Airline fares reverse course, decline in April CPI

Airline fares declined in April after four months of increases, 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 CPIFares dropped 0.6 percent in April following increases every month from Dec. 2016 through March. Overall, the combined monthly adjustments more than offset the 4.7 percent decrease posted by the index for all of 2016. Last year's decline marks the fourth consecutive year that airline fares have fallen.

There is an important caveat, however, The BLS's 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.

Overall, the CPI-U decreased 0.2 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.2 percent before seasonal adjustment.

Increases in indexes for shelter, energy, tobacco, and food all contributed to the monthly increase in the all items index. The energy index rose 1.1 percent, with all 3 of its major component indexes rising. The food index rose 0.2 percent, mostly due to a sharp increase in the index for fresh vegetables.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in April after declining in March. The shelter index increased 0.3 percent, and the tobacco index increased sharply over the month. However, many indexes declined in April, including those for wireless phone services, medical care, motor vehicle insurance, apparel, used cars and trucks, recreation, and new vehicles.

The all items index rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending April. While a smaller increase than the 2.4 percent rise for the 12 months ending March, this is still a larger rise than the 1.7 percent average annual increase over the past 10 years. The index for all items less food and energy rose 1.9 percent over the last 12 months; this compares to a 1.8 percent average annual increase over the past decade. The energy index rose 9.3 percent over the last year, while the food index increased 0.5 percent, the BLS said in its May 12 statement.

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