ONEspen Evans, an Atlanta-based photographer, has spent more than she expected on the four flights she has booked for next year. She noticed a large increase in the cost of airfare for flights around the US compared to her experience booking travel in previous years.
“It’s ridiculous. Right now I can fly to different countries for less money than flying domestically,” says the 28-year-old. “It seems like these airlines are trying to get their blood money from the previous years of the pandemic.” .
Evans’ frustration echoes the sentiment of millions of airline passengers in the U.S. Air travel is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels, but U.S. domestic fares rose more than 25 percent in January from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But there are still some ways to save money. Experts recommend booking tickets one to two months in advance and using a travel website to help track the cost of flights between airlines.
Why are prices going up?
The rapid increase in demand for air travel in the wake of the pandemic is the main cause of price increases, according to Steve Carvell, professor of economics and academic director at Cornell’s Center for Real Estate and Finance.
More people are flying than in the last three years of the pandemic. By this summer, global air traffic is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to aircraft leasing company Avalon.
But airline staff shortages are making it worse, contributing to higher prices. “The supply of aviation workers is not adding up as quickly,” says Carvell, “while the demand for flights is quite high.” Consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates that North American airlines will face a shortage of nearly 30,000 pilots by 2032.
The rise in the use of private jets by celebrities and business executives has raised concern about climate impacts, but Carvell says the trend is also fueling higher airfares exacerbating airline staff shortages. “The Kardashians need pilots,” he says. “This is moving away from the pipeline.”
Jet fuel isn’t cheap either. Jet fuel hit an all-time high last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
How to find the best deals
When it comes to travel, Jessica Nabongo knows the ropes: She’s the first black woman documented to have visited every country in the world. However, as much as she knows when she’s booking travel, she too has been affected by the flight price hikes. She splits her time between Detroit and Los Angeles and has noticed that her usual round-trip ticket has more than tripled in price this year.
Amid the price hikes, Nabongo is still adamant about finding the best deals and recommends that if you’re a frequent flyer, try to book with the same airline as much as possible.
“Belief is the key,” he says. “I’m very loyal to airlines and when you’re loyal to them you end up getting perks like upgrades and free bags.” Nabongo says she saved more than $4,000 in baggage fees last year when she stayed on Delta — which has hubs in both Detroit and Los Angeles.
Hayley Berg, chief economist at travel website Hopper, advises that for domestic travel you should check prices three to four months in advance and book one to two months before travel, which tends to be the lowest price. Hopper’s data shows that most domestic travelers make their first search for a trip 20 days before the departure date, meaning they may miss the window with the best deals. “You won’t necessarily book from the moment you start planning, but you want to start planning your trip early enough so that when it hits that low price, you can book and take advantage of the low prices,” says Berg.
Other flight intrusions include booking midweek travel dates instead of weekends and booking off-peak months other than the usual summer peak from June to August.
Berg says booking with third-party sites, also known as online travel agencies (OTAs), like Hopper, makes it easier to find the cheapest deal because their platform does the heavy lifting of tracking down flights that could be cheaper than than any single airline would offer.
If your priority is to travel and you’re flexible with where to go, Nabango says “you should chase the deal, not the destination.” By letting airfare deals dictate where she flies next, Nabongo was able to see over 195 countries in the world by the age of 35. For example, Travelocity shows low-cost fares from Newark to Miami for as little as $32.
Nabongo recommends checking out sites like FlightDeal.com, AirfareSpot.com and SecretFlying.com for flight deals. If air travel is still too expensive, Nabongo says road travel can be a satisfying alternative.
Despite the price hikes, Nabongo is convinced that finding a way to travel is always the best bet. “Traveling helps expand your mind and it will always be more beneficial in the end.”
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