Elizabeth Smith was stunned after she saw how much a roundtrip ticket from Spokane, Washington, to Orlando, Florida, cost for this year’s spring break — just six years after her family’s first trip to Disney World.
“In 2016, the same seven of us went, and we paid $350 for airfare round-trip per person. Currently the same flights we were hoping to go on are over $1,000 per person,” Smith, an Idaho schoolteacher, told CNBC. “We were really shocked. Not in a million years would I think that I needed to have as much for airfare that I did for Disney.”
For months, the mother of three says she scoured the web for cheap flights – including Google Flights, Kayak, and Expedia.
“Everything said, ‘Don’t buy now. We expect better prices,’ including Google. And so I kept waiting,” she said.
But those prices never came down.
“I have students that were gonna be flying to see their family for spring break, and they’ve told me that they can’t go, or they’re gonna have to drive because of these airline tickets,” Smith said. “The prices are just so high.”
Smith and her students aren’t the only ones experiencing sticker shock on travel rates. According to travel app Hopper, which analyzes historical airfare data, the average price of a domestic round-trip ticket has surged 26% over the last year to $290, while the average international ticket is $730 round-trip. Rising fuel costs, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, are helping to drive the surge.
In Ohio, Miami University college freshman Anna Thompson started planning her spring break trip months ago.
“I started looking at the West Coast. Really anywhere warm,” she said. “I started to look south as well – in areas like Florida and Louisiana.”
But her plans to relax with friends at the beach were canceled when she found out how much it would cost.
“The flight prices were a lot higher than I was expecting,” Thompson told CNBC. “I remember looking months prior when they were closer to $100 to $150. But upon looking again – they had skyrocketed upwards of $300, $400 for the same flights.”
Thompson said she ultimately used a travel app to find a cheap flight to Boston, where her brother lives.
Busy travel season
“Looking at TSA travel volumes, we’re seeing about 2 million travelers going through TSA security checkpoints over the weekends. That’s about 85% to 90% of 2019 volumes,” Hopper economist Adit Damodaran told CNBC. “So it’s definitely getting busy, and travel demand is definitely picking up.”
For those checking into a hotel, $144 is the average daily rate – that’s up 40% compared to the same time a year ago, according to data firm STR.
Meanwhile, analysts say the Russian invasion of Ukraine and global oil concerns continue to push crude and jet fuel prices to their highest level in 13 years.
“Higher jet fuel prices that airlines are having to contend with is another reason that airfare is having to rise for travelers,” Damodaran said.
Travelers head to check-in at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California.
Paul Bersebach | MediaNews Group | Orange County Register via Getty Images
According to Hopper’s 2022 Spring Break travel report, domestic airfare is expected to climb an average of 7% each month toward July. As for international airfare, “that one’s a little harder to gauge right now – especially with the situation in Ukraine and Russia,” Damodaran said.
If geopolitics continue to make headlines, travel experts are anticipating Americans to rethink transatlantic travel. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, flight searches from the U.S. to Europe are down 9 percent from expected levels, according to Hopper.
The world’s largest online travel platform Booking Holdings disclosed on Tuesday that room occupancy fell 10% in the last week, compared to 2019 levels, primarily led by Eastern Europe and Russia.
“We may just see travelers stay closer to home … until the situation, you know, eases a little bit,” said Jan Freitag, national director for Hospitality Market Analytics at CoStar.
Damodaran suggests the best way travelers can save money for domestic trips is to book three to four weeks in advance of the departure date — and definitely no later than that. “The earlier you can start to track prices, that will help you get the best ticket and best price on your trip,” he said.
For international trips, Damodaran recommends booking at least four weeks in advance. “We tend to see prices on those trips start to rise a little bit earlier than domestic trips,” he said. “No later than four weeks should help you avoid the biggest price increases for international trips.”
Damodaran also suggests for domestic or international travel, you can save a little bit by adjusting the days of your travel. “Fridays tend to be the most expensive to depart, and Sundays tend to be the most expensive day to return. So if you have a bit of flexibility, adjusting the day of your travel can help with that as well,” he said.
That’s exactly how Liz Smith was able to find cheaper flights to Disney the first week of April – by shifting her dates. However, she and her family will have to compromise:
“I had to take more time off work [and] my kids will be out of school for a couple of days,” Smith told CNBC. “We were hoping not to do that, [but] that’s sort of the price to pay, I guess.”