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Interesting Travel Data: Cheapest Times to Fly and Top Destinations From 2012

April 03, 2013
8 min read
International Airfares
Interesting Travel Data: Cheapest Times to Fly and Top Destinations From 2012
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Every so often I like to check in with the good folks over at Kayak since they’re always gathering mountains of up-to-the-minute data about travel trends, consumer behavior and what all of us can expect from airlines, hotels and destinations in the coming months and years.

Recently, they sent over data they’d compiled from 2011 and 2012 about the top domestic and international destinations, average airfares month over month and the busies times to fly, so I thought I’d share some of the data that I found the most interesting.

Airfares are up across the board.
Airfares are up across the board.

Domestic Travel

For US travelers, revealed the fact that September is the cheapest month to travel with airfares at an average of just under $270 after everyone gets back from their summer vacations. By contrast, the most expensive airfares are in March and June, averaging just over $350.

Apart from month to month airfares, however, the best time to book your trip is 21-35 days in advance when Kayak’s data shows airfares dropping to their lowest, so you eager bookers who plan your trips months ahead of time don’t save extra shekels because of your diligence.

As for when you should fly, turns out January is the least-traveled month of the year with just 5% of travel queries for trips then while February totaled just 6% of queries, so plan your winter trips if you want to avoid crowds. Average airfares were between $305-$324 these months.

On the flip side, June was the busiest travel time with 11% of searches and airfares averaging $350, followed closely by March (also $350), July ($341) and August ($323).

Try to travel in January if you can to save on airfares and avoid crowds.
Try to travel in January if you can to save on airfares and avoid crowds.

There was no surprise in the fact that Las Vegas was the most popular destination, though perhaps what was surprising is that even though year-over-year airfares rose 13% from 2011 to 2012 for an average of $311, it is still the 5th cheapest popular US destination.

The other top 10 domestic destinations in terms of search share were:

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New York (average airfare was $327)
Los Angeles ($365)
Orlando ($298)
San Francisco ($368)
Chicago ($295)
Miami ($302)
Fort Lauderdale (so perhaps Miami really is the top destination if you combine these two – average airfare $298)
Honolulu ($742)
Denver ($289)

This seems to be a mix of the major population centers as well as the country’s major leisure gateways like Denver and Honolulu.

The most expensive US destinations – no surprise – were in the Hawaiian islands, Kauai and Kona at just under $750 each followed buy Honolulu at just over $740 and Maui at $724 then Anchorage at a distant $689. Airfares to these destinations rose an average of 10-13% from 2011-2012.

In the continental US, the most expensive destination was Key West at $491 followed by Savannah at $428 then, oddly enough, Cincinnati and Reno at around $410 each.

The cheapest US destinations were Baltimore and Oakland with an average airfare of $282, Denver at $289 and both Orlando and Chicago around $295.

So if you’re planning a trip to Washington DC where airfares were around $327, consider Baltimore instead to save nearly $50, and instead of San Francisco, flying to Oakland could save you nearly $90.

When discussing year-over-year airfare differences, the only domestic destination where fares remained the same was Oakland while many including the most popular destinations all saw increases, though some like New York only rose 3% while others like Los Angeles rose by nearly 10%.

So it looks like all in all, we’re only going to see airfares increase across the country, though luckily few destinations saw drastic fare increases like the 28% New Orleans experiences from 2011-2012.

International Travel

Though the travel search trends were much the same for international travel with January being the slowest month and June the busiest, the average airfares didn’t reflect the same trends as domestic fares. In fact, January was still pretty expensive at over $1,010 on average compared with closer to $950 for February and March.

International travel trends over the year mirrored domestic ones.
International travel trends over the year mirrored domestic ones.

By far the most expensive month to travel internationally, however, was June, when average airfares were nearly $1,230; followed closely by July, with airfares at about $1,160.

Thanks to the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, London saw an average 30% increase in airfare, but it was also the 10th most popular international destination. Not shocking since it’s a huge transportation hub.

