Low-fare bonanza at CLT

Plus: Details on apartment plans at Zack's Hamburgers site; Charlotte's first PGA Tour Superstore on the way?; County-CMS sparring continues; Who would be eligible to buy medical marijuana?

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Airfares from Charlotte drop to record lows, with deals on flights all over the place; Vegas for $107, Europe from $500

Average fares from Charlotte fell to their lowest point in the 25+ years that the government has tracked them. (Photo by Myles Gelbach/Used with permission)

by Tony Mecia

As air travel takes off again, Charlotte residents have been enjoying a rare treat: lower-than-usual airfares.

Charlotte travelers have traditionally paid more to fly than passengers at most other large U.S. airports. That’s still true, but average fares from Charlotte plunged during the pandemic to record lows.

Now, with the most restrictive parts of the country and world opening up again, business travel remaining sluggish and people eager to take those vacations they postponed in the last year, travelers are still finding plenty of deals.

Out of Charlotte, as of Monday morning, there were round-trip fares listed to Las Vegas for $107; Anchorage, Alaska, for $225; Bozeman, Mont., for $260; Zurich, Switzerland, for $509; Hong Kong for $563; and the Greek island paradise of Santorini for $526 — all of those well below the usual prices.

“We’re seeing a lot of great deals out of Charlotte,” says Willis Orlando, a flight expert with airfare-alert service Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Charlotte is an American Airlines hub, and American kind of dominates the routes there, which can keep prices pretty high. But folks there aren’t doomed. … We’ve been living the Golden Age of cheap flights.”

Airlines, including American, have retooled their routes to aim more squarely at leisure travelers. Having more planes heading to those vacation spots tends to lower fares, since carriers will cut prices to fill seats on planes.

It’s not cheap to fly everywhere, but there are plenty of deals to be had — especially if you’re flexible on the destination and travel dates.

The effects of Covid dropped airfares dramatically, according to the latest federal statistics. Average domestic fares from Charlotte plummeted at the end of last year to $280, the lowest level in the 25 years that the Department of Transportation has kept statistics and probably the cheapest ever. The figure had been $400+ for most of the last decade. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Charlotte was still the 9th most expensive airport of the top 50 — about the same ranking as pre-pandemic.

The average domestic airfare from Charlotte fell to below $300 for the first time last year, according to figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (Historical numbers adjusted for inflation)

How to find cheap Charlotte fares

Orlando says many people search for airfares all wrong: They’ll think of somewhere to go and start plugging in dates on airline websites.

Finding the best fares requires a different approach, he says: using online tools that show results for many different destinations and dates, and letting those guide you.

“If you’re flexible, you will find the best deals,” he says. “If you’re rigid, you will not.”

One of the most popular tools is Google Flights. It allows you to enter a few basic pieces of information and comes back with a map showing the cheapest fares. For instance, you can say you want to fly from Charlotte to somewhere in the U.S. for a weekend in the next six months, and it will show you a map with prices of the lowest airfares.

Or tell it you want to go to from Charlotte to somewhere in Europe for a week in September, and it pulls up this:

Europe on sale? There are plenty of places in Europe to go in the next few months in the $500 range from Charlotte, including Rome ($522) and Dublin ($487). (Results current as of Sunday.) The continent is largely welcoming tourists again, but check details on required Covid vaccinations or tests. (Source: Google Flights)

Other tips:

  • Check airlines besides American. Yes, American has most of the flights from Charlotte. But you can find deals on other airlines, especially if you don’t mind a stopover somewhere, which might be necessary anyway on longer trips. And don’t forget to check Southwest, which doesn’t appear on most search engines.

  • Be flexible on destinations and dates: The less you care about where you are flying and when, the better deals you can find. Going somewhere in Europe sometime this fall will probably be cheaper than going to Paris for seven days the final week of September.

  • Act quickly to nab cheap flights: Airfares are constantly changing, as airlines target certain destinations and rival airlines respond. They usually don’t stay low for more than a few days at a time. You’re entitled to a full refund if you cancel within 24 hours of booking.

