Travel costs are “out of the ordinary”, experts say. Here’s how to save


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Some aspects of travel are more expensive than ever due to pent-up demand.

“The big cities and the popular [international] destinations – Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, Milan – these are off the charts,” Sofia Markovich, travel consultant and founder of Sofia’s journey, said of the cost of the trip. “I watch this every day and shake my head like, wow.”

But fear not: there are ways for price-conscious travelers to satisfy their wanderlust without breaking the bank.

“People need to be prepared not just for a busy travel season, but also for an expensive travel season,” said Sally French, travel expert at NerdWallet. “The good news is that there is hope.”

Often, getting the best deal can mean staying flexible and planning well in advance, experts said. Here’s what you need to know about today’s market and how to save.

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International travel costs have reached record highs

The Eiffel Tower and the Seine at sunrise in Paris.

Alexander Spatari | time | Getty Images

Consumers are traveling again after a few years of layoff plans during the pandemic. This pent-up demand has been bolstered by an easing of pandemic-era travel restrictions around the world.

On average, U.S. travelers expect to take 3.5 leisure trips in the next 12 months, up from 2.9 a year ago, according to a recent survey by Destination Analysts, a tourism market research firm.

The so-called “revenge trip” dynamic has helped drive up prices, perhaps especially for outbound travel.

For example, a round-trip plane ticket to Europe now costs around $1,000, which is 20% more expensive than this time in 2019 and 32% more expensive than last year, Hayley said. Berg, chief economist at Hopper, a travel app. A round-trip flight to Asia costs $1,600, about 60% more expensive than a 2019 ticket, she said.

These are record prices, Berg said. This is a particularly notable change given that prices were generally down for international travel before the pandemic.

People need to be prepared not only for a busy travel season, but also for an expensive travel season.

Sally French

travel expert at NerdWallet

This summer is expected to be the busiest on record for international travel, according to the US State Department said in March. More than half of Americans’ search demand is for international destinations, the most since 2019, with Asia and Europe the most searched locations, according to Hopper data.

The US dollar has also weakened in recent months against major currencies such as the euro, making travel to certain regions more expensive.

Domestic flights, rental cars have fallen from their peak

Alistair Berg | Digital vision | Getty Images

Overall, travel costs are up 9% over the past year and 20% from 2019, according to a NerdWallet analysis.

Analysis — which includes plane tickethotels, rental cars, restaurants and entertainment — compiles the most recent data consumer price indexreleased Wednesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hotel room rates hit record highs in March, said NerdWallet’s French. Overnight rates were up 3% from February and 8% from last year, according to CPI data.

In dollar terms, the average person pays around $100 a night for a hotel room in the United States today, according to data from Hopper. Rates are particularly high in popular leisure destinations such as Los Angeles and New York, where nightly rates are up 30% and 17%, respectively, from a year ago, Berg said.

Inflation across the US economy is gradually declining but remains elevated.

These general inflationary pressures translate into higher costs throughout the travel chain, Berg said. For example, higher wages for workers, real estate costs, higher interest payments for businesses, even small bottles of shampoo in a hotel room or pretzels on an airplane are passed on to some degree consumers, she said.

However, not all aspects of travel are necessarily at record highs.

Domestic airfare costs $281 on average today, down 12% from the same time last year and about unchanged from 2019, Berg said. Prices had hit record highs in 2022 amid strong demand and operational issues among airlines.

Renting a car is also about 9% cheaper than a year ago, according to CPI data. Rental cars have been “one of the biggest stories” in pandemic-era travel, French said; costs soared as Americans took more road trips and a shortage of semiconductors drove up car prices.

How to get a good deal while traveling

Thomas Barwick | Digital vision | Getty Images

Here are some of the top ways Americans can reduce the overall cost of a trip, according to travel experts.

1. Be flexible with when and where to travel

Being flexible with your plans is one of the biggest ways to save money, travel experts say.

This flexibility can take many forms. For example, instead of Paris, maybe consider another city or region of France, said Markovich, the travel consultant. Going to Normandy would cost a traveler half of what Paris would cost, she says.

Or consider a trip to another part of Europe, like Scandinavia, which is “very underrated, beautiful and has a lot to offer – history, culture, culinary experiences, etc,” she said.

These general principles apply worldwide. They can also provide an equally or even more rewarding experience, particularly if the originally desired destination is overcrowded, Markovich said.

“I like to suggest clients maybe consider different options,” Markovich said. “Paris and Rome are not going away. They will be there [later].”

Sunset in northern Norway.

© Marco Bottigelli | time | Getty Images

Being flexible about the travel day and time of year can also make a big difference financially, French said. This may mean traveling during shoulder season instead of peak season for a particular region, or adjusting the days you travel.

Instead of traveling on a Friday or Sunday — which tend to be the busiest days — the middle of the week is usually less crowded and cheaper for airfare, she said.

The price “is more related to the day you travel, not the day you buy the ticket,” French said. “Even adjusting for a few days can make a big difference.”

A service like Google Flights can help travelers compare dates and prices and see how ticket costs compare to a historical average, French said.

Sometimes if you’re considering booking a multi-leg flight, especially to Europe, you might be able to replace a short train ride with a layover and save some money, Markovich said. For example, instead of flying from the United States to Paris and then to Geneva, you can fly to Paris and then take a train to Geneva, she said.

2. Book early

Your options and prices are often better when you plan ahead instead of waiting until the last minute, experts said.

For example, the typical sweet spot for cheap international airline tickets is to buy three to five months from a trip, Berg said.

“For the summer, if you’re traveling overseas, you really should book now,” Berg said.

For domestic flights, the window is a bit shorter. Book before the end of April if you’re traveling in June or July, and sometimes before the first or second week of May if you’re traveling in August, Berg said.

I like to suggest customers maybe look into different options. Paris and Rome are not leaving.

Sofia Markovitch

travel consultant and founder of Sofia’s Travel

The one exception to buying well in advance: Big cities, like Chicago, London and New York, which have many hotels competing for business, Berg said. In these localities, hoteliers often offer last-minute room discounts; travelers who can be flexible about neighborhood and room type could save up to 25%, Berg said.

One caveat: this queuing strategy may not work well in popular resorts or leisure destinations such as Miami, Orlando (i.e. Walt Disney World Resort) or Nice, France, who may not have a huge supply of hotels available. rooms, she added.

3. Use the benefits of your travel card

Some credit cards, especially those for travelers, come with perks that could help you save. The caveat: you must use the card to finance your purchase.

Some cards waive international transaction fees, usually around 3% per transaction, for overseas fees. Some have travel insurance benefits for travel delays or lost baggage. Others may offer rental car benefits, such as auto collision insurance.

Plus, for travelers who have credit card points and miles, “this is definitely the best year to spend them,” French said. Points are generally more valuable — they can buy you more — right now because many tour operators such as hotels haven’t yet reset their rewards programs to reflect current prices; they take a long time to catch up, says French.

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