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Saturday, December 10, 2022
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Saturday, December 10, 2022
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    Flying home for the holidays will cost you more this year

    AP – People still looking to book trips home to visit family or take a vacation during the holidays need to act fast and prepare for sticker shock.

    Airline executives said that based on bookings, they expect huge demand for flights over the festive season. Travel experts said the best deals for airfares and hotels are already gone.

    On social media, plenty of travellers think they are being gouged. It’s an understandable sentiment when government data shows that airfares in October were up 43 per cent from a year earlier, and United States (US) airlines reported a combined profit of more than USD2.4 billion in the third quarter.

    Part of the reason for high fares is that airlines are still operating fewer flights than in 2019 even though passenger numbers are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.

    “Fewer flights and more people looking to head home or take vacation for the holidays means two things: Prices will be higher, and we will see flights sell out for both holidays,” said chief economist for travel-data provider Hopper Holly Berg.

    Yulia Parr knows exactly what Berg is talking about. The Annandale, Virginia, woman struggled to find a reasonably priced flight home for her young son, who is spending Thanksgiving with his grandmother in Texas while Parr visits her husband, who is on active military duty in California. She finally found a USD250 one-way ticket on Southwest, but it’s not until the Tuesday after the holiday.

    Arriving passengers move toward the baggage claim area at Philadelphia International. PHOTO: AP

    Parr figures she waited too long to book a flight.

    “My husband’s kids are flying home for year-end festivities,” she said. “Those tickets were bought long ago, so they’re not too bad.”

    Prices for air travel and lodging usually rise heading into the holidays, and it happened earlier this year. That is leading some travellers in Europe to book shorter trips, according to CEO of Germany-based hotel-search company Trivago Axel Hefer.

    “Hotel prices are up absolutely everywhere,” he said. “If you have the same budget or even a lower budget through inflation, and you still want to travel, you just cut out a day.”

    Hotels are struggling with labour shortages, another cause of higher prices. CEO Glenn Fogel of Booking Holdings, which owns travel-search sites including Priceline and Kayak, said one hotelier told him he can’t fill all his rooms because he doesn’t have enough staff.

    Rates for car rentals aren’t as crazy as they were during much of 2021, when some popular locations ran out of vehicles. Still, the availability of vehicles is tight because the cost of new cars has prevented rental companies from fully rebuilding fleets that they culled early in the pandemic.

    US consumers are facing the highest inflation in 40 years, and there is growing concern about a potential recession. That isn’t showing up in travel numbers, however.

    The number of travellers going through airport checkpoints has recovered to nearly 95 per cent of 2019 traffic, according to Transportation Security Administration figures for October.

    Travel industry officials said holiday travel might top pre-pandemic levels.

    Airlines haven’t always done a good job handling the big crowds, even though they have been hiring workers to replace those who left after COVID-19 hit. The rates of cancelled and delayed flights rose above pre-pandemic levels this summer, causing airlines to slow down plans to add more flights.

    US airlines operated only 84 per cent as many US flights as they did in October 2019, and plan about the same percentage in December, according to travel-data firm Cirium. On average, airlines are using bigger planes with more seats this year, which partly offsets the reduction in flights.

    “We are definitely seeing a lot of strength for the holidays,” United Airlines’ chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said on the company’s earnings call in October.

    “We’re approaching the Thanksgiving timeframe, and our bookings are incredibly strong.”

    Airline executives and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg blamed each other for widespread flight problems over the summer. Airline CEOs said that after hiring more pilots and other workers, they are prepared for the holiday mob.

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