- Travel demand has increased in 2023 as Americans take trips they put on hold earlier in the pandemic and Covid travel restrictions ease.
- Prices for hotel rooms and international airline tickets have risen sharply.
- Travel experts say flexibility and early booking are among the best ways to save money.
D3sign | time | Getty Images
Some aspects of travel are more expensive than ever due to pent-up demand.
Big and popular cities [international] Destinations – Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon and Milan – these are not available,” Sofia Markovic, travel consultant and Sofia Travel Founder, talks about the cost of the trip. “I watch this every day and shake my head, like wow. »
But fear not: There are ways for price-conscious travelers to satisfy their lust for wanderlust without breaking the bank.
“People need to be prepared for not just a busy travel season, but an expensive travel season,” said NerdWallet travel expert Sally French. The good news is that there is hope.
Often, getting the best deal can mean staying flexible and planning ahead, experts say. Here’s what you need to know about the market today and how to save.
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The Eiffel Tower and the Seine River at sunrise in Paris.
Alexandre Spatari | time | Getty Images
Consumers are traveling again just a few years after plans were canceled during the pandemic. This pent-up demand has been driven by the easing of pandemic-era travel restrictions around the world.
The average American traveler can expect to take 3.5 leisure trips in the next 12 months, up from 2.9 a year ago, according to the most recent survey by Destination Analyst, a tourism market research firm.
The so-called “revenge travel” dynamic has helped push up prices for outbound travel, perhaps even more.
For example, a round-trip plane ticket to Europe is now about $1,000 — 20% more expensive than that time in 2019 and 32% more expensive than last year, according to Hayley Berge, chief economist at Hooper, a travel app. . It said the round trip to Asia costs $1,600, about 60% more expensive than the 2019 ticket.
Berg said these are record prices. This is a particularly noticeable change given these prices. She usually backed off her international travels before the pandemic hit.
People need to prepare not only for a busy travel season, but also for an expensive travel season.
Travel expert NerdWallet
This past March, the US State Department said, is set to be its busiest summer for international travel. More than half of all queries from Americans are for international destinations, the most since 2019, with Asia and Europe being the most popular regions, according to Huber’s data.
The US dollar has also weakened in recent months against major currencies such as the euro, making travel to some regions more expensive.
Alistair Berg | Digital Vision | Getty Images
Overall, travel expenses increased 9% last year and 20% over 2019, according to NerdWallet. analysis.
The analysis – which includes AirfareHotels, rental cars, restaurants and entertainment – aggregates data in the latest Consumer Price Index released Wednesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
French from NerdWallet said hotel room rates were at record levels in March. Overnight rates were up 3% from February and 8% from a year ago, according to CPI data.
In dollar terms, the average person pays about $100 per night for a hotel room in the United States today, according to data from Hooper. Berg said rates are particularly high in popular leisure travel destinations like Los Angeles and New York, where overnight rates are up 30% and 17%, respectively, compared to last year.
The rate of inflation in the entire US economy is gradually decreasing, but it is still high.
Berg said that these general inflationary pressures raise costs along the travel chain. For example, high workers’ wages, real estate costs, high interest payments to companies, and even small bottles of shampoo in the hotel room or pastries on the plane are passed on to consumers to some extent.
However, not all aspects of travel are necessarily at record levels.
Domestic air travel costs average $281 today — 12% lower than the same period last year, and roughly flat with 2019, Berg said. Prices hit their highest levels in 2022 in an environment of high demand and operational problems among air carriers.
According to CPI data, renting a car is about 9% cheaper than it was a year ago. French said car rentals have been “one of the biggest stories” in the era of pandemic travel. Costs rose as Americans took more road trips and a shortage of semiconductors drove up car prices.
Thomas Barwick | Digital Vision | Getty Images
Here are some of the best ways Americans can reduce the overall cost of a trip, according to travel experts.
1. Be flexible with flight times and locations
Travel experts say being flexible in your plans is one of the biggest ways to save money.
This flexibility can take many forms. For example, instead of Paris, maybe consider another city or region in France, said Markovic, a travel advisor. She said that going to Normandy might cost a traveler half as much as Paris.
Or take a trip to another part of Europe, like Scandinavia, “is less underrated, scenic and has a lot to offer—history, culture, culinary experiences, etc.” She said.
These general principles apply everywhere in the world. It can also provide an equivalent or more rewarding experience, Markovic said, especially if your desired destination is initially crowded.
“I would suggest clients look at different options,” Markovic said. “Paris and Rome will not leave. They will be there.” [later]. ”
Sunset in northern Norway.
© Marco Botticelli | time | Getty Images
French said being flexible about the day and time of year to travel can make a big financial difference. This could mean traveling during the shoulder season rather than the high season for a particular area, or adjusting the travel days.
She said that instead of flying on Fridays or Sundays – which tend to be most days – the middle of the week is usually less traffic and cheaper to fly.
French said the price is “more on the day you travel, not the day you buy the ticket.” “Even an adjustment in a few days can make a huge difference.”
French said a service like Google Flights could help travelers compare dates and prices and compare ticket costs to the historical average.
Sometimes if you’re on a multi-stop trip, especially to Europe, Markovic said, you might be able to swap the stopover for a short train ride and save some money. For example, instead of flying from the US to Paris and then to Geneva, you can fly to Paris and then take a train to Geneva, she said.
2. Book early
Experts said your options and pricing are often better when you plan ahead rather than wait until the last minute.
For example, the best place to get a low-cost international airline ticket is to buy three to five months of air travel, Berg says.
“In the summer, if you’re going abroad, you really should book now,” Berg said.
For domestic flights, the window is slightly shorter. Berg said to book before the end of April if you’re traveling in June or July, and sometimes before the first or second week of May if you’re traveling in August.
I would suggest clients to consider different options. Paris and Rome will not disappear.
Travel consultant and founder of Sofia Travel
The only exception, Berg added, are future purchases: big cities like Chicago, London or New York, which have many hotels vying for business. In these areas, hoteliers often offer last-minute room discounts; Berg said travelers who can be flexible about the neighborhood and room type can save up to 25%.
One caveat: This waiting strategy may not work well at popular resorts or entertainment destinations like Miami and Orlando (such as Walt Disney World Resort) or Nice, France, which may not have a large number of available hotel rooms.
3. Enjoy the benefits of your subscription
Some credit cards, especially those for travelers, have features that can help you save. (Please note: the card must be used to fund the purchase.)
For example, some waive international transaction fees (usually around 3% per transaction) for overseas fees. Some have travel insurance benefits for flight delays or baggage loss. Others may offer rental car benefits, such as auto collision insurance.
Plus, for travelers with credit card points and miles, “this is definitely the best year to spend them,” French said. Points are generally more valuable (meaning they can buy more) right now because many travel companies such as hotels have not yet adjusted their rewards programs to reflect current rates; Catching up takes time, French said.