Why Are Flights To Seattle So Expensive? (Are They Always?)

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A few weeks ago, I was talking with friends of mine from high school in a group chat and I mentioned that it had been about 15 years since we were all in the same room together.

As everyone slowly realized that I was right, we soon agreed that we should meet up this summer since most of us have seen other members of the group individually but we’ve never actually gotten together as a group to meet each other’s wives and children.

Because most of us live in or near the Pacific Northwest, we decided that we’d go to Seattle and watch a Mariners game together.

Then, a few days later, I woke up to see 50 text messages on my phone from the group. I was a little nervous that something bad had happened but thankfully, it was just a spirited discussion about the price of tickets.

My friends from the East Coast wanted to know why airline tickets to Seattle were so expensive. The replies were mostly jokes and nobody really answered the question but since I get this question a lot, I decided to explain.

Do you know why flights to Seattle are so expensive? It’s a combination of factors but here are a few of the major reasons why.

The Three Main Drivers Of Cost (For Seattle Flights)

Reason One: High Demand

This is her face for every flight…not just into Seattle…

The first reason that tickets are so expensive is that Seattle is a very popular city for a variety of reasons.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (commonly “SeaTac”) is a major travel hub, with over 36 million passengers and nearly 500,000 metric tons of cargo in 2021. Those numbers were also lower than normal because the pandemic was still ongoing.

In addition to all the flights to and from Hawaii and Asia that take off here, Seattle is also the starting point for many cruises to Alaska, which brings in many visitors. This is a big reason why SeaTac Airport is one of the top-ten busiest in the United States.

Because there is a greater demand for flights to Seattle, the airlines can make those flights more expensive. This also ties into our next reason.

Reason Two: Distance

The second reason flights are so expensive is that Seattle is far away from many other major hubs. Most people know that Seattle is in the northwest corner of the northwesternmost state but not what that entails.

Here’s how far away it is: in a straight line (i.e., the way airplanes fly), Miami and New York City are roughly 1,090 miles apart. That’s less than 75 miles more than the distance from Seattle to Denver, Colorado, which is 1,024 miles!

In fact, longer flight times are believed to be one of the reasons why the Seattle Mariners have had so much difficulty making the playoffs. Their nearest division rival is a two-hour flight away. The other four teams have rivals within their own states!

Longer flight times mean less time for resting or practicing, which can be a major factor after a 162-game season. There were probably other factors, like lack of starting rotation depth, but the flight time issue remains a popular theory.

Distance and high demand are two of the reasons that flights to Seattle are so expensive but both of them tie into the larger issue that is reason number three.

Reason Three: The Cost of Fuel

The third and biggest reason is the cost of airplane fuel, which is the largest expense for any airline. According to the US Department of Transportation, between 15 and 20 percent of the money spent by airlines went toward buying fuel.

In 2019, airlines in the United States used over 18 billion gallons of fuel. Over the past few years, the number went down due to the Coronavirus but it is expected to keep rising as it had been doing pre-pandemic.

Here’s how that ties into our first two reasons: because there is a high demand for flights to Seattle, the airlines have to send larger planes that can bring more passengers at a time.

That increase in passengers brings with it more luggage and therefore more weight that the plane has to carry. As a plane gets heavier, it requires more fuel to be able to fly.

That’s the main reason that flights to Seattle cost so much: they’re expensive to operate because of the longer distances and the amount of fuel required, so the airlines pass that extra cost onto their customers.

How Can I Get Cheaper Flights To Seattle?

late night flight into Seattle

As someone who has flown in and out of Seattle Tacoma International Airport quite a few times in my life, I’ve learned a few tips about how to save a little money when booking those flights.

Your best bet for getting a great deal is to use a flight aggregator that allows you to search a ton of airlines at once. Sure, you could check them all yourself but it would take you so long that prices would probably go up by the time you had finished.

There are many available but I use WayAway as they typically have the best deals, especially if you’re part of the “Plus” program where you get special deals and cash back.

Of course, even on WayAway there are a few things you’ll want to check besides the price.

Luggage, for example.

Some airlines charge more for luggage and there are even a few budget flight providers that charge for carry-on bags. You’ll want to factor in luggage cost as well.

However, that may not be an option, depending on where you live. For years, Southeast Alaska was served by Alaska Airlines and no one else. They had a complete monopoly on flights to Anchorage or Seattle.

Delta now offers service but Alaska is still the most popular option because people who have lived there for years have rewards miles or the Alaska Airlines credit card and will therefore tend to be more loyal. Still, there are only two options in the region.

If your flight plans are set in stone and aren’t likely to be changed, you can get less expensive tickets with more restrictions, which will save you money.

Alaska Airlines, for example, offers a “Saver Fare” that is usually at least $20 cheaper each way but you’ll board the plane in the final group and there are restrictions as to which seats you can sit in and changes you can make to the itinerary.

That being said, it’s still cheaper. I also recommend booking as far ahead as possible before the flight. I know that’s not always going to work in every situation but airline tickets tend to get more expensive one month from the flight date.

Finally, don’t be afraid to look for sales. Alaska and many other airlines offer flight deals months in advance, which will give you not only cheaper flights but more time to save up for the trip.

Last summer, I flew from Seattle to Phoenix on an Alaska Airlines flight deal for $119 each way. This year, that same flight on the same day (but without the deal) would cost $209!

If you’re booking a vacation and you have flexible dates, keep an eye on sales from Seattle and you can save quite a bit. You can also save by flying on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which tend to be less popular and therefore have lower prices.

A lot of cruise ship passengers choose the dates for their cruises based on airline ticket prices. If the cruise costs the same no matter which day that week you set sail, why not save on the tickets?

Final Thoughts

To sum up, flights to Seattle are typically more expensive because of the city’s popularity and longer flight times, which requires more fuel and leads to a higher cost for the airlines to fly here.

However, by booking flights strategically and monitoring sale prices, you can still get a pretty good deal by booking at the right time.

No matter when you choose to fly or how much your flight costs, you can still enjoy the beautiful sites and scenery the Pacific Northwest has to offer. We can’t wait to see you on your next thrilling adventure to Seattle!