Patrick De Haan has an overview of soaring prices across the country. He is the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a company that collects data on gas prices. But more recently, he feels the pain of emptying his wallet for one of the last rising cost trends – air travel.
“My wife and I booked two trips to Rio last year,” De Haan said. “Now I’m spending 20% more to get to Atlanta than we spent to get to Brazil.”
But that’s bad news beyond De Haan’s family budget. Many travelers accustomed to scoring pandemic flight deals are in for a nasty surprise as the tides of cheap air travel have shifted.
According to Hopper, a flight booking app, the cost of domestic air travel is up 40% year-to-date with the average round trip at $330. The company expects prices to rise 10% in May.
Several airline experts say the worst is yet to come. After two years of COVID crushing our travel plans, consumer demand is now high despite rising prices, just as the cost of jet fuel skyrocketed due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And it’s a double whammy for prices.
“People are seeing an opportunity where they can book summer trips as (COVID) cases seem to be dropping. So it really drives that desire to travel,” said Vivek Pandya, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Insights, which compiles air travel data.
The era of cheap prices officially ended in February when fares for domestic air travel finally exceeded pre-pandemic costs, Pandya said.
Airlines are also struggling to keep planes off the tarmac due to pilot shortages and weather delays which are contributing to rising costs. Earlier this month, Alaska Airlines and other carriers canceled more than 3,500 US flights in one weekend, affecting tens of thousands of travelers. This week, Jet Blue said it is expected to reduce flight capacity by up to 10% over the summer, CNBC reported.
For California’s most popular route, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a round-trip weekend flight costs about $200 in May, nearly double the average cost over the past two months, the data shows. prices on Google Flights. But weekday travelers are in luck as they can still land a flight under $100. That’s cheaper than driving the same route, with a car getting 40 miles per gallon or less, by over $10.
Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokeswoman for flight-tracking company FlightAware, said there was a small window to fly in May where travelers looking for deals could get cheaper airfares . “Especially the first part (of May), because it’s a post-spring break week, but not Memorial Day weekend,” Bangs said. “But the demand is huge right now for the summer season, even Europe is back, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.”
Michele Godwin, who lives in San Francisco, is traveling to Austin, Texas later this month to see country musician George Strait. She just booked the second leg this week. “Booking this flight yesterday was like ‘ahh’ – I felt like I was cheated,” Godwin said. In the end, she booked a 5 a.m. round trip for $200 to skip the other options, all of which were over $600.
“When I traveled before I admitted it was expensive, but now it’s so expensive I can’t do that,” she added. “It will definitely keep me from going anywhere else this summer.”
At Mineta San Jose International Airport on Tuesday, travelers waiting for their luggage shared stories of shock and regret over the stickers as they watched prices sometimes double in days.
“I saw my flight go from $139 to $300,” said a 72-year-old man who would only give his first name as Tom. He purchased his one-way ticket from Boston three weeks in advance. “I thought I had a fairly cheap ticket to start, but I waited a bit too long.”
But not all travel booking has to be an excruciating process of emptying your wallet. Some bargain-hunting or lucky travelers were pleasantly surprised by the price of their tickets.
Michael Petrelis, a longtime LGBTQ advocate in San Francisco, landed a $300 business class flight on United from Newark to San Francisco. “After sleeping for two hours, I watched a favorite Polish movie, IDA, while enjoying an airline snack,” Petrelis said. “All my flights should be like this!”