The majority of Americans — 7 out of 10 — plan to travel in the next 12 months for leisure, according to a February NerdWallet poll. Many Americans are looking to travel this summer, and most are hoping to find a good deal.
Air travel is almost back to pre-pandemic levels. The number of travelers passing through TSA checkpoints fell just 19% in February and January compared to the same period in 2019. Hotels are filling up and vacation rentals are booming.
“Demand across the board for summer travel 2022 is up 20 to 25% compared to 2019,” says Jamie Lin, vice president of research at Airdna, the vacation rental data platform, which tracks trends on Airbnb and Vrbo. When we started in 2021, demand was 20% lower than 2019 levels. Now as we start 2022, they are 20% higher than 2019.”
Volatile oil prices can also affect summer travel costs. The price of US Gulf Coast jet fuel was $3.46 in March, up from $0.46 at its lowest level in May 2020.
With so many factors driving travel prices up, where are the deals? And what destinations should budget-conscious travelers absolutely avoid?
Zig while others zig to Mexico
Rising inflation reminded consumers of a simple economic truth: when everyone wants something and there isn’t enough of it, prices go up. This is true for real estate, microchips, and plane travel.
So when planning a trip this summer, it pays to know the places where the demand remains high.
“Resort areas are up 40% compared to 2019,” says Lynn, of rental occupancy rates.
Mexico has been a particularly hot destination for American travelers, due to its easy testing requirements and proximity. In fact, the number of travelers to Mexico in early 2022 exceeded 2019 levels.
Mexico summer travel deals can still be found, but finding them will be more difficult than in less popular destinations. The same goes for routine US destinations, especially those near national parks.
“The strongest demand is in rural areas in small towns,” says Lin. “Demand doubled during 2019.”
Instead, Lin suggests targeting destinations that rely heavily on foreign tourists and that have been slower to recover tourists.
“Places like Croatia, Italy and Greece have been very slow to recover. Demand is dropping anywhere from 40 to 60%. They haven’t seen the price hikes that we have seen in the US”
Flight reservations to Europe have fallen after the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine, according to data from Huber, a travel booking app, suggesting that travel to the continent could remain slow during the summer. This means that trades must follow.
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book (some things) late
The pandemic has reshaped the number of travelers making plans. Instead of locking in dates months in advance, many started booking flights just weeks away. And despite conventional travel wisdom, this is a good way to secure deals.
Pointing out how Airbnb ABNB does, Lynn says,
The pricing algorithm will cut prices at the last minute to fill in the remaining availability. “The closer you get to the stay date, if it’s not booked, you’ll get a discount.”
be seen6 Vacation Rental Alternatives to Airbnb
The same is true of hotels, which are often cheaper to book within a few weeks or days of booking rather than a few months, and car rental deals are generally easier to find at the last minute.
This comes with two big caveats. First, if demand exceeds supply at a particular destination, prices may actually rise in the few weeks leading up to the trip rather than fall. Even worse, availability can dry up completely, leaving few cars or vacation rentals available.
Second, last minute air travel is usually more expensive. This is not a strict rule – last minute deals can appear, but it is more common after a month or so.
The only thing we don’t know about what’s going to happen this summer is everything. Another variable could appear. Borders can be closed. International conflicts can escalate. Who knows.
As a traveler, this means flexibility is a must for finding deals.
Instead of making a fixed plan to visit a particular destination, follow the deals. Find out what air travel and accommodation offers are available on target dates, and build a trip around them Flexibility has always been important to traveling on a budget. Now it is necessary.
Also, be sure to book travel that can be easily changed or canceled. Many airfares with a low-cost airline like Spirit can incur high change and cancellation fees. The same applies to basic economic prices, which usually cannot be changed or canceled at all.
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Travel is back, but it may never go back to normal. Finding deals requires some understanding of what has changed, where others are traveling – and most importantly – where they haven’t changed.
This summer, target big cities, avoid rural areas and resort destinations, and try to book accommodation and car rentals close to your travel date. Always book prices that can be changed or cancelled.
“Last minute booking in Croatia? “You’ll find a lot,” Lynn suggests.
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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @samsambutdif.