Travel has slowly started picking up again since the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The Transportation Security Administration reported a total of 2,137,505 travelers passed through airport checkpoints in the last week of May 2020. That’s closer to the number of passengers that would have been screened in a single day the year before — but about three times more than the first week in April.
With travel demand returning (albeit slowly), what can travelers expect for flight and hotel prices this summer? Priceline found airfares and room rates across their site were down as much as 65% compared to last year at some of the most popular destinations.
Here are some of the takeaways from that data.
Expect big savings on hotels
“Travelers are very likely to see competitive prices this summer, for hotels in particular,” said Devon Nagle, head of communications at Priceline. “Airline prices may rebound quicker, given that planes will not be flying at full capacity. But hotels will be competing aggressively in these cities and across the country.”
Nagle adds that this competition will benefit travelers. For example, the average daily rate of hotels in Las Vegas — which has the most hotel rooms of any city in the U.S. — plummeted from $193 per night last year to just $80 per night in July 2020. Las Vegas is slowly reopening hotels on the famous Strip, keeping occupancy rates low and gamblers sitting far apart.
July 2019 average weekend daily rate
July 2020 average weekend daily rate
Beware of local travel advisories
However, locals may be the only ones who can take advantage of some of the biggest discounts. Hawaii, for example, still has a mandated 14-day self-quarantine for passengers arriving from other states and countries — so it probably doesn’t make sense for mainlanders seeking a getaway to travel there, even if hotels are cheap. The average daily rate in Hawaii is $171 per night in July 2020. That’s a 65% decrease from the $482 average daily rate a year ago.
Hawaii is set to lift its inter-island quarantine restrictions on June 16, so state residents can take advantage of these deep discounts on other islands.
Domestic flights to major cities are about 33% cheaper on average
Priceline compared the round-trip flight bookings to eight U.S. cities and found that travelers can often save more than $100 per ticket compared to last year if they decide to fly this summer. Tickets to New York, Los Angeles and Boston are all about one-third less expensive than last year. The biggest discount is on fares to Miami, which are almost 50% lower than the 2019 average price.
July 2019 average domestic ticket price
July 2020 average domestic ticket price
Dollar Flight Club found similar savings in other domestic destinations as well. Plane tickets to Anchorage between July and September are 61% below standard fares. On the West Coast, airfares to Portland during the same time frame are up to 29% below normal, and flights to San Diego are up to 35% cheaper.
Flight demand is still in flux
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, flight prices were notoriously volatile. You might think you should be able to get a great deal on flights this summer because fewer people are traveling, but it’s not that simple. There are a couple of factors at play.
Because airlines are flying with lower capacity (in many cases blocking seats or reducing available tickets for safety), it has become more important for the companies to make more money per passenger. Implementing new cleaning procedures and supplying masks for employees also adds to expenses.
Unlike other times of economic uncertainty, airlines can’t simply spur overwhelming demand by dropping prices as long as passengers remain concerned about safety. No matter how low the prices go, some travelers won’t buy tickets until they’re comfortable with the health risks both on the plane and at their destination.
Airlines are also making adjustments to flight schedules, which is keeping fares in flux. American Airlines announced they would begin ramping up flights in response to increased demand. Still, the airline’s systemwide July 2020 capacity is approximately 40% of what it was in July 2019. Delta has said it will continue to cap seating at 50% in first class and 60% in the main cabin through Sept. 30, adding flights or flying larger aircraft on routes where demand is pushing up against these capacity limits.
The bottom line
It shouldn’t be a surprise that travel in July is cheaper compared to last year, on average. You can find savings of 20% to 65% on flights and hotels — but keep in mind that rates and local travel restrictions are changing frequently. As the appetite for travel grows, staying safe and saving money might coincide with a different mode of travel. Priceline’s Nagle said he expects to see a rise in road trips this summer, potentially for July 4th travel where vacationers would have turned to planes, trains or buses before.
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