More flights, carrier competition drive Missoula airfares to lowest in the state

Passengers collect their bags at Missoula International Airport. Data released by the Bureau of Transportation Services suggests that average 4th quarter fares from Missoula in 2018 dropped 11 percent from the same period in 2017. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Efforts to expand the number of carriers and destinations served from Missoula International Airport are showing results, with average ticket prices now the lowest in the state, according to 4th quarter data released by the Bureau of Transportation Services.

Missoula airport officials waited months for the latest data, which was delayed by the government shutdown. When the results came, they reflected an 11 percent reduction in airfares and a $5 million savings to Missoula passengers.

“This is the second full quarter with American Airlines serving our market and we have seen a dramatic decline in prices,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “Our strong passenger activity demonstrates that current air service offerings are being well received by our customers, and the community is responding to the competitive fares, new destinations and additional flights.”

The latest data places the average fare from Missoula at $406. Billings was listed at $464, Bozeman at $441 and Helena at $493.

Increased competition among carriers and reducing ticket prices was a driving force behind efforts to compile a revenue guarantee to bring new service to Missoula. While doing so benefits leisure travel to and from the Garden City, it also plays to local businesses looking to compete on the national stage.

“Missoula has a vibrant economy where businesses succeed and grow,” said Grant Kier, executive director of the Missoula Economic Partnership. “Reliable access to air service supports that growth, which in turn generates increased business for airlines that serve Missoula.”

Destination Missoula and the Missoula Tourism Business Improvement District contributed $250,000 to the revenue guarantee that helped bring American Airlines to Missoula.

Much of that funding comes from the flat $2 nightly fee hotels charge their guests. The City Council this week signaled its intent to expand the TBID citywide, increasing the number of participating hotels from 20 to 33.

That’s expected to net an additional $390,000. Funding brought into the TBID goes to host and promote music festivals, sports tournaments and general marketing, along with local air service.

“Destination Missoula and the Missoula TBID appreciate the creative, forward-thinking team at the Missoula International Airport who continue to make Missoula an attractive, cost-effective and competitive destination for airlines,” Barbara Neilan, executive director of Destination Missoula, said in a statement.

“We are proud to partner with them by helping to provide matching airline guarantee funds and marketing support to ensure that Missoula remains top of mind for new direct routes and airline service.”