5 tips from travel experts for coping with inflation this summer
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A recent survey by travel marketplace Outdoorsy found that more than half of respondents don’t believe they can afford a vacation this year. “But that’s not enough to stop them from trying, as 58% have been setting aside more money to keep their vacation hopes afloat,” according to Outdoorsy’s report about its survey results.
Even domestic road trippers and recreational vehicle travelers hoping to escape high flight and hotel prices are getting hit hard. A poll of RV travelers conducted by Trader Interactive showed 70% of respondents are deciding to shorten their trips, while 21% of RVers surveyed said they were outright canceling their travel plans.
If you’re seeking to keep your summer travel dreams afloat — whether by sea, land or air — planning ahead, being flexible and using a little out-of-the-box creativity will be ongoing keys to coping with travel inflation.
TPG connected with several travel-planning experts to get their input on how you can still book the trip of your dreams without it turning into a budget nightmare. Here are their tips for minimizing the impact of travel inflation as you lock in future trips.
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Plan ahead to secure better pricing
The current inflation rate of 8% is driving up prices across the U.S., but things are even worse abroad. For example, Egypt is reporting 13.5% inflation. Meanwhile, Turkey is experiencing year-over-year inflation that’s an astounding 77%!
Despite increasing prices, pent-up travel demand from the COVID-19 pandemic is still driving travel bookings.
“Summer travel is clearly still on,” said Bannikin Travel & Tourism president Jillian Dickens, citing reports of record-breaking comebacks for the travel industry and strong demand among her tour operator partner groups.
As a result of continuing high demand and pricing, planning ahead to lock in lower rates can be a key to managing costs — both for a travel supplier and a traveler.
Booking tours through a large operator may be one method to manage costs.
For example, Intrepid Travel annually runs 1,100 itineraries across nearly 100 countries, so the company’s operational scope and scale mean it can ensure “prices are locked in over one year in advance,” Intrepid Travel’s president of North America Matt Berna told TPG in an interview.
Such companies can help absorb inflation and currency risks faced by travelers.
“In the past, we have resisted the urge to pass on cost increases and currency impacts to our customers who have already booked and locked in their price, and we are keen to continue this stance for as long as possible,” Berna said. “In areas of the world where we are seeing hyperinflation and/or significant local currency depreciation, we find ways to pay in hard currencies like U.S. dollars or euros (where local laws allow us to do so), which can help to stabilize, to some extent, our costs and buying power.”
Given these currency fluctuations and the continuing strength of the dollar, foreign travelers planning a trip to the U.S. may be wise to buy some dollars in advance of their visit.
In one extreme inflation-related case from Sri Lanka, power cuts and fuel shortages have been serious issues recently. So, Intrepid Travel leaned heavily on its advance planning by maintaining a series of fueled-up, backup vehicles strategically located along the company’s trip route.
However, Intrepid Travel hasn’t been completely unaffected by the recent spike in inflation. Berna has seen customers canceling or delaying their trips with Intrepid Travel after experiencing sticker shock when trying to buy airline tickets, which are not included with Intrepid Tours.
“While last-minute deals are possible, we recommend to customers to look ahead five to six months when booking a flight,” he said.
For road trippers worried about high gas prices, planning ahead may help make it easier to afford your trip. You can sign up for credit cards with good gas-related rewards or apply for a gas station-specific credit card. Enrolling in gas reward programs like Shell’s Fuel Rewards program and BP’s BPme Rewards can cut your per-gallon costs, and planning your fill-up spots with apps like GasBuddy and Gas Guru before or during your trip may be a way to manage those huge fill-up bills, particularly if you’re traveling by RV or in a family-filled SUV.
“Despite the rise in costs, our travel bookings have more than doubled year over year,” Intrepid Travel’s Berna said. “At this stage, we aren’t seeing any denting in demand due to inflationary pressures.” In fact, Berna noted that the company’s North American revenues were 23% higher this year than they were in 2019 before the pandemic.
The continued high demand for travel is putting additional price pressure on airlines, hotels and tours. Berna suggests travelers get a little creative with their planning by choosing alternate destinations, times of travel or activities for their planned tours.
Bannikin’s Dickens also suggests a tip related to trip timing, if you have the time and money to do it: “One of the biggest things you can do in this new world of travel we are navigating is take fewer trips for longer — that way you save on the air, and get a more immersive experience. Also, many tour operators will offer savings to guests booking back-to-back trips.”
To provide travelers with more cost-effective options, Berna said Intrepid Travel is focusing on under-the-radar destinations and alternate cities and regions within popular countries, such as the western coast of Australia instead of traditional locales like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
“This probably isn’t the year to do your bucket list itinerary, as the most traditionally popular destinations are where we’re seeing the biggest price increases,” he said.
He recommends “non-obvious” destinations that may save you significant costs for your trip. Independent travelers can do the same in their choice of countries or even national parks.
A country like Turkey, which is suffering internally from a weak currency and high inflation, can provide a budget-friendly alternative for travelers.
