As Boutique Air approaches its first anniversary serving the Cortez Municipal Airport, its ticket prices are going up – but so is the number of people buying those tickets, airport manager Russ Machen said.
When the airline first started offering flights from Cortez in October 2016, tickets to Denver started at $59 for a one-way trip. As of Friday, a refundable one-way trip to Denver now starts at $249, according to Boutique’s website. Nonrefundable fares are lower; for example, a nonrefundable flight to Denver on Aug. 17 was $129, according to Boutique Air’s website.
But Machen said the price increase hasn’t yet affected business at the airport, where ticket sales are up 228 percent compared with this time last year.
Michelle McNulty, marketing manager for Boutique Air, said the airline’s standard practice is to start each new airport with discounted, introductory rates, while informing the community those rates will eventually increase.
“The ticket prices help us cover operation costs and also the pilot shortage that is underway,” she wrote in an email.
Machen said he knew from the beginning that ticket prices would go up, but he wasn’t sure when. On Friday, he said he had received a “handful” of phone calls complaining about the price increase over the past few weeks.
“I’m not sure why everybody complains to the airport manager,” he said. “We had nothing to do with it.”
While the Cortez airport does charge a $4.50 passenger user fee with every ticket in order to pay for facility maintenance and construction, that fee has not increased. Machen said it’s unlikely to go up anytime soon.
Haley Leonard Saunders, marketing director for Southwest Health System, regularly buys 10-ticket voucher packs from Boutique Air for the frequent flights to Denver required by her job. She said that on Aug. 7, she noticed the voucher pack price had gone up from about $657 to $1,790.
But while customers may not be happy with the price increase, their complaints haven’t translated to a drop in sales, Machen said. He quoted airport records that show ticket sales this year have already matched the numbers for 2016 as a whole. He said he expects about 8,200 flights from Cortez by the end of the year, compared with 4,814 in 2016. In June, the busiest month of the year so far, 774 tickets were sold.
Machen gave all the credit for the increase to Boutique Air, which replaced Great Lakes Airlines as Cortez’s primary flight service.
“Every month (ticket sales were) in the 200s, 300s, when Boutique came in,” he said. “The last time we had anything in the 700s was in 2013.”
But he said it’s too early to tell whether the price increase will deter potential airport customers in the future. He said that would become clearer in October, after the higher prices have been in effect for a few months.