Airline fares rise in Feb. CPI

Airline fares reversed a trend of several months and rose 0.5 percent in the February Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor.

That increase outpaced the overall CPI-U, which rose 0.2 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis after being unchanged in January.

The February uptick in airline fares follows declines of 0.9 percent in January, 1.5 percent decline in December 2018 and a 2.4 percent decline in November. In all of 2018, fares decreased for the sixth consecutive year, falling a total of 2.6 percent.

Frequent flyers, however, know that airline fares as tracked by the BLS don't tell the whole story.

Airlines continue to focus on increasing ancillary revenue, which carries an important caveat. While the BLS's calculations of airline fares include an allowance for checked bag fees, the BLS does not include other ancillary charges which represent an ever-larger percentage of airlines' overall revenue.

In September 2018, American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), United (NYSE:UAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and jetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) raised fees for checked bags from $25 to $30 for the first bag, and from $35 to $40 for the second. In addition, jetBlue and Alaska (NYSE:ALK) also raised date-change fees. These and other factors are not tracked in the airline fare index.

The indexes for shelter and food increased, and the gasoline index rose after recent declines to result in the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The food index rose 0.4 percent, its largest monthly increase since May 2014, as both the food at home and food away from home indexes increased. The gasoline index rose 1.5 percent in February, following three consecutive monthly declines, resulting in the energy index rising 0.4 percent despite declines in the electricity and natural gas indexes.

The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in February after rising 0.2 percent in January. Along with the shelter index, the indexes for personal care, apparel, and education all increased. The indexes for recreation, medical care, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles all declined in February.

The all items index increased 1.5 percent for the 12 months ending February, a smaller increase than the 1.6-percent rise for the 12 months ending January. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.1 percent over the last 12 months, a slightly smaller figure than the 2.2-percent increase for the period ending January. The food index rose 2.0 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 2015. In contrast, the energy index declined 5.0 percent over the last 12 months, the BLS said in its Mar. 12 statement.

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