You might want to schedule a road trip this summer. After trudging through a nearly two-year travel slump (and dishing out rock-bottom fares), it looks like airlines will once again have the upper hand when it comes to summertime fare pricing. The usual culprits – rising fuel costs and fewer seats (due to capacity cuts) – are partially to blame for the increase, but this summer’s analysis offers one sliver of hope for a recovering economy: More travelers are (finally!) taking to the skies.
Last summer, the shaky job market forced families and businesses to scale back travel, so airlines hustled to fill empty seats by dropping fares an average of 23 percent from 2008 rates. This year, 49 percent of people in a Travelocity study said they plan to travel more than in summer 2009. That demand lets airline push the national fare average (for both domestic and international flights) up by about 13 percent, from $415 to $471.
Rising Fuel Costs
Expect those pesky fuel surcharges of 2008 to rear their heads again soon. Already, jet fuel costs are at their highest since October 2008, and crude oil prices hover perilously close to the $100 a barrel mark. Two years ago, when oil hit $147 a barrel, airlines tacked on surcharges of anywhere from $50 to $300, depending on the route.
Finding the Deals
Budget flyers should skip Europe, where average summer fares jumped to around $1,000, and instead opt for closer-to-home destinations. Orlando rates haven’t inched since last year, with average fares still sitting around $259 per ticket. Mexico, Central America, and South America are also hotbeds for deals, with favorable exchange rates and round-trip tickets ringing up at bargain rates (we found recent fares from as little as $379 round-trip from Miami to Lima or Cusco, Peru).
Recovering from the Eruption
Even though most flyers grounded by Eyjafjallajokull’s smoky plume have already made it safely home, ticket prices across Europe could spike by as much as 5.2 percent this year to make up for the nearly $3.3 billion lost during the one-week blackout, according to a report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research in the U.K.
Sliding Room Rates
The summer travel forecast’s brightest spot: Savvy flyers can balance out pricey airfare with hotel deals. Overall, domestic hotel rates are discounted by at least 10 percent compared to last year, according to Bing Travel. For even deeper savings, head to Las Vegas, for rooms down by about 18 percent, or Honolulu, where lodging costs about 13 percent less.