August 9, 2017 at 2:52 PM
Planning to watch the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse? You're going to pay for it.
With 20 million people slated to huddle within the path of totality, competition is fierce to snag the last of any remaining hotel rooms, Airbnb rentals, campsites or even rented-out back yards. In response, prices have skyrocketed.
What about booking a flight? Should last-minute eclipse-seekers expect to pay extra for airfare, too?
The short answer: Heck yeah.
To obtain proof, we did some digging, planning scores of hypothetical trips across the nation. Using the world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, as a home base, we tracked the costs of round-trip airfare across dozens of destinations throughout the contiguous United States between Aug. 20 and 22. Plotting them both geographically on a map and correlating prices with distance to the eclipse path, it became clear pretty quickly that the results speak for themselves.
The resulting "heat map" (see image above) prominently shows off its hot spots smack dab on the eclipse path, illustrating where airlines have raised prices in response to the massive demand for seats. (The heat map presents much cooler shades at hubs well outside the path.)
Topping the charts was Jackson, Wyo., where a luggage-free ticket would ring up a $1,466 bill. Jackson is one of the prime spots for gazing upward at over two minutes of totality, falling just after 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21. If you have your sights set on nearby Casper, however, you're out of luck — every last seat into Casper has been booked for many weeks.
Related: [Washington Post eclipse coverage]
Even locations within the neighborhood of our Atlanta-based starting point, such as Charleston, fell victim to price jumps if they were in the eclipse's path. Despite being only 300 miles from Atlanta, the fare to Charleston tips the scales at $939. And getting there's only half the battle — finding a hotel room at this point is a clear Sisyphean task.
"We're the last big city to fall in the path of the eclipse," said Trevor Gibbs, a meteorology student at the College of Charleston who is gearing up to watch the eclipse. "Thousands upon thousands of additional people will be here. The traffic's already a pain on a normal day, so this will be interesting."
Likewise, we graphed (below) the cost of a ticket against the distance you'd have to drive from the airport to the eclipse path. The relationship is clear: The shorter distance you have to drive to find yourself in the path, the more you pay, and vice versa.
If you want to fly into a city well outside the path of totality and drive in, Denver still remains a viable option from Atlanta — falling 176 miles from the path of totality and costing, coincidentally, about $176. You could also catch a connecting flight from Atlanta to Omaha for a reasonable amount, and drive the remaining distance to Lincoln, Neb., which is in the path.
There are affordable flights into Atlanta itself, which is just about an hour's drive to the path (assuming no traffic). For example, you can fly from Washington Dulles to Atlanta, nonstop, Aug. 20, returning Aug. 22, in the $250-$400 range. Otherwise, options are few for finding affordable airfare.
It's no secret that airlines have been trying to capitalize on the eclipse for profit. As a general rule, we uncovered a twofold or threefold jump in ticket prices as one nears totality. Carriers are chalking this up to supply and demand.
"All of our fares are based on demand," said Stephen Schuler, a communications manager at Spirit Airlines. "Any activity around pricing would be dependent on the specific market."
Spirit Airlines recently advertised an "eclipsing all other deals" sale, during which $90 flights were offered to various airports through December. However, it's safe to say no $90 fares remain into the path of totality close to Aug. 21.
Southwest went a step above and beyond, alerting potential travelers of the five flights whose paths were most likely to intercept the eclipse. Southwest Flight 1368 will have the best shot, departing Portland at 9:05 a.m. Pacific on August 21, bound for St. Louis. If all goes according to plan, they'll spend several minutes immersed in the shadow. That flight, however, is sold out. Otherwise, Southwest says that "hundreds of the 3,857 flights scheduled" will have a view of the partial eclipse.
Whether you're on the ground or in the air, we can all agree on one thing: Regardless of the number of hours or dollars we'll spend making our way to the path of totality, the experience itself is sure to be priceless.
To ensure accuracy of the data used in this post, we carefully selected only airports with at least several large air carriers serving multiple trips per day. In other words, we didn't use any of the miniature "shuttle" airports, which are known to be considerably more expensive. Likewise, these prices are the minimum cost to fly and witness the eclipse on Aug. 21. While there were several cheaper options that allowed a departure on Aug. 20 and return travel on the 22nd, any itineraries that didn't permit viewing of the eclipse in the selected city were immediately scrapped. This was the case when booking to Nashville, for instance, when the "most affordable" option featured an 18-hour layover at the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport for "only" $264. Obviously that wasn't feasible, yet the cost spiked to $923 for the next-cheapest Delta flight that would do the job.
Follow Matthew Cappucci on Twitter @MatthewCappucci.