Summer vacation might break the bank — especially for trips overseas

When Christy Danforth’s clients ask her about vacations to Europe this summer, the travel adviser tries to prepare them before sending a price quote.

“There is a lot of sticker shock,” she said, especially for popular locations such as Italy. And speaking from her own trip to the country Monday, Danforth said she would probably need to add another heads up.

“It is so crowded,” she said. “It felt like there were a million people in the Vatican. Just tour group after tour group after tour group.”

As travelers gear up for summer vacation this year, experts say they will have plenty of company — and should expect to pay a pretty penny for the experience, depending on the destination. That’s true especially for flights to Europe and Asia, where prices are the highest in more than five years, according to the travel app Hopper.

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But interest in traveling is still robust, said Kayla Inserra, consumer travel trends expert for the travel search site Kayak. She said that while flight prices overall are up 35 percent, searches are up 20 percent compared to last year.

“Prices don’t seem to be deterring travelers,” Inserra said.

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Flights for international destinations in most parts of the world are significantly higher than both last year and 2019, according to Hopper. And interest is high: The price-comparison site Kayak says its data shows searches for international flights are up 42 percent.

Passengers flying to Europe should expect to pay 36 percent more than they did last year for airfare, an average of $1,167 a ticket, Hopper says. For Asia, where many countries have only recently shed coronavirus restrictions, airfare prices are up to $1,817 on average. That’s an increase of 62 percent compared to 2019.

Only South America is seeing a decrease in airfare prices compared to 2019 and last year, Hopper says.

“The price increases are really incredible,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist.

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She said prices are so high in part because capacity for travel to Asia is still far below 2019 numbers. There are also fewer flights between the United States and Europe, she said, but not to the same extent as Asia. The costs associated with long-haul flights are also higher than they were before the pandemic, she said.

Danforth’s client requests show the popularity of those locations, despite the cost. She said the top destinations people are asking about for summer travel include Italy, Greece, Japan, France and Portugal. And they’re prepared to pay.

She said the attitude about prices has been: “Well, it is what it is; what are we going to do?”

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For travelers staying within the United States, flying will be less costly than last year. Hopper says that with lower jet fuel prices and more capacity available, domestic airfare for the summer is averaging $306 a ticket. That’s a drop of 19 percent from last year, though it’s still 6 percent higher than the summer of 2019.

Travelers are looking to play the hits, planning theme park trips to Orlando and getaways to cities such as New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Los Angeles, Hopper says.

“I think domestic travel feels very much like a bit of a back-to-usual this season,” Berg said. “We’re going to have a regular season, but a regular summer season is the busiest time of year.”

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A hotel stay will likely be more expensive this summer than last year — which was already pretty expensive. Hopper shows U.S. hotel prices up about 11 percent compared to 2022.

Berg said hotels are still struggling with high costs for items including wages, energy and food — which is trickling through to customers. The app’s most-searched hotel markets, New York and Miami, are showing median nightly rates up 51 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Travelers haven’t seen much of a break on hotel stays so far this year. According to data compiled by the U.S. Travel Association, the cost of lodging in March was up 8 percent compared to the previous year and 19 percent compared to 2019.

Demand for vacation rentals also appears to be up for the summer. AirDNA, which tracks the performance of properties on Airbnb and Vrbo, said last month that bookings for June through August were pacing about 10 percent higher than last year at the same time.

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The days of widespread car rental shortages and sky-high prices appear to be in the past. Kayak says its data shows daily rental rates down 13 percent.

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Hopper has car rentals averaging about $46 a day for the summer, down 17 percent from 2022. Around this time in 2021, the travel app said prices reached an average of $99 a day.

Berg said the city will still matter for price and availability, though: a small airport in Minnesota will likely have fewer options and higher prices than popular, well-stocked locations in Florida.

“Prices are going to be lowest where the fleets are most concentrated,” she said.

One other perk for those renting cars: the price of gas is down significantly from a year ago. Tuesday’s national average for a gallon of regular was $3.53, compared to $4.33 in 2022.

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Several new ships are launching this summer from operators including Virgin Voyages, MSC Cruises, Viking Cruises, Silversea and the relaunched Crystal Cruises.

The cruise industry took longer than most parts of travel to resume, shutting down in the earliest days of the pandemic and returning to operation in the United States in 2021. This summer, said Cruise Critic editor in chief Colleen McDaniel, the industry is back in force.

“They’re sailing full and they are sailing full fleets,” she said. “Which was really what we were waiting for in terms of a true industry turnaround.”

She said there are still some discounts to be found, particularly about 90 days before sailing dates, but there has generally not been a fire sale for cruise vacations.

“They’ve done a really good job as far as the cruise lines go of maintaining pricing integrity,” she said.

Operators are, however, offering some incentives such as extra perks or travel reimbursement for Mediterranean and Northern Europe cruises to offset the high cost of air travel to those regions. She said Caribbean bookings are “pretty strong” despite the threat of hurricane season in part because so many U.S. travelers can reach cruise ports by car.

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Scott Keyes, founder of the cheap flight alert service, said finding good deals for summer travel “is a challenge at this point.”

“We’re looking at one of the busiest air travel summers on record,” he said. While the ideal time to book would have been during winter, he said procrastinating travelers are “not totally out of hope.”

The first two weeks of June or last two weeks of August tend to be cheaper for airfare than the middle eight weeks of summer, he said — up to 40 percent less expensive.

Keyes said travelers should also keep an open mind about where to go if they don’t want to spend too much. The Caribbean could be a much better deal than farther-flung destination, he said, citing round-trip airfare from Cleveland to the U.S. Virgin Islands for $379 in early June.

If someone has specific July dates in mind for Paris but wants a good deal, “that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

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Inserra said Kayak’s “Explore” tool lets travelers enter a departure point, budget and other parameters to get inspiration about where their money can take them.

Avoiding the weekend can also save money, Berg said. She said she’s saving about $300 a ticket by flying to Ireland on a Monday night in a couple of weeks.

“If you can fly Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you can save about $200 per international ticket,” she said. And she pointed out that in many cases, hotels are more expensive on Saturday nights as well.

“If you are looking to do maybe a week traveling in Europe, if you can limit yourself to just one Saturday night stay rather than doing two bookend weekends … you can save a fair amount,” Berg said.

Travel experts all said that if people can swing it, shoulder season — late summer and early fall — is an ideal time for a Europe trip. “We recommend September-October,” Berg said. “It’s much less expensive, the weather is still great.”

Once those summer trips are planned, Keyes said it’s smart to start considering plans for later in the year.

“You’ve got to zig when others zag,” he said. “Start thinking about getting those Christmas flights booked.”