While budget travel doesn’t have to be a thing of the past, it’s hard not to wonder why it seems like all flights are so expensive right now. Travel isn’t immune to the skyrocketing inflation that’s moving at its fastest pace since 1981, in large part because of elevated, but lowering, gas prices. So unless you consider renting an electric vehicle for a road trip, transportation is pricey.
There are a lot of factors that go into more expensive flights. These are the ones most impacting the prices you’ve been seeing (and will continue to see in the short term).
The ridiculous price slashes that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic are over. In 2020, TSA checkpoints saw as low as 87,000 people in one day. On August 14, 2022, 2.3 million people were recorded. On top of that, summertime demand is always high because that’s when more people are able to go on vacation.
The price tag on jet fuel has increased for a few reasons, though it is starting to decrease since its peak in June. The war in Ukraine has had a ripple effect on gas prices as countries put trade restrictions on oil from Russia. Demand also creates an issue. Lower demand during the pandemic that transitioned to a sharp increase in demand once restrictions started to lift has put a strain on immediately available oil supplies.
While the number of people wanting to fly has significantly increased, the airline industry as a whole is still working with downsized staff from the pandemic. Estimates show that there are 15 to 20 percent fewer flights than needed, according to Scott’s Cheap Flights. Flights were cut from the typical summer schedule to avoid disastrous mass delays and cancellations due to weather and staffing problems. The pilot shortage in the United States was already unsustainable before the pandemic. Now, experts expect it will take years for enough people to be trained to end the shortage.
The good news is flight prices have already started to go down. According to The New York Times, fares fell 7.8 percent in July compared to June, and those trends are expected to continue now that summer travel is almost over. According to Hopper’s third quarter travel index, prices are expected to average $286 this month, down 25 percent from May. Once things cool down in fall and winter (minus the holiday season), prices are expected to continue to fall.
The idea that booking on a middle-of-the-weekday will get you a better deal is somewhat of a myth. A study by CheapAir.com found that buying flights in the middle of the week only had an average difference of $1 in fare prices. However, there are other travel hacks to help you find the cheapest fares. You can get creative by checking to see if booking two one-way tickets is cheaper than booking roundtrip, or by booking cheaper tickets using hidden city fares. You can also use tools like newsletters, book directly with the airline, and check prices on travel agencies to see if you have can nab a mistake fare.
The general rule of thumb for the prime booking window is between six weeks and four months before your departure. However, this information can vary depending on where you’re trying to travel. For example, tickets to Asia are likely to be cheapest 10 months in advance, so the sooner you book, the better. However, tickets to the Caribbean and Central and South America can have cheap fares even one month before departure.
Searching for great flight deals might sound like a full-time job, but it might be worth it if you can save a significant amount of cash.
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