You are currently viewing With so many flights, customers find low fares to Orlando, Las Vegas. Will it last?

With so many flights, customers find low fares to Orlando, Las Vegas. Will it last?

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Travel

If you haven’t checked flight prices to Orlando or Las Vegas recently, it may be a good time to take a look.

For all the headaches about surging fares in 2022, average airfare to many destinations has ticked downward over the last year.

In fact, it’s been downright cheap to fly to some of the most popular leisure destinations in North America.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free biweekly Aviation newsletter.

Stiff competition among airlines has fueled flight deals and fare battles, dropping ticket prices for travelers on their way to Walt Disney World or Las Vegas’ world-famous resorts and casinos.

That said, it’s also proved a pesky hurdle for carriers trying to turn a profit. It’s even inspired a wave of changes in where some airlines plan to fly in 2024.

cinderella castle

Cheap Orlando and Las Vegas flights

Search Google Flights, and you’ll find no shortage of great deals to Orlando International Airport (MCO), particularly if you’re willing to fly with a budget airline.

For example, a May round-trip itinerary from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to Orlando costs only $38. Yes, that’s the round-trip price.

baltimore to orlando

Sure, you’ll pay more than that if you want to, say, pick a seat or bring anything more than a backpack on board, but at an average of $19 each way, it’s about as low a base fare as you’ll ever find.

Even this $68 round-trip itinerary from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is a relative steal.

boston to orlando

It’s not just the ultra-low-cost carriers, either. Some travelers have also encountered surprisingly low fares on some of the so-called Big Three legacy carriers: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.  

“In September and October, we saw prices for both Vegas and Orlando on legacy carriers get pretty low. Think Los Angeles to Vegas for only $58,” said Katy Nastro, a spokesperson for Going, which tracks airfare globally.

Ultimately, the big downward driver for fares is surging supply (i.e., lots of extra seats across a boatload of added flights) to Orlando and other popular leisure destinations. 

Those types of destinations are an integral part of the largest airlines’ networks, but they’re an absolute hallmark for the low-cost carriers. This surge in capacity (and competition) has some airlines adjusting their approach heading into the latter half of 2024.

Unprecedented spike in seats

Here’s a sense of how much busier things have gotten at some of these airports.

On domestic flights to Orlando in 2023, airlines offered 22% more seats than before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium.

Compared to 2013, a decade earlier, domestic seats to Orlando were up nearly 70%, far eclipsing overall nationwide domestic seat growth, which was, itself, up a quite robust 24% during that time.

Orlando International Airport

Orlando isn’t the only city experiencing this noticeable uptick in available seats.

In 2023, seats on domestic flights to Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas were up 20% versus 2019, Cirium data shows.

Additionally, airlines flew from the U.S. to Cancun International Airport (CUN) in Mexico with 47% more seats in 2023 versus 2019.

Cancun International Airport
Cancun International Airport (CUN). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

A hurdle for airlines

As enticing as these plentiful flights and low fares are for travelers, it’s been far less welcome news for airlines.

A recent report from TD Cowen described the late 2023 landscape as a classic case of “overcapacity.” This pushed fares down as airlines descended into a pitched competition against each other to try and fill an ever-growing number of seats to these popular leisure destinations. 

Some in the industry acknowledged things may have gotten out of hand.

There are only so many seats Florida, Cancun or Vegas can support over such a short period of time,” United’s chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said on an October earnings call during which company executives lambasted the strategy of budget carriers.

The thing is, adding more and more flights to the likes of Orlando and Vegas has traditionally worked, according to Brett Snyder, analyst and president of the Cranky Flier aviation site and the Cranky Concierge travel service.

Demand is strong, historically, to Orlando. And they figure, ‘Let’s put more in here and see what happens,’” Snyder explained.

 But, more recently?

 “It did not go well,” he said. “Effectively, they put too much capacity in and they were scrambling to try to figure out how to fill those seats.”

 In a recent analysis, Snyder noted just how much base fares to Orlando dropped in late 2023 — as much as 20% on some carriers like Frontier Airlines.

“Fares going down — that’s good news for consumers,” Snyder said. “But it’s not sustainable for the airlines, so now they’re pulling it all back.”

Big changes in 2024

Frontier, for its part, is making swift changes in 2024.

Since January, the airline has embarked on a major network shake-up. It has added and cut dozens of routes, shifting some of its attention away from prime leisure destinations to major hub airports in cities like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Charlotte.

