LIFESTYLE – Shock sticker? Here’s how to find a cheap flight(er) this summer | Tns
SEATTLE (TNS) — Stephanie Parkins hadn’t opened a credit card in 20 years. That changed a few months ago, however, when she got the hunch that summer flights would be expensive.
Parkins and her husband Andrew knew they wanted to take their two children to visit the grandparents’ farm in Nellysford, Virginia. In January, the “queen of offers”, as some friends call her, saw an offer for new members of the Southwest Airlines credit card – spend $5,000 in the first three months and earn the “Companion Pass”. , plus bonus points.
If Parkins and her husband both opened cards, they could win two companion passes and fly their kids for free. To meet the expense requirement, they prepaid for their children’s summer camps, scheduled a major car tune-up, and stocked up on household supplies.
Parkins was right about the airfares. COVID-weary travelers are eager to get away from it all after more than two years of retreat. Industry analysts say airlines are deliberately reducing seats to keep prices high. This, coupled with expensive aviation fuel and a shortage of pilots, has driven airfares to astronomical levels.
“Airfare from Seattle for domestic travel this summer is about $580, and that’s almost double what you would have paid in 2019,” said Hayley Berg, economist at travel app Hopper. “It’s up about 80%.”
Industry experts like Berg are encouraging travelers to pay attention to timing when booking trips. Where possible, having some flexibility with dates and destinations will often reduce the cost. Traveling during the “shoulder season,” late August, September, and October, can save travelers hundreds of dollars. Flying early in the week is also generally cheaper than flying on weekends.
August is the cheapest month to travel this summer, according to internal analysis of flight data by Seattle-based Expedia Group. Travelers can save about 10% on average for an August flight compared to a July flight, said Seattle-based Expedia travel expert Christie Hudson. The same analysis showed that Tuesday flights this summer are consistently 15% cheaper than Friday flights.
Prices tend to spike during holiday weekends, such as July 4 and Labor Day. For example, Expedia analysis shows that airfares over the 4th of July weekend are 25% more expensive than the average for the rest of the summer. Hudson suggests using a rate calendar to view prices on different days. The software uses data from thousands of previous flights to predict where prices will go and can tell you if it’s time to buy.
Even with this tip in mind, it’s not always possible to find an affordable option.
Booking flights well in advance seems like a smart way to secure the best price, but that may not be the case, Hudson said. Travelers who booked two weeks to a month in advance saved money, according to an Expedia analysis of summer airfares, but people who booked 60 to 90 days in advance actually paid more for their travels as prices have fallen.
“The data shows that waiting a little closer might not be a bad idea,” Hudson said. “But because flight prices are so incredibly dynamic, you just have to realize that airlines only really lower their prices if they’re having trouble filling seats. And right now they don’t have that problem.”
Sheila Addison, a marriage and family therapy professor at Antioch University in Seattle, wanted to take her mom, dad and uncle from Indianapolis to see the new house she and her partner bought last year. She started looking for flights in March. The only direct flight between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Indianapolis is operated by Alaska Airlines, and at the time, the Seattle-based airline was struggling with cancellations. Addison said she felt like she couldn’t put her aging family members on an unreliable flight. All other flights, which had at least one stopover, were overpriced or had ridiculous stopovers, she said.
She explored alternatives, like driving or taking Amtrak, but train tickets are almost as expensive as plane tickets, and those trips would take several days of travel each way. As a teacher, she only has time to travel during the two-week break between terms. If she spends days in the car or on a train, that’s less time with her family, and she doesn’t want her aging parents to do a marathon on the road that will take them at some point through the Rockies.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to see them,” Addison said. “I’ve never felt so frustrated in my life, and that includes when I was in college and literally had no money.”
Travelers looking to vacation this summer who haven’t booked yet are entering “last minute” territory, Hudson said. Flexibility with travel dates and destinations can help.
If you know you just need to get to a beach, for example, Hawaii wouldn’t be the best option as flights and hotels are incredibly expensive, and food on the island is expensive as most of it is imported from the continent.
“Mexico and an all-inclusive might be a better option,” Hudson said. “You don’t really have to worry about grocery prices when you get there because everything is already integrated, so you can budget ahead.”
Cruises are another lower-cost option for last-minute vacations. They’re “crazy affordable” this summer compared to other forms of travel, Hudson said, and many cruise lines have increased capacity and added new sailings.
Until jet fuel prices and demand begin to decline, flight prices are likely to remain high, Hopper’s Berg said.
Earlier this year, major airlines like United predicted they would turn a profit for the first time since the pandemic began. In mid-June, the stock prices of all major airlines fell between 6% and 9%. Although consumers have swallowed high fares so far, continued inflation and a looming recession could tempt some travelers to stay home and save rather than cash in for big trips.
Parkins and his family will travel to Virginia in August for less than $600, thanks to his advance planning. They used miles, companion passes and less-than-ideal layovers to avoid what would have cost more than $800 per ticket.
“I feel incredibly blessed and just grateful that I followed that instinct that I had,” Parkins said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m really excited for this summer.”