Airline fares drop in March CPI

Airline fares reversed direction from the previous month and fell 0.6 percent in March  erasing the February increase of 0.5 percent in the monthly Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor.

That increase ran opposite the overall CPI-U, which rose 0.4 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.2 percent in February.

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 energy index increased 3.5 percent in March, accounting for about 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted all items monthly increase. The gasoline index increased sharply, and the electricity index also rose, although the natural gas index declined. The food index also increased in March, with the indexes for food at home and food away from home both continuing to rise.

The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in March, the same increase as in February. The indexes for shelter, medical care, new vehicles, recreation, education, and tobacco were among those that increased in March, while the indexes for apparel, and used cars and trucks all declined.

The all items index increased 1.9 percent for the 12 months ending March, a larger increase than the 1.5- percent rise for the period ending February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.0 percent over the last 12 months. The food index rose 2.1 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending March 2015, while the energy index declined 0.4 percent over the past year, the BLS said in its Apr. 10 statement.

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