  • Set up alerts: Google Flights and other search engines allow you to set up alerts on particular flights or destinations from Charlotte.

  • Check other airports: You can sometimes find better deals flying out of airports besides Charlotte, such as Greensboro, Asheville and Greenville/Spartanburg.

Related Ledger articles:

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… and T.R. Lawing Realty:

Yep, apartments are planned to replace Zack’s Hamburgers

We now know what is planned to replace the Zack’s Hamburgers site on South Boulevard at Scaleybark Road … and if you guessed “a high-end apartment complex,” you’re right.

Embrey Partners of San Antonio is planning about 375 apartments in a five-story building on the Zack’s site, the company’s executive vice president of development, Brad Knolle, tells The Ledger. The company is seeking a rezoning of three parcels behind Zack’s, as we reported earlier this month, and it also has the Zack’s parcel and another one under contract, for a total of about 4 acres, Knolle said.

It will be Embrey’s second development in the Charlotte area. The company is working on a plan for nearly 300 apartments in Vermillion Village in Huntersville.

And what’s so attractive about the Charlotte area? “It’s just the booming jobs,” Knolle says. “We don’t see that stopping. It’s a city that people want to move to that are our target demographic. We are impressed with the organization of the city, the light rail that the city has — it checks all the boxes.”

As for the South Boulevard site in particular, the draw is “the combination of the light rail and all of the breweries that are in that area.”

He envisions market-rate apartments with “all high-end finishes, a clubhouse, fitness center, resort-style pool — all the standard buzzwords.”

Assuming the rezoning goes through, construction could start in the second quarter of 2022. —TM

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Medical marijuana: Who would be able to get it?

A bill is making its way through the state senate that would allow marijuana sales for medical purposes, which is already allowed in 36 states.

It’s unclear if it will make it through the General Assembly this year, but it sailed through a committee this month with bipartisan support. Which is going to leave a lot of people wondering: If it does become law, who exactly is eligible to buy legal weed?

Here’s how it would work: Under the bill, buyers would need to have a doctor certify that they have a specific “debilitating medical condition” or be registered by the state as a “designated caregiver.” A little more info:

  1. Debilitating medical condition. A physician would need to certify in writing that a buyer has cancer; epilepsy; an HIV-positive test; AIDS; ALS; Crohn’s disease; sickle cell anemia; Parkinson’s disease; post-traumatic stress disorder “subject to evidence that an applicant experienced one or more traumatic events” (such as military service in a combat zone, being the victim of a violent or sexual crime or serving as a first responder); multiple sclerosis; cachexia or wasting syndrome; persistent nausea related to end-of-life care; or a similar condition approved by a new advisory panel. The doctor must also state that the potential health benefits of marijuana outweigh the risks to the patient.

  2. Designated caregiver. The state Department of Health and Human Services would start issuing ID cards to caregivers who submit an application and attest that they provide care to somebody specific who has a debilitating medical condition. Each person with a medical condition can have a maximum of two registered caregivers, who must be 21 or older unless related to the person with the medical condition.

The department would also approve up to 40 cannabis centers in the state, which would sell marijuana to people who meet the conditions above. The dispensary owners would also own and operate the marijuana production facilities.

You can read the full text of the bill here.

It’s going to be fascinating to see if this moves forward, as it’s something new for North Carolina — and will raise questions about how it’s regulated. Will it also lead to the creation of cottage industries, such as doctors’ offices that specialize in the diagnosis of debilitating medical conditions? Will there be a sudden surge in interest in caregiving? Consultant services that help people navigate the complexities of the new law?

A poll this year by Elon University found that 73% of voters surveyed support marijuana legalization for medical uses. —TM

‘Legends of Charlotte’ series rolls on into Week 2

We’re about halfway through our “Legends of Charlotte” series, featuring exclusive Q&As with our city’s longtime movers and shakers. It’s available only to paying Ledger members, and so far, it seems to be a hit. From readers:

  • “The ‘Legends of Charlotte’ feature is brilliant — it is introducing 2021 Charlotteans (who may only have been here for 5-10 years) to people who really built and shaped the city, while also getting some trusted bylines back in circulation.”

