The average price of a domestic flight is ridiculously low

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New York to Miami for less than $50 roundtrip. Chicago to Denver and back for under $35. Flight prices you’ve only dreamed of are now at your fingertips — if you’re willing to get on the plane in the first place.

As demand for domestic flights has plummeted due to COVID-19, airlines have dropped ticket prices to record lows. It’s all in an effort to attract passengers who have opted to stay home in the face of social distancing guidelines, personal safety concerns and mandatory quarantine orders for passengers from certain states.

But for avid travelers who feel comfortable flying with a mask and frequent hand washing, it’s never been a better time to score great deals.

Airfares are crazy cheap right now

No matter where you fly within the U.S. right now, chances are you’re going to find much lower prices than usual. According to one report, domestic flight prices are down 41% from pre-pandemic levels – more than twice the reduction following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Many deals almost seem too good to be true. It’s become fairly common to see sub-$100 fares that “normally would have been considered mistake fares,” according to Julian Mu, Team Lead of Member Operations at Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Savings vary by route, Mu says, although those with more competition are likely to see higher discounts. This includes flights “not only out of large airports like New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago (ORD) but many smaller airports such as Key West (EYW), Missoula (MSO) and South End (SBN) too.”

For example, Mu’s team has seen roundtrip tickets from Newark to Austin go for as low as $27 roundtrip, Orlando to Boston for $44, and Los Angeles to Nashville for $51. These are all at least 50% below what travel experts would normally consider a good deal on their respective routes.

Why are airlines offering these ridiculously low fares?

In light of the current global situation, it may seem like an odd time for airlines to be promoting travel. U.S. passengers are still banned from entering many top international destinations for tourism in the first place – including most of Europe. With the majority of transatlantic flights canceled, carriers have instead turned their attention to promoting destinations within the U.S.

“Since service on many international routes has been reduced along with less demand, there is less competition internationally leading to increased prices,” says Mu. “The same cannot be said for domestic travel.”

When flying to New York costs less than the cab ride into Manhattan, it’s hard not to wonder how airlines are making any money from these low prices. In reality, they likely aren’t. While airlines would typically cancel flights they stood to lose money from during normal times, it’s now a matter of simply staying afloat until the pandemic subsides.

Most major airlines are now relying on cash reserves to make it through as smaller carriers succumb to bankruptcy. The name of the game is keeping enough passengers interested to avoid ceasing operations entirely, even if it means operating at a loss. Delta just reported a massive $5.4 billion loss for the third quarter.

But even as hopeful disease officials discuss an early-release vaccine before the end of 2020, airlines are bracing for a long road ahead. No one expects travel to rebound immediately, and major carriers are likely to keep prices low well into 2021 until demand picks up once again.  

“As of now we would expect these prices to last until there is a cure, and then it will most likely increase a bit,” says Mu. “But we think it will still stay relatively cheap because airlines will be trying to gain as many customers back as possible.”

How to take advantage of these deals

If you’re thinking about taking this unprecedented opportunity to visit a dream destination within the U.S., there are many ways to take advantage of pandemic prices. It just depends on where you’re planning to fly and which loyalty programs you already participate in.

For route inspiration, Google Flights is a great way to quickly compare prices on all flights departing from your city. Simply enter your point of origin and desired dates to see which destinations offer the lowest prices. Alternatively, you can use the site’s calendar tool to see when flights are cheapest between two cities if you already have an idea for where you’d like to go, but are flexible on travel dates.

Of course, services like Scott’s Cheap Flights can also be useful to stay on top of new deals as they happen without having to constantly check booking sites. “We are constantly on the lookout for cheap domestic flights to and from airports all across the US,” says Mu. “We do the legwork and 24/7 monitoring so that you don’t have to.”

Don’t ignore frequent flyer and travel rewards programs, either. For example, those who have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to save even more since points become 25% more valuable when purchasing travel this way. Since these point redemptions are tied to the cash price of the ticket and with base prices already so low, those points will get you much further than usual.

[READ: The best credit cards for travel]

Finally, remember to keep an eye out for deals that go beyond just the ticket price. As the holidays approach, many airlines will continue offering incentives throughout what would normally be the busiest travel season.

While many companies would typically impose blackout dates around popular times like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may find yourself able to cash in offers without restriction on the day of your choice. British Airways just ran a sale where it offered 25-50% off all award flights between October and June of 2021.

Bottom line

While international travel remains mostly at a standstill due to passenger restrictions, domestic flights within the U.S. have hit record-breaking low prices. If you’re not opposed to taking some extra safety precautions and getting on a plane, it’s a great time to score a deal to your favorite destination.

Make sure to bookmark our travel deals hub and subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips and hacks delivered daily to your inbox.

Featured image by Thomas Barwick / Getty Images.

Lisa Melillo is a freelance writer and entrepreneur with a background in personal finance, insurance, and international business. In addition to contributing to Bankrate, she has appeared in Money and and frequently ghostwrites for other entrepreneurs. Lisa's career has taken her around the globe; she has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, and holds two international degrees, including a Master's in International Business from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. She currently spends most of her time in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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