How Delta's dominance is driving up flight prices at MSP

A plane is sprayed on the tarmac.
An Airbus A220 is sprayed at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in early September as part of Delta Air Lines deicing training in preparation for winter weather. A recent study finds average MSP domestic flight costs are among the most expensive in the country
Abbie Parr | AP

If you’ve tried to fly out for a fall getaway or plan an out-of-state trip for Thanksgiving, you might have noticed airline tickets out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are pricey. That’s no illusion.

A recent study finds flights at the Twin Cities airport are among the most expensive in the country with the average domestic fare ringing up at $456.

While rising demand for travel coming out of the COVID-19 years explains part of the increase, the main reason for costly tickets is the dominance of Delta Air Lines at MSP, Star Tribune consumer reporter Gita Sitaramiah told MPR News’ Morning Edition.

Delta operates 70 percent of flight seats in the market, meaning Delta has the ability to set prices, she noted.

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While business travel is down, so-called premium leisure travel is on the rise; Delta offers first-class, comfort class and plenty of nonstop flights, which meets the evolving consumer demand.

“This is a traveler who will spend more for more perks. So that’s also driving the higher average cost,” Sitaramiah said.

Delta recently changed its rewards program, garnering pushback from travelers. Sitaramiah said this could have some impact on their business when people start losing reward status in 2025.

At the same time, low-cost carriers like Sun Country, Southwest and Frontier are competitive with one another and have ambitions to grow while driving ticket prices down, according to Sitaramiah.