Summer vacations can break the bank—especially for trips abroad

When Christy Danforth’s clients ask her about European vacations this summer, the travel consultant tries to prepare them before sending a price quote.

“There’s a lot of sticker shock,” she said, especially for popular places like Italy. And speaking from his own trip to the country on Monday, Danforth said he’ll likely have to add another heads-up.

“It’s so crowded,” she said. “It felt like there were a million people in the Vatican. Just band lap after band lap after band lap.”

As travelers prepare for summer vacation this year, experts say they’ll have plenty of company — and they should expect to pay a pretty penny for the experience, depending on the destination. That’s especially true for flights to Europe and Asia, where prices are the highest they’ve been in more than five years, according to travel app Hopper.

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But interest in the trip is still strong, said Kayla Incera, an expert on consumer travel trends for the travel search site Kayak. She said that while flight prices were up 35 percent overall, searches were up 20 percent compared to last year.

“Prices don’t seem to be deterring travelers,” Insera said.

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Flights to international destinations in most parts of the world are significantly higher than last year and 2019, according to Hopper. And interest is high: Price comparison site Kayak says its data shows searches for international flights are up 42 percent.

Travelers flying to Europe should expect to pay 36 percent more than last year for airfare, an average of $1,167 per ticket, Hopper said. For Asia, where many countries have only recently lifted coronavirus restrictions, airfares average up to $1,817. This is an increase of 62 percent compared to 2019.

Only South America saw a drop in airfares compared to 2019 and last year, Hopper says.

“The price increases are really incredible,” said Haley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist.

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She said prices are so high in part because travel capacity to Asia is still far below 2019 numbers. There are also fewer flights between the United States and Europe, she said, but not to the same extent as Asia. The costs associated with long-haul flights are also higher than they were before the pandemic, she said.

Danforth’s customer inquiries indicate the popularity of these locations, despite the price. She said the most popular destinations people ask about for summer travel include Italy, Greece, Japan, France and Portugal. And they are willing to pay.

She said the attitude about prices was, “Well, it is what it is; what are we going to do?”

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For travelers staying in the United States, flying will be cheaper than last year. Hopper says that with lower jet fuel prices and more available capacity, domestic airfares for the summer are averaging $306 per ticket. That’s down 19 percent from last year, though still up 6 percent from summer 2019.

Travelers are looking to listen to the hits, planning theme park trips to Orlando and getaways to cities like New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Los Angeles, Hopper says.

“I think domestic travel feels like a little bit of a return to normal this season,” Berg said. “We will have a regular season, but the summer regular season is the busiest time of the year.”

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A hotel stay is likely to be more expensive this summer than last year – which was already quite expensive. Hopper shows U.S. hotel prices are up about 11 percent over 2022.

Berg said hotels are still struggling with high costs for items — including wages, energy and food — that are being passed on to customers. The app’s most sought-after hotel markets, New York and Miami, saw average overnight stays grow by 51 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Travelers haven’t seen much of a break in hotel stays so far this year. According to data compiled by the American Travel Association, accommodation costs in March were up 8% from a year earlier and 19% from 2019.

The demand for vacation rentals also seems to increase during the summer. AirDNA, which tracks the performance of properties on Airbnb and Vrbo, said last month that bookings for June through August were up about 10 percent compared to the same time last year.

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The days of widespread car rental shortages and sky-high prices seem to be in the past. Kayak says its data shows a 13 percent drop in daily rental rates.

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Hopper has rental cars averaging about $46 a day for the summer, down 17 percent from 2022. At that time in 2021, the travel app said prices averaged $99 a day.

Berg said the city will still matter for price and availability: A small airport in Minnesota will likely have fewer options and higher prices than popular, well-stocked locations in Florida.

“Prices will be lowest where the fleets are most concentrated,” she said.

Another advantage for those who rent cars: the price of gasoline has dropped significantly compared to a year ago. The national average for a gallon of regular water on Tuesday was $3.53, compared to $4.33 in 2022.

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Several new ships are launching this summer from operators including Virgin Voyages, MSC Cruises, Viking Cruises, Silversea and the revamped Crystal Cruises.

The cruise industry took longer than most parts of travel to recover, shutting down in the earliest days of the pandemic and reopening in the United States in 2021. This summer, Cruise Critic Editor-in-Chief Colleen McDaniel said, the industry is coming back strong. .

“They are sailing full and they are sailing with full fleets,” she said. “Which was actually what we expected in terms of a real turnaround in the industry.”

She said there are still some discounts, especially around 90 days before sailing dates, but there hasn’t typically been a fire sale for cruise vacations.

“They’ve done a really good job as far as cruise lines go in maintaining price integrity,” she said.

However, operators offer some incentives such as additional bonuses or travel reimbursement for cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe to offset the high cost of air travel to these regions. She said Caribbean bookings are “pretty strong” despite the threat of hurricane season, in part because so many U.S. passengers can get to cruise ports by car.

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Scott Keys, founder of the cheap flight alert service, said finding good deals on summer travel “is a challenge at the moment”.

“We’re facing one of the busiest air travel summers on record,” he said. While the ideal time to book would be in winter, he said procrastinating travelers were “not completely hopeless”.

The first two weeks of June or the last two weeks of August are typically cheaper for airfare than the average eight weeks of summer, he said — up to 40 percent cheaper.

Keys said travelers should also keep an open mind about where to go if they don’t want to spend too much. The Caribbean could be a much better deal than a more distant destination, he said, citing a round-trip airfare from Cleveland to the U.S. Virgin Islands for $379 in early June.

If someone has specific dates in July for Paris but wants a good deal, “that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

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Inserra said Kayak’s “Explore” tool allows travelers to enter a departure point, budget and other parameters to get inspiration for where their money can take them.

Avoiding the weekend can also save money, Berg said. She said she’s saving about $300 per ticket by flying to Ireland on Monday night in a few weeks.

“If you can fly Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you can save about $200 on an international ticket,” she said. And he pointed out that in many cases hotels are more expensive on Saturday evenings as well.

“If you want to travel maybe a week in Europe, if you can limit yourself to just one Saturday night instead of doing two weekends on a bookshelf … you can save a decent amount,” Berg said.

Travel experts said that if people can swing it, the shoulder season — late summer and early fall — is the perfect time to travel in Europe. “We recommend September-October,” Berg said. “It’s a lot cheaper, the weather is still great.”

Once those summer trips are planned, Keys said it’s smart to start thinking about plans for later in the year.

“You have to zig when others zag,” he said. “Start thinking about booking those Christmas flights.”

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