Summer 2012 Airfare Trends And 5 Tips on Saving Money With Points

by on March 26, 2012 · 10 comments

in Travel Industry

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Apart from the freaky weather we’ve been having all over the country, the big national news lately has been about soaring gas prices and how they’re going to affect other aspects of daily life through the summer, including airfares. Well, the findings are in, and they’re bad. Like the temperature during those weird March heat waves, summer airfares are spiking according to our friends over at Kayak. (Note, these are not official US tourism stats, but merely an analysis based on Kayak’s internal data that they shared with us).

They sent over a couple of statistics for us to look at that analyzed travel trends for between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year, including comparisons with last year’s statistics, and what we found was pretty interesting, and in some cases, troubling.

First the good news—at least for US tourism. It looks like more Americans will either be staying put or sticking to North America travel this summer according to Kayak’s search trends. Los Angeles took the lion’s share with a 22% increase in flight searches this year, and other top contenders included Las Vegas (up 20%), Maui (19%) San Francisco (14%), and Cancun, which was up 11% despite reports of recent violence there.

Don’t put away your passports just yet, though. Caribbean searches were up 15% this year so far, especially to the Dominican Republic—a bump resulting from last season’s visit by the Real Housewives of New Jersey? The biggest Caribbean bump, however, was the Bahamas with an astonishing 57% jump from last year. Belize and Costa Rica also posted huge gains—83% in the case of Belize!

Asian travel searches were also up, with Shanghai garnering a 28% increase, Beijing up 16%, and Taipei, Seoul and Hong Kong each posting increased activity in the teens.

On the negative side of the equation? Europe, Europe, Europe. Because of a combination of the Euro’s woes, rising gas prices and hence fuel surcharges, and the Summer Olympics in London. On average, airfares to Europe are already up 11.3% compared to last year, and in some cases, they’re nearly double! When is there a good old-fashioned fare war when you need one? That means perennially popular destinations like Rome, London and Paris have been down in Kayak searches—65% in Rome’s case, and 40% in London’s, despite Olympics fever. Perhaps people just want to stay away from the crowds.

So what does this all mean for us points and miles junkies? One word: opportunity to save a ton of money if you have points and miles in the right programs. Here are my five tips to book your summer trip on the cheap:

1) Be flexible. Finding low level awards during the summer can be a challenge, but if you are persistent and savvy you can snag those highly coveted seats. Most people only check once for availability and give up. I recommend checking daily, calling phone reps who can search for better availability than what you see on the internet, or better yet – setting alerts like ExpertFlyer that constantly check for availability and email you the second it becomes available so you can book before anyone else.

2) Be spontaneous. Most airlines open up a ton of last minute award space, so if you can plan last minute- go for it! Just be careful to avoid programs that charge big fees for booking last minute travel. Delta and British Airways have no last minute award booking fees and if you have elite status those fees may be waived, so always check with your frequent flyer program.

3) Take advantage of the British Airways Avios program for domestic and Caribbean travel on American and Alaska Airlines. They have very competitively priced short haul awards, like I’ve highlighted here. Don’t have any British Airways Avios? They are transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards (and there’s a 50% transfer bonus from American Express until May 31, 2012 which means cheap awards for even cheaper if played correctly.) Don’t have Amex or Chase points? You need to get in the game – the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of the top cards on the market and has a limited time sign-up bonus of 50,000 points.

4) Skip flying all together! If you can’t find any flights that work for you, whether paying or using miles, think about driving or taking the train. Amtrak is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express has a ton of gift certificate options for car rental agencies. While they may not be the most lucrative redemptions, they come in handy when saving money is key. American Airlines also has car and hotel awards that can be great values as well.

5) Get creative with your routing and stopovers. Don’t settle for just a simple roundtrip to a single destination. Many airlines will let you build in stopovers (stops in cities other than your final destination) and open jaws (coming home from a different city than the one you flew to). So for example, if you don’t see any availability on your Chicago to Rome flight this summer using United miles, think about doing Chicago to Munich on United partner Lufthansa, staying for however long you’d like, then continuing on Munich to Rome. It will cost the same amount of miles as if you flew Chicago to Rome non-stop. More on maximizing Aeroplan, American, Delta, United and US Airways award routings.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Random

    I’m not quite a complete noob in travel, but almost. I plan on traveling from SLC to LGW or LHR June 9 coming back June 26. I’ve been stressing out for the last couple of months of whether or not I should jump on buying tickets now or waiting a little longer, and an article like this makes me a bit more stressed, heh. Do you have any advice about buying now or waiting a bit longer to see if something happens? I don’t have many award points to use (yet) so I’ll just be buying the ticket outright.

  • Scott in Dallas

    You’re the only travel blogger to throw in Real Housewives as a possible explanation for increased bookings. Love your angle!

  • Asdfdfdffd

    Buy on may 3 but not in may 4

  • Craig

    Great post. I tried finding a roundtrip flight using AA miles from Chicago to anywhere Europe in July for the past two months with no luck. I could get a bunch of direct flights over to Paris and London. I switched my return city to NYC and scored a return flight from Zurich to LaGuardia.

    Total round trip cost me 60K AA miles and a $130 flight from LGA to ORD. Retail of the same flight was $3250. Don’t be afraid to fly back to a different city!

  • RDMWorldTravel

    Top notch!, I’ve been searching everyday, ready to stay home or go anywhere other than Europe. My wife has a thing for Bora Bora since that TV show….

  • PJ

    Did you check how Avios can work wonder for you i think it costs you only 7500 points ( 5000 Amex MR with 50% trasnfer bunus) + 2.50 >>cheaper than greyhound bus

    Glad to see AA worked for you : just checked EWR-ZRH requires 85-95K big miles :( :( in july

  • PJ

    zurich to LGA ? non stop? I am looking to fly back to NYC from Zurich for 30 K no luck

  • Anonymous

    Also look for the paths less travelled. Like, a charter airline owned by LH.

  • SC Parent

    I’m considering transferring MR to Avios to book SEA-HNL this fall on Alaska Airlines because American doesn’t fly direct. Do you know what the restrictions are as far as which Alaska award levels can be booked with Avios (SuperSaverCoach, Choice Coach, SuperSaver First, etc) so I can call BA with the specific flights? Any other suggestions for this endeavor?

  • Chaney Kourouniotis

    How can we use Avios to the Caribbean this summer when award availability is so terrible? Every BA rep I talk to tells me that they don’t have access to the gobs of award seats that show up on AA’s site. I have 130K Avios points that I have never been able to use because of this problem. Perhaps because I live in San Francisco?

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