Travel Inflation Report: September 2022

Take another look at your travel budget for this year — prices are up across almost all travel-related categories.

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Inflation is ongoing in many aspects of the economy, but here’s good news for the travel industry: prices are dropping 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 0.1 percent over the past month, many prices within the travel industry bucked that trend. Airfares are down about 9% since last month, rental car prices are down about 5% and hotel room rates are down about 2%.

But while the price dips may come as good news for people discouraged by this summer’s record high travel prices, don’t get too excited.

While most aspects of travel costs did dip month-over-month, they’re largely still higher than what they were this time last year — and even higher than what they were pre-pandemic. Airfares are still up about 33% versus this time in 2021, and up 9% compared to the same time in 2019.

That’s according to the latest set of Consumer Price Index data released in September 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 August information, even though it is released in September, 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, August 2022 is compared to August 2019 as the last pre-pandemic month of August.

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


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.

Luckily prices dropped in June versus May 2022 — but only just barely — notching a 0.2% price decrease. But things continue to get better for consumers. Prices saw a hefty 10% decrease in July (when seasonally adjusted, airfares fell a lesser, but still-impressive 7.8%), and again saw a 9% decrease in August.

That’s a welcome reprieve for price-conscious air travelers, many of whom were shocked by high prices (due to many factors including high jet fuel prices, massive demand and staffing shortages) that were common at the beginning of summer.

How airfare prices have changed

August 2022 vs. July 2022 (MoM).

Down 9%.

August 2022 vs. August 2021 (YoY).

Up 33%.

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

Up 9%.

Still, compare airfare today to the same time last year, and it’s expensive. August 2022 prices are still 33% 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 new highs, setting new records throughout the pandemic — particularly in the summer of 2021.

And like airfares, hotel prices have recovered, having decreased 0.8% in June and another 2% in both July and August 2022.

How lodging prices have changed

August 2022 vs. July 2022 (MoM).

Down 2%.

August 2022 vs. August 2021 (YoY).

Up 5%.

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

Up 9%.

Yet even though the price decrease over the month is a small reprieve, travel is still expensive. You’ll pay nearly 5% more for lodging this year versus the same time last year, and 9% 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 5% from last month. Still, they’re up an astounding 46% versus the same month in 2019.

How car rental prices have changed

August 2022 vs. July 2022 (MoM).

Down 5%.

August 2022 vs. August 2021 (YoY).

Down 6%.

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

Up 46%.

Luckily though, prices aren’t quite as high as they were this time last summer, actually down about 6% — but realize that they’re still far beyond what they were before COVID-19.

Food away from home

Food prices consistently rise every year, including in the COVID-19 era. In August 2022, the cost of food away from home is up about 8% versus August 2021.

How restaurant prices have changed

August 2022 vs. July 2022 (MoM).

Up 0.9%.

August 2022 vs. August 2021 (YoY).

Up 8%.

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

Up 17%.

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 — and prices actually slightly dipped this month.

How the prices of movies, theaters and concerts have changed

August 2022 vs. July 2022 (MoM).

Down 0.6%.

August 2022 vs. August 2021 (YoY).

Up 6%.

August 2022 vs. August 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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