It’s a strategy meant to entice a different type of leisure traveler — one that might be willing to pay a bit more for a ticket, CEO Barry Biffle said on the company’s most recent earnings call in February. 

frontier plane
A Frontier Airlines jet at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Specifically, Frontier is hoping to woo travelers flying to bigger cities to, say, visit their parents or see friends from college. It’s even trying to pick up some business travelers along the way.

The ultimate goal is to become less reliant on the low-fare, “low-margin” flying that, Biffle acknowledged, made it difficult to turn a profit in recent months in places like Orlando and Las Vegas.

“Both markets have experienced rapid and disproportionate growth compared to 2019 when demand and capacity were far more balanced,” Biffle told analysts. “Our network growth in 2024 is focused on exploiting higher-fare, ‘visiting friends and relative’ markets.”

Growth slowing in coming months

Amid those changes by Frontier and others, Orlando is seeing some of its meteoric growth slow down over the coming months.

In the second quarter of 2024, the number of seats on domestic flights to Orlando will grow by less than one percent versus 2023, Cirium data shows, after growing 16% a year earlier.

Across Florida, seats in the second quarter of 2023 were up by nearly 25% versus pre-pandemic 2019. They’ll be up by a far more modest 6% in the second quarter, year over year.

Seats will grow at a similarly slower pace to Las Vegas. They’ll be down by about 3% year over year in the coming months to Cancun as well (though airlines will launch service to the newly opened airport in nearby Tulum on March 28).

Will airfare rise in 2024?

With airlines pumping the brakes on capacity growth to traditional leisure markets, could fares climb again?

That’s still a bit unclear.

So many travelers are still interested in flying overseas almost year-round, leading to continued competition to fill seats closer to home. That could keep lower fares around.

Spring break flights to Mexico and Central America were down 11% versus last year, booking app Hopper said in a recent report. Flights to the Caribbean were also down 9% versus 2023.

frontier plane

That trend could continue.

“We may see weak domestic demand on some leisure routes, similar to the end of 2023, [which means] flights could get even more affordable,” Nastro said.

The other possibility?

“If everyone cuts back on flights to specific places, that could make flights get more expensive,” she added. “Unlikely, but technically possible.”

Planning flights in 2024

With all of this in mind, here are some things to consider when booking trips in 2024.

It’s a great time to fly to Orlando or Las Vegas

If a trip to Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World or the Las Vegas Strip has been on your radar, 2024 could be a great year to visit. Given current airfare — not to mention flight options — the price may not be the hurdle that it once was.

With a ton of capacity to these cities, the competition that’s frustrated airlines means you should be able to find a good deal, as long as you’re not hoping to fly on a peak travel day.

las vegas skyline

Travel midweek for the lowest fares

Since last fall, we’ve seen airlines run numerous promotions and sales, often offering the steepest discounts for midweek travel when the crowds are thinnest.

American Airlines just put half a million seats on sale for 5,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles one-way. The biggest rule of this spring break sale: You have to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.

Even when there’s no official discount on the books, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are great days to find cheap airfare

After all, consider this: 2023 brought seven of the 10 busiest days ever at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. All seven of those days fell on a Friday or Sunday.

To that end, avoiding the peak leisure travel days of Friday and Sunday is key when it comes to the price you pay.

Consider a budget airline

Even if you don’t typically fly with budget carriers, it may be something to consider if you’re traveling to one of these destinations in 2024.

Despite capacity shifts by some airlines, there are still many seats to these destinations available, driving prices down to ultra-cheap levels, in some cases.

Sure, you may spend quite a bit more on ancillary fees for “extras” like baggage and seat selection, but if you can consolidate bags and limit the number of seats you need to select in advance, you might be able to keep the air travel portion of your trip budget low.

Book sooner rather than later

One of the biggest rules of booking airfare: Get the fares while they’re low.

If you book now, any future upward momentum for airfare won’t affect you.

See a great deal on a flight six, seven or eight months down the road? Go ahead and book it now if your plans are set.

That’s especially true if you’re booking a main cabin ticket on one of the larger network carriers. If you book and later find a great deal, you can generally cancel it, rebook and keep the difference in flight credit. (Note: This typically does not apply to budget airlines or basic economy tickets.)

Also, don’t forget about award tickets. If you find a great mileage deal, book it and then change your mind, you can generally cancel and get your miles back.

Related reading: