WATERLOO, Iowa - How does $171 plus tax for a round-trip flight to Chicago over Easter sound?
A check of American Airlines' online flight schedule found just that between Waterloo and Chicago over the weekend of April 5-9.
Beginning April 3, American Airlines' Eagle network will take over commercial service from Delta Airlines at Waterloo Regional Airport, and cheaper flights appear to be in the offing.
American will fly twice a day between Waterloo and O'Hare International Airport.
American will replace the existing two-a-day schedule that features direct, nonstop connections to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
A similar Thursday-Monday round-trip agenda between Waterloo and the Twin Cities bottoms out at $415, according to Delta's website.
Round trip between Waterloo and Chicago on Delta currently starts at $815.
"When we do these snapshot affairs three months in the future, the fares are the most competitive I've seen in my 10 years here," said Brad Hagen, general manager of Waterloo Regional Airport.
As part of winning a two-year Essential Air Service contract for Waterloo from the U.S. Department of Transportation, American said they would aggressively market the Cedar Valley, according to local officials.
"It's pretty early, but they did talk about how they're going to start having a marketing promotion, but I don't know what form," Hagen added.
It appears that, among other benefits, the fares will pull Waterloo in competition with airports in Dubuque and Cedar Rapids.
A "snapshot" of American's round-trip fares for May 3-6 that Hagen passed along Thursday found the Waterloo-Chicago fare on American $43 lower than the Cedar Rapids-Chicago flight. The figure was $14 beneath the Dubuque-Chicago run.
Of 11 sample destinations, American's fares from Waterloo are lower than from Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids in five cases --- Chicago; Knoxville, Tenn.; San Francisco; Houston and Orlando, Fla. --- and lower than from Dubuque Regional Airport in three --- Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Lower fares were part of American's allure to Waterloo, Mayor Buck Clark said.
"American made the statement that they would be competitive on fares with other markets and would have periodic sales, so more competitive fares was one of the reasons the community preferred American," Clark said.
Round-trip tickets from Cedar Rapids to Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and Houston are $10 lower than trips to those destinations from Waterloo. A ticket to Fort Myers, Fla., is $45 cheaper from Cedar Rapids, and Washington, D.C., is $30 lower.
From Dubuque, a flight to Washington is $103 below the price of a connection from Waterloo. Orlando ($73), Fort Myers ($59), Houston ($29) and New York ($28) also are comparative bargains from Dubuque.
But fares are only a part of an equation a traveler considers in choosing an airport, Clark said.
"People that live in the region fare shop. I do," he said. "But there are other factors. If you attribute time, gas and parking at your community's airport that go with that experience, those are all factors you have to look at."
No one expects overcrowding at the local airport, Hagen said. He noted with only two departing flights per day, capacity is limited to about 100 passengers.
Hagen also said airlines typically have fare "buckets," or price tiers, that feature a limited number of economy-class fares. When one level sells out, prices move to the next higher level.
Booking a seat early is the best way to lock in a particular fare, which may not be an option for some.
"That doesn't always work for business travelers," Hagen said.
Fares also can be capricious, said Deb Cole, a travel consultant with Short's Travel in Waterloo.
"They change them all the time," she said.
"In a situation where there's not a lot of competition, they may not change them as much, but I know in cities where there's various airlines, they kind of watch what each other does, just to stay competitive. Or, if they raise it, they other airlines might, too."