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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.