts will be affected by changes in traveler behavior. The entire industry is in the midst of a major upheaval – and unfortunately for the traveler (especially the leisure traveler), we’ve hit the end of road for cheap flying (at least for a while).

(Editor’s Note: Reader TJL just pointed out the most interesting thing that I missed in the article – that United pays about $32 more in fuel on their PS flights than AA for their transcon route, but their average fare is $300 higher.  To TJL’s point, how much longer can AA keep that up?  How can they compete?  But worse, is AA in any position to reconfigure its 757s to include a premium product?  Probably not.  So they’re stuck with a brutal plane to serve the route because its a flagship product for them.  Delta, on the other hand, has chosen to fly a 737 on that route, and while the product is pretty lame, and they get $230 less per passenger than AA, their fuel costs are significantly less.  This looks terrible for AA; unfortunately for United, there’s really no other routes (save ORD-LAX, perhaps) where they could fly the PS service.)


  1. how are they getting the “estimated average fare” from Form 41 data? Given that we know that business class tickets are paying for the bulk of the fight, I don’t think there “average” fare calculations are correct.

    The costs for everyone in back should be marginal; i.e. you have to pay for labor and the plane anyway, so as long as you’re bringing in more revenue than extra fuel required, you should be able to make some money. I have no idea how much extra fuel an “average” person with “average” luggage would have on plane.

  2. I don’t think Delta’s transcon product is lame at all. 737 equipment, right. But with personal tv screens on every seat, that is above what UA-AA is offering at the moment.