We’re already busy booking summer trips here at TPG. In fact, some of us have even begun booking trips further out into fall, winter holidays and even early 2024.
Airfare prices are expected to accelerate this spring to the peak of summer, though average airfares aren’t expected to hit the stratospheric levels they did last summer. Airlines for America is predicting the number of Americans traveling by air will surpass pre-pandemic levels this spring and summer will see even higher demand.
The travel website Hopper predicts airfare will peak at an average of $350 this summer for domestic flights. That’s down more than 10% from $400 last summer but higher than the average price pre-pandemic. Higher demand and less capacity mean prices will stay higher this year than they might have been a few years ago.
“Travelers better get their tickets now,” said Brian Sumers, editor of The Airline Observer. After all, the longer you wait, the less likely you are to score a great deal.
Is it already too late to lock in summer plans and get the best deals? Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking of traveling this summer.
Now is the time to book summer flights for the best deals
If you haven’t finalized your summer flights yet, now is the time to get going, especially if you’re looking to travel abroad.
For domestic trips, you should at least begin to monitor prices for the destinations you’ll be visiting.
“The sweet spot for summer travel is two to three months in advance of your departure date,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist. “There’s no great urgency to book an August vacation right this second. However, it’s important to start tracking prices.”
For example, Hopper recommends booking in early April for a June trip. If you want to travel for the long Memorial Day weekend, you should be booking now through April 9.
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However, international flights are a different story.
“Travelers should be booking typically 3-5 months in advance for international … in the next couple of weeks,” Berg said.
Specifically, if you want to go to Australia or Asia this summer, Berg recommends booking as soon as possible. If you’re looking at traveling to Europe or South America, you may have a few more weeks, she adds.
Related: When is the best time to book flights for the cheapest airfare in 2023?
Other experts we talked with had similar suggestions.
“No matter when you plan on flying this summer, always set a fare alert to make sure you’re getting the best deal,” said John E. DiScala, Johnny Jet founder and editor-in-chief. “Savvy travelers can even create one after they book their tickets that way, if the price drops, they can get a travel credit.”
While there are a few ways you can track prices, we’re fans of Google Flights, as it’s easy to use and let the website do the work keeping an eye on prices.
Prices will often go up the longer you wait
Prices continue to climb month over month, according to Hopper’s Consumer Affairs Index Report published in February.
The average airfare in February came in at $277 for U.S. flights. As mentioned, by summer, that number is expected to climb to an average price of $350.
Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index tells a similar story. The report shows a jump of nearly 26% for airfare between January 2022 and January 2023.
Inflation continues to be a major factor in pushing prices higher. Jet fuel has fallen recently, but prices are still historically high. It costs more for hotels, food and entertainment.
Related: Hotel deals are scarce this summer: TPG’s tips for finding them
Although demand is up for everything across the travel industry, supply is down as labor shortages, including a lack of pilots and other airport staff, keep supply lower than needed.
“Airline prices are a function of supply and demand,” Sumers said. “Airlines retired planes during the pandemic, and some carriers are short on pilots, so there’s far less seat supply than normal. At the same time, demand is through the roof. Simple economics dictates what will happen. Prices are going to shoot up.”
Still, Sumers notes that there might be some deals during shoulder periods or on long-haul routes in business class since business travel is not yet fully back. “But between mid-June and mid-August, it’s going to be wild out there,” he said.
Berg echoes this sentiment.
“What we’re seeing for hotels is that right now they are 20%-30% more expensive than last year,” she said. “There’s so much demand, costs are higher, and people really want to go on vacation, so they are willing to pay more.”
Many hotels are even selling out early — especially in popular European destinations. In fact, some hotels are already fully booked for summer dates, so if you have a particular property in mind, it’s best to lock in your stay sooner rather than later.
Summer travel deals are still available
There is some good news for those who haven’t booked travel for summer 2023 quite yet. There are cheap flights to be had if you time it right, many of which are highlighted via TPG’s deal alerts, so be sure to sign up.
In fact, we’ve shared an incredible number of flight deals to some of the most popular destinations on the planet, including Barcelona, London, Milan and Dublin. Discount carriers like Norse also help drive down prices to historically expensive regions.
It’s not just cash prices that can be cheap. You can sometimes use points and miles to get great deals — and later even cancel or rebook your trip, if an even better deal comes along.
For example, this Flying Blue miles deal to Europe starts at 12,750 miles each way from Miami and 18,375 miles each way from Austin, Texas.
There are also lots of cruise deals out there, including one-day sailings this summer for only $69. You can even book a cruise to Europe this June for as little as $499.
Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise
Utilize improved travel flexibility to your advantage
During the peak of the pandemic, consumers suddenly found themselves with a lot more power as travel demand plummeted, resulting in airlines and hotels making changing or canceling reservations much easier (and cheaper).
Hotels ditched change fees and early cancellation fees, while airlines made even basic economy tickets more flexible. Some airlines even ended fees for canceling a mileage ticket.
While some of those consumer-friendly policies have been yanked back, many are sticking around for the foreseeable future.
United Airlines, for example, famously said it was eliminating change fees “forever.” You’ll still need to pay any fare difference when you change flights, but you can at least benefit from the lack of change fees now in many cases.
However, restrictions for basic economy tickets have returned, though they’re generally still more flexible than they were before the pandemic.
It’s usually best to avoid booking these basic fares unless you are sure you won’t need to change or cancel your ticket. DiScala adds that they’ll keep you from benefitting from price drops as well, as you won’t be able to make changes to your tickets to save money due to fees tacked on.
Hotels have also gotten more restrictive, but as long as you book a refundable rate, you can make changes to your reservation up until a specified date (usually a few days before your stay is set to begin).
Related: Hotel and flight myths busted: Does your booking method actually matter?
And of course, many airlines have made family seating rules more consumer-friendly, with some going as far as offering a guarantee to put you on a different flight without charge if they can’t provide seats together for families.
Now is the time to plan and book your summer 2023 travel.
While you still have time to book trips within the U.S. without paying more than you need to, you should set Google Flight alerts for the days and destinations you likely want to book so you don’t get priced out of your vacation — or find no availability at all.
This is even more true for international travel.
For those overseas summer trips, you should book soon — or as soon as you see a price that works with your budget — since some options to popular regions like Europe will likely sell out this summer. And then even if you do manage to snag a last-minute reservation, chances are you’ll pay much more than you would’ve months prior.