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Competition and Price Dispersion in the U.S. Airline Industry

  • Severin Borenstein
  • Nancy L. Rose

This papers analyzes dispersion in the prices that an airline charges to different customers on the same route. Such variation in airlines fares is substantial: the expected absolute difference in fares between two of an airline's passengers on a route averages thirty-six percent of the airline's average ticket price on the route. The pattern of price dispersion that we find does not seem to be explained solely by cost differences. Dispersion is higher on more competitive routes, possibly reflecting a pattern of discrimination against customers who are less willing to switch to alternative flights or airlines. We argue that the data support an explanation based on theories of price discrimination in monopolistically competitive industries.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3785.

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Date of creation: Jul 1991
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, August 1994, 102 (4): 653-683
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3785
Note: IO
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  1. Shepard, Andrea, 1991. "Price Discrimination and Retail Configuration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 30-53, February.
  2. Gale, Ian L & Holmes, Thomas J, 1993. "Advance-Purchase Discounts and Monopoly Allocation of Capacity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 135-46, March.
  3. Hausman, Jerry A. & Taylor, William E., 1981. "Panel data and unobservable individual effects," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 16(1), pages 155-155, May.
  4. Pratt, John W & Wise, David A & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. "Price Differences in Almost Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 189-211, May.
  5. Dahlby, Bev & West, Douglas S, 1986. "Price Dispersion in an Automobile Insurance Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(2), pages 418-38, April.
  6. Varian, Hal R., 1989. "Price discrimination," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 10, pages 597-654 Elsevier.
  7. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  8. Salop, Steven, 1977. "The Noisy Monopolist: Imperfect Information, Price Dispersion and Price Discrimination," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 393-406, October.
  9. Holmes, Thomas J, 1989. "The Effects of Third-Degree Price Discrimination in Oligopoly," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 244-50, March.
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