How bad will the 2022 holiday travel season be? So bad that people like Raj Mahal are telling everyone to stay home.
And that’s remarkable because Mahal has developed an app called PlanMoreTrips that helps people save money while traveling. It’s almost like an automaker telling you not to drive. Or an airline telling you not to fly.
Mahal, who lives in Seattle and often flies to Chicago, says round-trip tickets typically cost around $300. This year he paid $525 to come to the Windy City. He stays at home over Christmas – and not just because of the prices.
“This will probably be one of the most expensive vacation times ever,” he warns. “When you factor in the recent airline woes, the likelihood of more cancellations and delays, my advice is to stay home.”
Ah, but what if you don’t have a choice? What if you have to be with Grandma for Thanksgiving or with the kids for Christmas?
When should you book flights, hotels and car hire for this year’s holiday season? Are airports and airlines likely to experience significant disruption? Or is this the year to stay close to home for the holidays?
Seattle residents want to travel for vacations, says Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president of Cruise Specialists and a Seattle resident. “Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii are top cruise destinations, closely followed by the South Pacific and Central America,” she says. “The more adventurous visit the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica.”
How much do I pay for the trip?
No matter who you ask, holiday travel is getting dramatically more expensive. The latest forecast, released by travel app Hopper last week, predicts record prices for almost all types of travel.
On Thanksgiving, domestic round-trip fares will average $350 nationwide, up 22% from 2019. But for some markets they are significantly higher, as Mahal found in Chicago. Hotel rates average $189 per night, and if you want to rent a car, you pay an average of $60 per day. Hopper didn’t track hotel and rental car prices in 2019, but rental car prices are down about $10 from the year before.
For the Christmas travel season, domestic fares will increase by 31% to $463 from 2019. Hotel rates average $218, but rental cars cost a little less — just $53 per day on average.
Conclusion: You pay significantly more than in the last holiday travel season before the pandemic. Thanksgiving trips cost a little less than Christmas.
Hopper says you can save money by planning early. Travel around Thanksgiving Monday, November 21st or Thanksgiving itself to find the lowest fares. The Monday or Tuesday before Christmas are the cheapest days to fly. For best results, book your flight tickets no later than October 10th.
“The best thing to do is book flights, hotels, rental cars, and other reservations as soon as possible,” advises Angela Borden, product marketing specialist at Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. “The longer you wait, the more expensive the tickets are likely to be.”
Are airports and airlines facing major disruptions?
Seattle escaped some of this year’s air travel disruptions. Airlines canceled about 2.5% of Sea-Tac’s flights in the first six months of the year. That is about three quarters of a percentage point better than the national average.
Airlines delayed about 18% of their flights out of Seattle, which is slightly better than the national average of 21%. But experts aren’t sure their luck will last this fall. Most industry watchers expect more cancellations and delays later this year.
“It is unlikely that the airline industry will be able to recruit staff to meet traditional holiday demand,” said Mercedes Zach, travel expert at ASAP Tickets. “Passengers should be prepared for long queues and, if necessary, book flights with slightly longer connections than usual.”
What is driving the crisis? According to Janna Hyland, aviation analyst at Crisis24, high travel demand – especially for flights – continues to outstrip supply.
“That, combined with the pilot training backlog, staffing shortages and rest requirements of the current flight crew, are all creating significant disruption,” Hyland says.
And then there are weather delays that are historically worse during the winter holiday travel season.
“Travel-related emergencies due to operational issues and weather-related disruptions are more likely,” said Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance marketplace.
That doesn’t even take into account a possible resurgence of COVID-19. All of this adds up to the high possibility of travel chaos.
Should you travel during the winter holidays?
That’s the big question for many travelers.
“I’m screwed,” says Sam Finch, a Seattle-based marketing strategist. “On the one hand, I want to be cautious about COVID and the flu season due to holiday travel.”
His biggest fear is that a COVID surge will exacerbate staffing problems at airports and in the hospitality industry. The result, he fears, will be “chaos”.
“I tend to stay home and visit family in the off-season,” he says.
But maybe he’s in the minority. A recent survey by travel insurance company World Nomads found that nearly half of those surveyed plan between two and three trips in the next year, and 39% are taking at least one trip.
“While it’s no secret that there has been some turbulence in the travel industry, such as Things like long delays, lost luggage, cancellations and increased costs don’t stop people planning their next trip,” said Christina Tunnah, general manager of marketing and brands at World Nomads.
Tips for planning your vacation trip
Don’t wait to book. “My #1 advice to clients is to plan as early as possible,” says Melissa Beers, travel consultant at MyJourneyBeginsTravel.com. “Demand for airports, hotel rooms and concierge-grade travel experiences is still outstripping supply and will most likely continue into 2023.”
Avoid that most popular holiday destinations. Travel agency Trevolution Group says that for the Seattle market, the most popular destinations for trips from the Pacific Northwest between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day in North America are the Mexican cities of Cancun, San Jose del Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. Overseas, the top international destinations are Manila, Philippines and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If you want to go there, wait until after the holidays.
Don’t book the wrong days. Here’s another revelation from the Hopper data. There are wrong days to book your ticket. If you fly on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving or a few days before Christmas, your ticket price will increase by up to $300. Instead, book sooner or later – or, if you can, fly away on holiday yourself, which is usually much quieter and less expensive.
Sure, staying home is an option. But if you wait for the perfect travel conditions, you may never go anywhere.
“It’s a great time to finally be able to travel again,” said Shelley Ewing, President of Tier One Travel. “The world has adjusted to the hurdles the pandemic has thrown at us and it is becoming easier to travel. That might look a little different. But it can be done.”