Travel Inflation Report: December 2022

Prices are coming back down after hitting highs this summer.

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Inflation is ongoing in many aspects of the economy, but here’s good news for the travel industry: Most travel-related prices are down from the highs hit earlier this summer, signaling that prices for things like hotel rooms and airfares might have reached a peak.

While overall prices rose by 0.4 percent over the past month, prices within the travel industry were more mixed. Hotel prices decreased slightly by a half a percent month-over-month, but airfares rose a hefty 3.5% in that same period.

And in line with the broader inflation trend, almost all travel prices are still largely still higher than what they were this time last year — and even higher than what they were pre-pandemic. Airfares are up 43% compared to this time last year. Rental cars, which are still down from their record highs set in 2021, are up 47% from their pre-pandemic prices when comparing this month’s average prices with the same month in 2019.

That’s according to the latest set of Consumer Price Index data released in November 2022, which measures prices on items like travel, groceries and cars. Prices usually change every month, but some prices change more than others. Keep in mind, this data is based on October information, even though it is released in November, so prices you actually see may have actually improved (or gotten even worse) than this data, because it lags one month behind.

And even within the realm of travel, some expenses might go up, while others might go down. To help you better understand how travel prices have changed, NerdWallet analyzed the Consumer Price Index data released by the U.S. Department of Labor across five categories:

  • Airfare.

  • Car rentals.

  • Food away from home.

  • Hotels.

  • Movies, theaters and concerts.

NerdWallet then compared those costs to their same prices a month ago and a year ago. And given how significantly COVID-19 altered the state of travel, the data also compares today’s prices to the same cost of those things pre-pandemic. For example, October 2022 is compared to October 2019 as the last pre-pandemic month of October.

Here’s what today’s travel prices look like:

Airfare

Airfare prices took a nosedive during spring 2020 and generally stayed low just about every month until the end of 2021, when prices rapidly increased. In May 2022, airfares hit a record high.

How airfare prices have changed

October 2022 vs. September 2022 (MoM).

Up 3.5%.

October 2022 vs. October 2021 (YoY).

Up 43%.

October 2022 vs. October 2019 (Change since pre-pandemic).

Up 9%.

Luckily, prices this month are lower than what they were in May, but they’re still higher this month than they were last month — and they’re significantly higher than what they were this time last year. October 2022 prices are 43% more than what they were last year. They’re also 9% more than what they were the same month in 2019, suggesting that travelers are back in full force — perhaps to make up for lost travel during the pandemic.

Hotels and motels

The price for lodging away from home, including hotels and motels, saw one of the biggest swings of any price category throughout the duration of the pandemic.

In December 2020, average hotel prices dropped to their lowest levels since December 2013. Yet it didn’t take long for prices to hit new highs, setting records throughout the pandemic — particularly in the summer of 2021. Hotel prices hit their all-time record highs in May 2022.

Luckily for travelers, hotel prices have come down every month since then, having decreased 0.8% in June, another 2% in both July and August, an even more consumer-beneficial 4% in September, and a still-welcome 0.5% in October 2022.

And like airfares, hotel prices have recovered, having decreased 0.8% in June another 2% in both July and August and an even more consumer-beneficial 4% in September 2022.

How lodging prices have changed

October 2022 vs. September 2022 (MoM).

Down 0.5%.

October 2022 vs. October 2021 (YoY).

Up 6%.

October 2022 vs. October 2019 (Change since pre-pandemic).

Up 12%.

Yet even though the price decrease over the month is a small reprieve, travel is still expensive. You’ll pay about 6% more for lodging this year versus the same time last year, and 12% more than what prices were in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Car rentals

High rental car prices have been one of the biggest stories of pandemic-era travel, especially after renters last summer witnessed record high prices in July 2021.

Car rental prices seem to have reached their top, down 3.5% from this time last year. Still, they’re up an astounding 47% versus the same month in 2019.

How car rental prices have changed

October 2022 vs. September 2022 (MoM).

Up 0.8%.

October 2022 vs. October 2021 (YoY).

Down 3.5%.

October 2022 vs. October 2019 (Change since pre-pandemic).

Up 47%.

Food away from home

Food prices consistently rise every year, including in the COVID-19 era. In October 2022, the cost of food away from home was up over 8.6% versus October 2021. And prices are far higher than pre-pandemic, with October 2022 prices coming in at nearly 19% higher than what they were in October 2019.

How restaurant prices have changed

October 2022 vs. September 2022 (MoM).

Up 0.9%.

October 2022 vs. October 2021 (YoY).

Up 9%.

October 2022 vs. October 2019 (Change since pre-pandemic).

Up 19%.

Movies, theaters and concerts

Like restaurants, entertainment prices see fairly consistent increases — save for a small dip in 2020. Luckily for consumers, year-over-year price increases here haven’t been as drastic as those for dining out — up just 6.5%. That’s less than the 7.7% rate of inflation across all items.

How the prices of movies, theaters and concerts have changed

October 2022 vs. September 2022 (MoM).

Up 1%.

October 2022 vs. October 2021 (YoY).

Up 7%.

October 2022 vs. October 2019 (Change since pre-pandemic).

Up 11%.

If you’re planning to travel in 2022…

Especially if you’re building your next vacation budget based on a 2020 trip, expect to pay far more now for pretty much every expense. Yet even though prices constantly feel like they’re getting higher, you can still save on travel with a little planning.

Paying for travel with miles and points versus cash isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. Frequent flyer miles and hotel points can be accrued not just for recurring travel, but through other outlets as well. Credit card rewards and welcome bonuses can be one of the most popular ways to accrue a big stash of points for a lot less effort than living your life out of a suitcase.

To avoid the costs of eating out, head to local grocery stores — which can be a fun activity on its own — or pack snacks from home. While in an airport, head to the lounge. Many credit cards have partnerships with airport lounge operators (Priority Pass is a popular one) where you can typically expect complimentary snacks and drinks.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

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