Relief is on the horizon for air travelers in the US
New data from Hopper, the online booking platform, suggests airfares should decrease from this summer’s record-high prices, averaging less than $300 round-trip for domestic itineraries booked this month.
“Domestic airfare this fall will drop to $286 this August, down 25% compared to the airfare peak in May of this year, in line with 2019 prices,” the firm said in its third-quarter travel index. “Airfare will remain at or below $300 through late September, before beginning to rise slowly in October and November.”
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Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist and author of the report, explained that the numbers are based on the booking date and mostly reflect what passengers can expect to pay in the next few months.
“For travelers who are thinking about going on a trip, I would say it’s a very good time to decide to go on that trip. Fares will be the lowest for the next couple of weeks that they will be until January,” she told USA TODAY.
What’s going on with airfares this summer and fall?
Ticket prices peaked in May, according to Hopper, reflecting a surge in demand for travel as more Americans felt ready to take to the skies again. At the same time, airlines fought to match smaller fleets and leaner staffs to the number of passengers who wanted to travel.
Domestic round-trip airfares peaked at an average of $410 in May, Berg said – the highest level since Hopper started tracking prices in 2014.
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But the next few months are set to offer travelers some relief. Demand for flights tends to hit a lull between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, which means cheaper tickets should be available. It also gives airlines time to catch their breath ahead of the winter holidays.
“What we’re seeing now is more of a normalization,” Berg said in an interview, and added in her report that “the drop this year is larger than usual as a result of the abnormally high summer prices and earlier peak in demand. ”
Where are ticket prices headed for the holidays?
As travel demand recovers from the pandemic, so does its regular demand seasonality, so these low ticket prices aren’t exactly here to stay.
Airfare is expected to “average $368 per ticket in December, with daily airfare peaking over $390 for last-minute holiday bookings,” Hopper’s report said.
“For those travelers who are thinking about booking, whether you plan to travel in September or October or you’re planning your trip home to family, start monitoring those prices now,” Berg said. “We see a lot of last-minute planning and booking for the holidays, when really the best prices are available September and early October.”
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How do airlines set their fares?
Many variables go into determining airfares. Some of the biggest factors include traveler demand and fuel prices.
“Demand for flights continues to grow compared to earlier this year but growth has slowed as much of the pent up demand post-COVID was exhausted with summer vacations. The slowing in demand growth is a seasonal fixture at this time of year, and will pick back up in October and November as travelers search for and book their holiday travel,” Hopper said in its writeup, adding, “as jet fuel prices remain elevated, airlines will be pressured to maintain higher airfares, and lower overall capacity to offset the increase in costs.”