Flexibility in timing can also be important. You should consider the fall and spring shoulder seasons, even for your alternate destination.
“With the pent-up demand, summer travel is just crazy right now,” Berna said, “so I’d wait a few months for the crowds to die down.”
While Berna doesn’t necessarily recommend completely avoiding peak-season travel, as many services and activities are shut down during the offseason, depriving travelers of the cultural experience they’re looking for, he suggests aiming for that sweet spot when you can enjoy all the destination has to offer without paying a fortune to visit.
For example, in a country like Scotland, “it remains a little-known secret that the off-peak months of September to November can deliver exceptional outdoor experiences for visitors,” tour operator Wilderness Scotland highlights in its promotions. In addition to leaf-peeping opportunities, fall visits to destinations like Scotland, says the company, “still offer the chance to experience the same wide variety of local activities … with a fraction of the crowds.”
To save some cash, you can even take it one step further and reschedule shoulder season leaf-peeping trips for spring when it’s fall in the Southern Hemisphere. Tour operator Natural Habitat Adventures is one company that offers spring trips like this. If you book a spring 2023 trip to Patagonia in South America with the company, you’ll enjoy plenty of fall foliage while taking advantage of cheaper flights and thinner crowds.
Look at ‘fringe experiences’ for your travels
Intrepid Travel’s Berna also suggests considering “fringe experiences” when booking trips.
“This isn’t the summer for a motorcoach tour of Europe,” he said. Instead, Berna recommends active adventures beyond the typical tourist sites, cities and viewpoints. Rather than renting a car for your trip, for example, ride a bike around town or between villages, or try hiking, kayaking or camping.
“From a pricing perspective, there is likely less inflationary impact on the active adventure product style — however, keep in mind that inflation and gas prices impact everything across the value chain (like heating, cooking and manufacturing) and are not simply isolated to transportation,” he said.
People have been booking these active trips with Intrepid Travel in record numbers, with the total of U.S. bookings up 61% versus 2019 numbers. Of the top 15 trips booked in North America, 53% are hiking trips, with cycling trips following close behind. Walking and trekking trips have also more than doubled for the tour operator this year.
This drastic uptick in “fringe experience” bookings sends a clear message to Berna: “People are eager to get out and travel again, and to be active wherever they end up.”
Consider rising airfare costs when picking a destination
Airfare continues to be a pain point for travelers around the world, including Intrepid Travel customers.
“We do have quite a few customers calling in saying their flight was canceled and they don’t want to rebook due to the price,” Berna said.
Popular big-city destinations are most affected by the rise in prices, particularly as business travel returns. The reopening of Southeast Asian countries has been a plus for Intrepid Travel and for vacationers, as increased airport accessibility has provided more flight choices to these countries with lower hotel prices and reduced daily operating costs.
Diversity in available trip portfolios is key for tour operators when it comes to managing costs.
“Being a seven-continent operator with more than 1,000 trips, we have a lot of choice for our customers,” Berna said. “Intrepid’s customers have the ability to switch to destinations that have lower airfares or offer a greater value for their money, or even better, one that doesn’t require flights.”
If you’re planning a trip that isn’t through a tour operator, be sure to keep airline change and cancellation fees in mind, as fees can quickly add up should you encounter any unexpected hiccups that cause you to alter your plans.
Related: How oil prices affect airline fares
Watch for special sales and discounts
As price increases may cause potential travelers to delay or cancel travel plans, Berna suggests keeping an eye out for special sales and deals offered by tour operators and hotels.
“There are going to be cases where tour operators are trying to clear their inventory of prearranged trips and offering great discounts, particularly close to departure dates,” he said.
While booking connecting air travel may still be a challenge at that point, a tour operator’s special sale may offer a chance to book that bucket list vacation you otherwise thought was out of your budgetary reach.
Even in this pricey summer travel season, Berna says Intrepid Travel and other tour operators will be running some sales to ensure their 2022 tour capacity will be met. Multiple sales will be running in concurrence with Amazon Prime Day next week, according to Berna, so keep your eyes and browser tabs open. Subscribing to newsletters from various tour companies is also a great way to be alerted to upcoming or flash sales on tour products.
Travel agencies and tour operators may also have the buying power and available inventory needed to allow them to offer discounted deals beyond preplanned sales.
“Check with your travel advisor or expert destination company,” Misty Belles, vice president of public relations for the Virtuoso travel network, told TPG. “You might be surprised by the deals they can offer, even at properties that are listed as being sold-out online.”
With travel demand continuing to increase despite high prices, expect to see continued inflationary pressure on the industry.
The best advice from experts to keep top of mind is to be flexible when it comes to planning trips. While advance planning is key to locking in prices before they get higher, if you take advantage of sales and are willing to adjust your travel dates, location and/or activities based on current pricing, you’ll be able to save money — even if you’re booking at the last minute.
Featured photo of a traveler in Nepal on an Intrepid Travel tour by Matt Cherubiro/Intrepid Travel.
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