High airfare won’t keep travelers home this summer

May 20, 2022

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If you’ve groaned while looking at the price of airfare for this summer, you’re not alone. If you’re going to bite the bullet and book the trip anyway, you’re also not alone.

Pricey airfare has combined with high across-the-board costs to form a very expensive summer trip, but industry experts say there’s no indication travelers plan to stay home over the coming months.

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The fact that prices are up is undeniable.

The average round-trip ticket – whether for an international or domestic trip – cost $585 in April according to numbers released in recent days by Airlines Reporting Corporation, which represents travel agencies across the U.S.

This was the highest recorded price in the last seven years – up 8% from the month prior and up 45% compared to 2021.

window airplane clouds
(Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

ARC officials acknowledged that at some point, there could be a reckoning that would (perhaps) lead passengers to change their minds about travel.

“We continue to monitor the impact higher airfares have on traveler demand,” Steve Solomon, vice president of global customers and data products, said.

However, after COVID-19 led to two highly unusual summers in 2020 and 2021, it doesn’t look like any such reckoning is coming soon.

Related: 9 ways to beat expensive summer airfare

On Friday, the American Society of Travel Advisors told TPG that luxury travel demand remains “relatively untouched,” despite surging prices, and said even budget-conscious travelers are forging ahead with their plans.

“Our travel advisors tell us that they’re busier than ever,” Vice President Erika Richter told TPG, adding that “if anything,” travelers are simply adjusting some of the smaller details of their trip, as opposed to altering the vacation itself.

Higher costs and prices…but higher sales, too

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby acknowledged the rising ticket prices during a nationally televised interview this week on CBS Mornings.

“It really is about jet fuel prices,” he said, noting this came after the COVID-19 pandemic caused carriers like United to take on large amounts of debt.

“We’ve got to start paying (the debt) down, so we’ve at least got to recover the increase in jet fuel prices,” Kirby said.

Even though ARC’s numbers show total airfare sales (that the company was involved in) dropped by about 1% from March to April, fares rose about 8%. ARC points out, though, that drop was actually smaller than it usually saw prior to the pandemic; sales dropped by about 2% from March to April in 2019.

Indeed, AAA says it has every reason to believe travelers are forging ahead with their plans despite the cost.

Related: Summer travel deals you can still book

“What we’ve seen is that once people make those plans, they will stick with them,” AAA Director of External Communications Ellen Edmonds told TPG on Friday, leaning on lessons learned from past gas price spikes.

AAA forecasts an 8% increase in travel for Memorial Day weekend, and Edmonds said there is a “really strong indication” of surging demand heading into the summer months.

“We believe what we’ve seen in the past will hold true and people will look for other ways to offset that cost,” she said.

It’s always important to check, of course, to see what airline and hotel prices would cost you in points and miles. Keep TPG’s valuations handy to see if you’re getting a better (or at least comparable) deal that will cost you little (or, better yet, no) cash out of pocket.

runway at Charlottesville-Albemarle airport
On the runway at Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport (CHO) in Virginia. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Other ways to save

If there’s a number that sums up why travelers are not letting higher prices deter them from taking a major trip this summer, it may be this:

Eight in 10 people agreed that a vacation would do wonders for their mental health, according to preliminary survey data from the American Society of Travel Advisors.

It’s a sentiment with which most of us can empathize after more than two years of pandemic-related stress, uncertainty and travel restrictions.

To the extent customers are looking to trim the budget of their trips, Richter anticipates they might book a lower airfare class, stay in a lower category room or choose a less expensive cabin aboard a cruise ship.

In other words, experts expect the smaller details of the trip may change while larger, overarching plans remain in place.

“We think what they’ll do instead is find other ways to save money,” Edmonds added, noting the same trend.

Related: How to save on Amtrak tickets 

Bottom line

The latest numbers confirm what you’ve probably found as you research booking sites: Airfare is up, and so are the other costs of a summer trip. With perhaps unprecedented desire to get out of town this summer, don’t expect this will lead to smaller crowds at your destination.

Featured photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy.

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