Business Monday: Not quite a free fall, but United fares between Aspen and Denver dropping
August 19, 2018
United Airlines' notoriously high fares between Aspen and Denver have been coming back down to Earth of late, with some one-way prices as low as $142.
"Overall, this is some of the most favorable pricing that I've witnessed in the Aspen market for years," said Bill Tomcich, president of the reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.
The only commercial carrier that flies nonstop between Aspen and Denver, the Chicago-based airline has had the luxury of charging round-trip fares for more than $1,000.
Published fares April 1, for an Oct. 1 flight, showed Aspen-Denver round-trips with prices as low as $498 and as high as $1,082.
On Friday, the published airfare for an Oct. 1 round-trip between the two airports ranged from $202 to $302, according to data provided by Tomcich.
Those fares don't include fees and taxes.
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United did not respond to a message seeking comment about the reduction in fares, but aviation consultant Mike Boyd said fliers shouldn't get used to it.
"They're not doing it out of love; they're a business," said Boyd of Evergreen-based BoydGroup International. "But I think it's great. It does help a little bit."
On Thursday, United's published fares for a one-way flight Aug. 23 from Aspen to Denver were as low as $218. An Aug. 30 flight was $185; for Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, the lowest fares were $142.
Local travelers have often bickered that direct flight between Denver and London is cheaper than it is between Aspen and Denver.
That wasn't the case Saturday, if one were to book a trip on United's website with a departure date of Oct. 1 and return date of Oct. 8. An Aspen-Denver round-trip was $231, and Denver-London was $550.
Those were the cheapest advertised fare at the time, while a Denver-Los Angeles round-trip on United for the same dates was $154.
Even with the current lower airfares, Boyd said the Aspen-Denver prices "are still not that cheap, and I don't think it's indicative of anything."
Frontier was the last airline to compete head-to-head with United on the Aspen-Denver route. That competition lasted from 2008 to 2012 before Frontier — which once had one-way airfares in September as low as $39 from Aspen to Denver — pulled out of Aspen.
Aspen Skiing Co. and Stay Aspen Snowmass also partnered with United in the early 2000s with the Aspen Ski Plane. Those using the service paid $99, not including fees and taxes, for a day-trip package deal that included airfare and a lift ticket.
Tomcich touched on the recent price drops in his occupancy report for August that came out last week. "If you haven't recently looked at the cost of flights from ASE (Aspen-Pitkin County Airport), you may be pleasantly surprised with what you find as even the local fares from the traditionally pricey ASE-DEN leg on United have recently come down considerably," he wrote.
Separate from his newsletter, Tomcich said he couldn't speak about what is fueling the fare drop, but he noted Aspen's commercial carriers — American, Delta and United, through partner SkyWest — will have increased seating capacity during the mostly offseason months of September (up 12 percent over September 2017), October (up 25 percent) and November (up 33 percent).
United's airfares between Aspen and Denver will return to their normal rates eventually, Boyd said.
"Historically and traditionally they don't want you sitting in that seat to Denver," he said. "That seat in Denver is to connect to Chicago and London."
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