The other top 10 international destinations in terms of search share were:

Cancun ($538)
Paris ($1,313)
Rome ($1,331)
San Jose, Costa Rica ($635)
New Delhi ($1,609)
Mumbai ($1,561)
Bangkok ($1,586)
Barcelona ($1,773)
Manila ($1,386)

In terms of average airfare, the top 10 most expensive international destinations were:

Sydney at $2,555
Hyderabad at $1,700
Hong Kong at $1,662
Beijing at $1,636
New Delhi at $1,608
Shanghai at $1,591
Bangkok at $1,586
Tokyo at $1,584
Mumbai at $1,561
Seoul at $1,532

Then came destinations like Buenos Aires and several European cities like Paris, Athens, Rome London and Istanbul.

It’s interesting that Asia dominated this list with the most most expensive fares out there, but perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that airfares there rose by over 20% on average, and 25% in the cases of Hong Kong and Beijing with Shanghai trailing close behind at 23%. On the other hand, airfares to Sydney rose 28% on average, so clearly Australia was on everyone’s list last year.

Just as a point of interest, many of the European destinations on the list also saw airfares rise by over 20% including Munich and Madrid with a 28% rise, Rome at 27%, and Paris at 25%.

What’s more, the cheapest international airfare averages – those found in February and March – were around the $950 mark, so leaving the country is getting more expensive.

Although the top 11 search destinations were within the US, London came in at #12 and Cancun came in at 23. After that, however, it was a bit of a grab bag with usual suspects like Paris and Rome at the top of the international destinations followed by both New Delhi and Mumbai in India, then Bangkok, Barcelona, Manila, Dublin, Madrid, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Beijing then Tokyo.

Granted airfares to these destinations all rose fairly dramatically, making that partially responsible for average international airfares between $945-$1,228, but the other things those high average airfares tell me is that people are looking to travel farther and farther afield and that international travel to destinations beyond Europe and into Asia and India are behind much of the rise in average international airfares as more US travelers begin exploring that part of the world.

On the other side of the spectrum, the cheapest international airfares were to these 10 destinations:

Nassau in the Bahamas at $448
Toronto at $477
Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at $502
Montego Bay in Jamaica at $516
Guadalajara at $520
Mexico City at $537
Cancun at $538
Aruba at $554
St Thomas at $557
Cabo at $567

What’s not surprising is that the vast majority of these are either in the Caribbean or in Mexico. What is somewhat shocking is how much airfare to these places has come to cost. Cancun, for instance, went up 25% year over year from 2011 and the fact that these fares – the cheapest international ones, mind you – hovered around the $500 mark means things are only getting more expensive.
Another interesting thing to note, only one of these, Cancun, was one of the top 10 overall destination, so clearly travelers aren’t being frightened off by the rising airfares to more exotic locales.

The only destination in the 100 top cities that Kayak surveyed where airfares went down on average was Toronto, with a 3% drop, but fares were still expensive at an average of $478.

All in all, I thought Kayak’s data was pretty interesting both in terms of rising airfares as well as where people are flying. It looks like people are hitting the usual spots within the US and sticking with tried and true destinations like the major cities despite rising airfares – luckily those rises aren’t too dramatic in most cases – and that they are most looking to travel either to the big exciting cities along the coasts or to leisure destinations like Hawaii or Florida.

Internationally, although European cities are still perennial favorite destinations, it looks like a larger and larger share of travelers are heading to various destinations in Asia – especially China and India – as that part of the world opens up to international visitors with more flights and better tourism infrastructure, despite the fact that we saw airfares rise (sometimes jaw-droppingly so) over the past two years.

What do you think? Do Kayak’s findings reflect your own travel experiences and/or plans? How have rising airfares affected where you choose to spend your money flying, and would you book at a certain time of year to save money even if it’s not the ideal season for travel to a certain destination?
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Featured image by International travel trends over the year mirrored domestic ones.