If you haven’t made plans for Memorial Day, it may be too late

Apr 6, 2021

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With eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine expanding every day and the weather quickly improving, many Americans are starting to think seriously about booking a summer vacation. For some, it could be their first trip since the onset of the pandemic more than a year ago.

But if you’re one of those people, you may find that both availability and deals are exceedingly hard to come by.

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In the last month, airfare search app Hopper saw domestic flight searches for this summer increase 58%, exceeding search interest in 2019.

As a result, Hopper is predicting that domestic airfare will rise in early May, increasing 12% leading into the summer travel season. 

So, if you’re looking for a deal — particularly to a popular, outdoor-focused destination such as Colorado, Montana, South Carolina, Mexico or the Caribbean — you may be surprised at not only how much prices have increased but also how little availability is left upon arrival.

That’s because Americans are finally flying again, but airline schedules were significantly reduced during the pandemic. As a result, the sudden surge in bookings is outstripping the airlines’ reduced supply.

Airlines are adding more flights, but haven’t been able to keep up with the accelerated bookings to popular leisure destinations. Flights all across Florida, for example, from the Panhandle to the Keys, are being booked to capacity, simultaneously forcing ticket prices upward.

The cheapest fares, Scott’s Cheap Flights pointed out, will likely sell out in the next few weeks. Many may already be gone. Travelers who wait until May to book their Memorial Day getaways or summer vacations will be far less likely to find an inexpensive ticket.

It’s not just expensive fares and limited flight availability travelers need to prepare for. As Americans rush to reclaim their summer vacations, the entire industry could see a groundswell.

GasBuddy, a travel and navigation app designed to help drivers save money when they fuel up, recently found that weekly gasoline demand had reached a new pandemic high at the end of March. And gas prices are rising commensurately, with the national average now at $2.872 per gallon — the highest it’s been since gas prices peaked in the summer of 2019.

And for travelers who are envisioning a relaxing road trip in a rental car, those dreams could be dashed by the “car rental apocalypse.”

Jonathan Weinberg, the CEO and cofounder of Autoslash (a company that helps travelers find rental car deals), told TPG earlier this month that a vehicle shortage caused by reduced inventory and increasing demand could make it next to impossible to rent a car in desirable tourist destinations, such as Hawaii, during peak summer travel dates.

Even if you can secure a car rental, you can expect to pay a premium for the privilege. Weinberg said Autoslash has seen a 300% increase in rental car pricing in destinations such as Arizona, Hawaii and Florida. Nationwide, Weinberg estimates that rental prices have risen by about 30%.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to find travel deals. Many hotels and resorts — particularly in urban areas — are still incentivizing travelers with value-added promotions and discounted stays.

Travelers will continue to find better deals on international flights, where ticket prices could be “historically low,” but even domestic airfares are still depressed when compared to 2019.

But depending on where you’re headed and how you’re planning to get there, many travelers may be surprised to find that the promise of pandemic-era deals and wide-open availability has evaporated faster than wet footprints around a swimming pool.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Ben Mutzabaugh.

Featured photo by 9_fingers_/Twenty20.

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