Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts.
Search online for “Why is airfare so expensive?” and you’ll find no shortage of theories. But try to find information on what air travel actually does cost by factors including miles, fuel, and amenities—kind of essential for determining if it’s expensive in the first place—and you’ll find a lot fewer resources.
Thankfully, someone crunched the numbers: for a recent infographic, Seats and Stools, a residential and commercial seating manufacturer, looked at another type of seat—ones aboard airlines. Findings, based on searches conducted in early May for flights the last week of June via Google Flights, as well as historical research for bespoke forms of air travel, run the gamut.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE
Unsurprisingly, space travel is the most expensive option for air travel. A 12-day ride on the International Space Station—with round-trip transportation—cost Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté a reported $35 million in 2009, the last time a civilian boarded the ISS. (In case you’re wondering, Laliberté totally thought it was worth it.) Though it’s still theoretical at this point, a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space, is $250,000—approximately $83,000 per minute of weightlessness.
For a terrestrial aviation, the most expensive commercially available option is a $64,000 round-trip ride inEtihad Airways’ penthouse cabin, “The Residence,” between New York City to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Featuring a three-room suite with a butler, this option should probably be categorized as a short-term luxury apartment rental rather than an airplane ride. Do the math, after all, and this seat price equates to about $4,752 per hour.
Other expensive seats of note? A seat on a flight from Portland, Maine to Billings, Montana on United Airlines is the most expensive economy class ticket in the U.S. ($1,585); and the average cost of a seat on an eight-person private plane from New York City to Los Angeles is $33,900—per person. Time to start saving…
On the other end of the price spectrum, there are flight deals to be had: According to Seats and Stools data, the cheapest flight in the world is $11 for a one-way trip from Warsaw to Brussels on Ryanair. Sure, the low-cost carrier is notorious for its no-frills fares (at one point, its CEO was considering charging people to use the lavatory mid-flight), but regardless of which way you slice it, $11 for a ticket is a steal.
In terms of value, which the study calculated as cost per mile, an American Airlines flight from New York City to Miami took top domestic honors at $0.60 a mile. And at $3.70 a mile, the worst value unearthed was a United flight from Newark to Washington, D.C. So much for the destination driving the price.