  • “Congrats on the Legends series. Excellent idea, well executed.”

  • “Thanks for featuring some of my favorite people!”

In “Legends” last week, longtime Observer political reporter Jim Morrill interviewed former Charlotte mayors Harvey Gantt and Sue Myrick, and well-known freelance writer Michael Solender interviewed Sis Kaplan.

Up next: Humpy Wheeler and Joan Zimmerman. Look for those Wednesday and Friday.

If you’re on our free list and want access to these thought-provoking original interviews and other members-only premium content, join today:

Become a Charlotte Ledger member

In brief:

  • New Covid numbers: Four Mecklenburg County residents died in connection with Covid in the first week of July, according to the most recent figures from the county health department. The county had two weeks in June with no deaths attributed to Covid, The Ledger reported last week. (Health Department)

  • PGA Tour Superstore headed to south Charlotte? The owner of PGA Tour Superstore has signed a lease at Promenade on Providence, a shopping center at Providence Road at I-485 in south Charlotte, according to real estate records. There are no other PGA Tour Superstores in Charlotte. The golf-shop company could not be reached to detail its plans, and the center’s owner, Childress Klein, was not immediately able to provide more information late last week.

  • CMS-county sparring continues after settlement: County commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell says “the county was the loser and CMS was the winner” in the recent school funding dispute, which was settled last week with the county agreeing to make the withheld $56M available — plus an additional $11M. And county commissioner Leigh Altman and school board member Jennifer De La Jara traded barbs on Facebook. Altman said the settlement helped force accountability on CMS, but De La Jara said Altman’s interpretation was “complete malarkey,” “a new low” and a “bunch of lies.” (WFAE)

  • More adaptive re-use in FreeMoreWest: Browder Group Real Estate filed a rezoning request for four parcels on nearly 11 acres on Thrift Road, off Freedom Drive in west Charlotte. There’s no site plan but Browder says in the filing that it wants to “create a mixed use neighborhood along Thrift Road by matching these adaptive reuse projects with the neighborhood’s desired uses and zoning.”

  • New Belk CEO: Belk CEO Lisa Harper is stepping down after five years of leading the Charlotte retailer. She will be replaced by Nir Patel, Belk’s president and chief merchandising officer. The company exited bankruptcy protection in February. (Chain Store Age)

  • Weatherman to retire: WBTV chief meteorologist Eric Thomas plans to retire at the end of the year, after a 33-year career at the station. He led the station’s weather coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which “solidified him as an icon in the Charlotte television landscape,” WBTV said. (WBTV)

  • Grant deadline extended: Charlotte Center City Partners has extended the deadline for applying for grants from its Small Business Innovation Fund until Wednesday. Details here.

  • Not gonna stay at the YMCA: The CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Todd Tibbits, is leaving at the end of August to head the YMCA in San Diego, which is closer to his family. He has been with Charlotte’s YMCA since 2016. The board will start looking for a replacement. (WFAE)

  • More homeschooling and private schools: The number of Mecklenburg students who were homeschooled rose 19% last year, to 13,279, and the number in private schools rose 2.4%, to about 18,800. (WFAE)

  • New PR job: Brian Nick, the vice president of communications for Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Consolidated, has taken a new job as executive VP and chief communications officer for Fox Corp. He was previously a top political adviser to Gov. Pat McCrory and chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). He’ll be based in Los Angeles and will report to Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch. (Deadline)

  • Wells closes accounts: Wells Fargo told customers that it is closing personal lines of credit and plans to no longer offer the product, which had been pitched as a way to pay for home renovations and consolidating debt. (CNBC)

  • New ownership: Packard Place, the uptown home to up-and-coming tech companies, has been sold for $15.4M to Chicago-based Northpond Properties. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Still an empty pit: Despite several plans over the last couple decades, the overgrown 19-acre site on Park Road near Quail Hollow, owned by Dee-Dee Harris and Harris Land Co., is still an overgrown undeveloped site. (Axios Charlotte)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: Lindsey Banks