Passengers wearing face masks as a preventative measure against the spread of Covid-19 are seen on an escalator at Orlando International Airport.
Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | Getty images
The number of people traveling again is increasing again. So are the prices.
Airline tickets and hotel rates are on the rise as travelers return in the highest numbers since the pandemic started, hitting beaches, mountains and visiting friends and family after a year of incarceration.
Even the cost of a road trip is on the rise as gasoline prices hit their highest levels since 2014.
The lows hit during the depths of the pandemic were largely in the rearview mirror earlier this spring. Now airlines and hotels are gearing up for a busy summer, and an increase in bookings is pushing up prices even more. Add to this that airlines don’t fly as much as they did before the pandemic, so travelers can expect some full flights ahead.
Domestic U.S. rates are up 9% since April 1, while international rates are up 17%, according to Bernstein research published this week. And rates continue to rise.
“For domestic travel, the June line is closest, as it has ever been over the past year, to prepandemic values,” the report said.
Southwest Airlines said this week that holiday fares are approaching 2019 levels.
Many travelers, like Diana Desierto, are eager to visit friends and family they haven’t seen in months.
The 40-year-old speech therapist who lives in Baltimore has not seen her parents, sister, brother-in-law, and cousins in Oakland, California, or her brother, sister-in-law, and niece and niece. cousin in Seattle since Christmas 2019.
“I have a 12-year-old cousin who had a crazy growth spurt,” she said. ‘The last time I saw him, he was little. And [now] his voice is low. “
Desierto paid $ 344 for a one-way ticket to Seattle and a connecting flight to Oakland in July. She used Southwest frequent flyer miles for the trip home. She said the fare to the west was roughly in line with the prices she had been used to for years, although she thought for a moment that “maybe no one flies and it would be cheaper.”
According to Samuel Engel, head of aviation practice at consultancy firm ICF, fares are being further boosted by airlines re-introducing strict rules for their more inflexible and cheapest fares known as basic economy. Airline executives have said they hope travelers avoid such fares and buy standard bus tickets, which are more expensive.
Airlines tightened the rules in the pandemic to get much-needed travelers on board as airlines suffered record losses.
“By relaxing the rules in the grassroots economy, I’m basically giving you a $ 30- $ 50 discount,” Engel said. “The point of basic isn’t to sell basic economics; it’s to bring you in and make you realize you don’t want it.”
Another thing that drives up the cost of a trip is that more attractions, such as theme parks, are reopening. Covid-era capacity constraints and even masking guidelines (except during air travel, train, and bus travel) also include.
Destinations that had less visitors than usual for about a year. Airline executives say beach, mountain, and other outdoor destinations are popular with travelers and continue to be important.
The price of a hotel in some popular destinations is even higher than before the pandemic.
According to hotel data provider STR, hotel rates in Cancun, Mexico were about $ 205 per night in early May. That’s up from just $ 45 a year ago and $ 160 in 2019. In Hawaii, it was about $ 269, up from $ 122 last year and $ 263 the year before.
But with more reopenings, other cities are recovering. Orlando hotel rates were $ 107 per night in early May, up from $ 62 last year, but still below $ 133 in 2019.
Even New York City, which plans to reopen Broadway theaters in September and now offers indoor dining, is recovering. Rooms, which went on to cost $ 123 per night last year, rose to $ 151 in early May – still well below the nightly rate of $ 269 in 2019. STR expects room rates in New York City to rise to an average of $ 163 per night by June through August.
Fares and hotel rates are still well below 2019 levels as business travel and most international travel are largely absent. This will keep prices under pressure in the future.
Some travelers have other concerns besides price: crowds.
Tom Snitzer, 64, a retired real estate developer and currently a professional wildlife photographer based in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, said he recently flew to Atlanta for his son’s graduation from medical school.
He said it took 40 minutes to get through airport security. The Transportation Security Administration is rushing to hire more screeners for the busy summer travel season.
“Everyone is packed like sardines,” he said.
Snitzer said his travel plans are flexible, but he plans to avoid major tourist attractions, including popular national parks.
“Everyone in the world has been locked up,” he said. “The biggest trick is to avoid everyone, to find off-the-grid spots so we don’t get trampled by tourists.”
–CNBCs Nate Rattner contributed to this story.