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Holiday airfare will be most expensive in 5 years as pandemic fears wane

Los Angeles, CA – November 23: An air travel passenger is hugged while being picked up amid a long line of travelers pending rides after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport terminal 1 for the Thanksgiving holiday in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

Allen J. Schaben | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

If you’re thinking about flying over Thanksgiving or Christmas, get ready to pay up.

Flights for the holidays will be the most expensive in five years, fare-tracker Hopper said Monday.

Average domestic airfare for trips over Thanksgiving is $350, and international round trips are going for an average of $795 — both mark a 22% increase compared with 2019, before the Covid pandemic, Hopper said.

Domestic round-trip tickets over Christmas, which falls on a weekend this year, are nearly a third more expensive than 2019, averaging $463, while international is up 26% to $1,300, according to Hopper’s data.

Domestic airfare prices drop after a red-hot summer

Traveling during peak-demand days, like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the days leading up to Christmas, always command higher prices. Travel experts recommend flexibility and traveling outside of the busiest travel days.

But Brett Snyder, founder of the Cranky Flier travel website and a former airline manager, warns cheap fares might be hard to find on any day this holiday season because airlines have improved their control over how many seats they sell.

“Airlines are so much better at this now,” Snyder said. “Now they just fly a lot fewer flights on Christmas Day. If it is cheaper, it’s not significantly cheaper.”

Many of the factors that contributed to a chaotic summer for air travel — a shortfall of planes, staff and a backlog of training — aren’t immediately easing, which will limit flying capacity going forward. That also means prices are likely to remain elevated, though they’re already off the year’s peaks.

Hopper’s lead economist, Hayley Berg, recommends booking holiday travel no later than mid-October and said, “If you see a good price, even a price that looks reasonable to you, we recommend you book.”