US summer travel: US to expect big crowds, big prices this holiday season | travel

The unofficial start of the summer travel season is here, with airlines hoping to avoid last year’s chaos and travelers looking for ways to save some money on expensive airfares and hotel rooms.

US summer travel: The US expects big crowds and big prices this holiday season (AP Photo/Damien Dovargnes, file)
US summer travel: The US expects big crowds and big prices this holiday season (AP Photo/Damien Dovargnes, file)

Some travelers say they will be making shorter trips than expected, or that they will drive instead of flying. Others are finding various money-saving sacrifices.

Stephanie Hanrahan thought she would save money by planning her daughter’s birthday trip to Disney World in Florida. Instead, it was spent last summer as a Dallas-area family trip for four to California, so now her husband and son are staying at home.

“We had to grit our teeth,” said Hanrahan, an author and speaker who also runs a nonprofit, as she and daughter Campbell waited for their flight at Love Field in Dallas last week.

The number of people passing through U.S. airports hit a pandemic-era high last weekend, and those records are sure to be broken over the Memorial Day holiday.

AAA predicts that 37 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home this weekend, an increase of more than 2 million from last year’s Memorial Day but still below pre-pandemic numbers in 2019. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen. 10 million passengers between Friday and Monday, a 14% increase over the holiday in 2022 and slightly more than in 2019.

With more travel comes more expenses. The average U.S. hotel room rate last week was $157 per night, up from $150 in the same week last year, according to hotel data provider STR. The average daily rate for other short-term rentals such as Airbnb and Vrbo rose to $316 last month, up 1.4% from a year ago, according to AirDNA, which tracks the industry.

There is a bit of good news for drivers, though: The national average for a gallon of regular was $3.56 at midweek, down from $4.60 at this time last year, according to AAA. Renting a car is also cheaper than a year ago, when some popular destinations didn’t have vehicles. Travel company Expedia said larger inventories allow companies to rent more cars at lower prices.

As for air travelers, airline industry officials say carriers have fixed problems that contributed to a spike in flight cancellations and delays last summer, when 52,000 flights were knocked back from June to August. Airlines have since hired about 30,000 workers, including thousands of pilots, and are using larger planes to reduce flights but not seat numbers.

“I don’t have the hubris to say exactly how the summer is going to go, but we’ve prepared and we have a strong plan for it,” said Andrew Watterson, chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines, which has struggled at times. An epic collapse occurred in the summer of 2022 and around Christmas, nearly 17,000 flights were canceled.

David Seymour, American Airlines’ chief operating officer, said his staff has improved systems used to predict storm impacts at major airports and plan for recovery from disruptions. He said that this will reduce cancellations.

“It’s going to be a solid summer for us,” Seymour said.

In a report released last month, the Government Accountability Office blamed airlines for an increase in the number of flight cancellations as travel recovered from the pandemic. It also said airlines are taking longer to recover from disruptions such as hurricanes.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the government will hold airlines accountable for treating passengers fairly when carriers cause cancellations or long delays. But like the airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration — the agency that manages the nation’s air transportation — has had its own staff shortages and occasional technology breakdowns that have halted air travel.

The FAA resorted to nudging airlines to reduce flights to the New York City area this summer, and it opened new flight routes on the East Coast to ease bottlenecks.

“It’s going to be a test — it’s always a test to travel in the summer,” said travel analyst Henry Hartvelt, “but the airlines have done a lot to improve their ability to operate well this summer.”

Airlines hope that limiting the number of flights will improve reliability and reduce delays. So far it seems to be working. Nearly one in every 70 U.S. flights has been canceled this year — half the rate from a year ago and fewer than in 2019.

Limiting the number of flights also keeps prices above pre-pandemic levels.

Hopper, a provider of travel data, predicts that next month the average domestic airfare will peak at $328 for a round-trip ticket, down from last summer’s record high of $400 but up 4% from 2019.

There are some last-minute deals on domestic flights, Hopper found, but international fares are at their highest in more than five years, with prices in Europe up 50% from a year ago.

The same is happening within Europe, as airlines line up at capacity during times of strong travel demand.

“There is no expectation that we will see cheap fares in Europe over the next seven or eight months,” says John Grant, analyst at UK-based travel-data provider OAG.

For the travel industry, the big question is how long consumers can afford to pay for airline tickets and accommodation as they try to cope with stubbornly high inflation, news about layoffs and bank failures, and fears of a recession.

Industry executives say consumers prefer the travel experience over other forms of spending, but some analysts see a crack in the strong demand for travel starting in early 2022.

Analysts at Bank of America say their credit and debit card customer data showed a slowdown in spending in April, as card use fell below year-ago levels for the first time since February 2021. They say spending on hotels, which rebounded relatively quickly. The pandemic, however, plunged this spring, while the slow-recovering cruise industry is still moving forward — card spending on cruises rose 37% last month, albeit from much lower levels a year ago.

“Travel remains a bright spot relative to other sectors, but we are also seeing signs of moderation in the travel space,” said Anna Zhou, an economist for the bank.

This story is published from the Wire Agency feed without modification to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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