Ready for a getaway? If you're planning a vacation, you might have noticed airline tickets are more expensive than they were a year or two ago. Airfare prices have risen in response to increasing demand, fuel costs and staffing shortages, among other concerns, but there are ways to land some cheap flights if you plan in advance.
Increasing Travel Demand
Although pandemic concerns remain, consumers are ready to travel again, and airline security checkpoint data confirms it. After a significant drop in 2020 and lower numbers in 2021, airport traffic is within 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That has forced airlines to rapidly accelerate traffic and routes for the 2019 summer travel season.
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In addition to leisure travel, airlines are also dealing with business bookings. Conferences and trade shows are ramping up again as people are eager to meet in person for the first time in two years. This could keep the travel industry hopping into the fall, long after the vacation travel season ends.
Rising Fuel Costs
If you've adjusted your driving in response to higher prices at the pump, you aren't alone. The airline industry is suffering from those higher gas prices, as well. Jet fuel prices are up 114 percent compared to a year ago, leading airlines to add fuel surcharges to their ticket prices.
Despite those surcharges, though, airlines are seeing increasing demand for tickets. Delta, which needs to make up $15 to $20 on each $200 ticket due to fuel costs alone, has seen ticket sales surge upward with each month. Still, the company reports that sales are currently only at 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Higher fares are a better option than cutting flights when demand is high.
Airfare prices have risen in response to increasing demand, fuel costs and staffing shortages, among other concerns, but there are ways to land some cheap flights if you plan in advance.
Ongoing Staffing Shortages
The Big Quit has hit many industries, and air travel is no exception. Airlines are dealing with staffing shortages as they struggle to return to pre-pandemic activity levels. Both American Airlines and United furloughed tens of thousands of workers during the pandemic, and some of those employees simply didn't return.
As you're booking flights, it's possible that you'll see fewer options in addition to higher pricing, as airlines struggle to boost employee levels. In March 2022 alone, U.S. airlines added 6,546 jobs, bringing the industry to 745,836 workers. In March 2019, the industry had 733,884 jobs, so airlines are now operating above pre-pandemic levels.
Data-Informed Price-Setting Technologies
Those ticket price increases you're seeing are no accident. Like many industries, airlines use data science to set prices. Airline price-setting algorithms use historical data to set pricing including expected demand, likelihood of cancellations and the length of the trip.
There are ways to make these algorithms work for you. You can find bargains by taking advantage of sales or monitoring prices over time and taking action when prices lower. You'll probably also find that the best way to get low fares is to plan your trips for the off season or to be flexible on the time of day and day of week you fly.
COVID’s Lingering Uncertainties
Although mask mandates have lifted and vaccinations are readily available, airlines are still dealing with the possibility of outbreaks. Flight prices remain high in part because airlines were heavily impacted by cancelled flights during the worst of the pandemic. Since cases are still spiking in certain areas of the country, airlines may be hesitant to offer low-cost flights in case travel plans have to suddenly change.
For travelers, this uncertainty could make that roundtrip ticket purchase risky. This is especially true of international flights, since international travel is already typically pricey. Travel insurance could be a way to cushion yourself against that risk, as long as you make sure your travel insurance policy covers COVID-related cancellations.
With high ticket prices and crowded flights, this might not be the best year to plan a vacation. If you can plan your trip around demand surges, you might be able to not only get cheaper tickets, but also hit the airport at a time when lines aren't long and flights aren't packed.
- Transportation Security Administration: TSA Checkpoint Travel Numbers (Current Year Versus Prior Year(s)/Same Weekday)
- International Air Transport Association: Jet Fuel Price Monitor
- World of Aviation: Delta to Add Fuel Surcharge to Flight Tickets
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics: U.S. Cargo and Passenger Airlines Add 6,546 Jobs in March 2022 for New COVID-19 Pandemic High
- NPR: United and American Airlines Tell 32,000 Employees They’re Now on Furlough