Airline fares resume downward trend in Oct. CPI

Airline fares resumed a downward trend in October, dropping 2.2 percent after a 0.4 percent increase in September, according to the latest Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics logo, consumer price index CPIOctober's decline means the index has declined in three of the last fourth months. In September airline fares increased 0.4 percent following a 0.1 percent drop in August and a 4.9 percent drop in July. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 1.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The decline ran counter to the overall CPI-U, which was up 0.4 percent for the month on a seasonally adjusted basis from the August figures, according to the BLS's Nov. 17 news release that contained the statistics.

The calculations of airline fares include an allowance for checked bag fees but the BLS does not include other ancillary charges which continue to rise and represent a larger percentage of airlines' overall revenue.

The agency found a certain percentage of passengers checked bags. It applies that percentage to all  incoming quotes during sample rotation and then assigns the appropriate checked bag fee (assuming one bag, for either one-way or round-trip, based on the description of the quote). It also applies baggage specs to airlines that do not charge for bags so that if they start to charge in the future, the BLS could easily incorporate that price increase.

As in September, increases in the shelter and gasoline indexes were the main causes of the rise in the all items index. The gasoline index rose 7.0 percent in October and accounted for more than half of the increase in the all items index. The shelter index increased 0.4 percent for the second straight month.

The energy index increased 3.5 percent, its largest advance since February 2013. The indexes for fuel oil and gasoline were up 5.9 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively, while the indexes for electricity and natural gas saw relatively smaller increases of 0.4 percent and 0.9 percent. In contrast, the index for food was unchanged for the fourth consecutive month, as the food at home index continued to decline, dropping 0.2 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent for the second straight month. Along with the shelter index, the indexes for apparel, new vehicles, and motor vehicle insurance all increased in October, as did the indexes for education, household furnishings and operations, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco. The indexes for personal care, communication, used cars and trucks, recreation, and airfare all declined. The medical care index was flat over the month.

The index for all items less food and energy increased 2.1 percent over the past 12 months (it has remained in the narrow range of 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent since December 2015). The shelter index has risen 3.5 percent over the last 12 months, and the medical care index has increased 4.3 percent. The index for used cars and trucks has declined 4.1 percent over the year. The tobacco index rose 3.5 percent over the last 12 months, while the index for alcoholic beverages rose 1.3 percent, the BLS said in its statement.

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