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As many travelers have noticed, flights are getting increasingly more expensive. In the post-pandemic world, people are taking to the skies to get away, only to find out that the cost of their travels has also soared. Along with these price hikes, there have been several other problems at airports including flight delays, flight cancellations, and a lack of airline staff. So why are flights so expensive right now? And how can we get around it?
I tapped three experts in the travel industry to help you understand why flights are so expensive right now and how you can save on your future travels. I also looked into ways to make the most of your money, from airline travel hacks to point-earning credit cards and more.
Blame expensive flights on rising fuel costs, labor shortages, and high demand.
According to Fred Baker, the Senior Travel Editor at Travelness, there are a few reasons why flights are so expensive right now. “Fuel prices have been on the rise lately due to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East,” he said. “This has led to an increase in the price of jet fuel, which is one of the major expenses for airlines.” (As drivers have also noticed — we’re paying more at the pump as gas prices climb.)
“Additionally, airlines are facing higher operating costs due to things like maintenance and labor,” he added. Demand for air travel has been increasing lately, while the number of seats available has remained pretty static. “This increased demand means airlines can charge higher prices without fear of losing passengers to competitors,” Baker said.
This all makes sense considering people want to travel again after COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions.
Related: Check out our list of money-saving tricks to pay less at the gas pump.
Domestic airline prices are up by as much as 47% over last year.
On average, the main airlines (like Southwest, Delta, United, and American Airlines) have increased their flight prices by up to 47% in the period from 2021 to 2022. Before the coronavirus pandemic, flights were more than 65% cheaper.
According to Fox Business, prices for domestic flights rose by 27% in April 2022 alone, with May marking the fourth month of continual increases. Since then, travelers doled out more than $7.8 billion on summer travel. These massive price increases can cost you thousands of dollars, and it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight — especially with the upcoming holiday season.
“Across the board, airline tickets are up 25% since mid-2021, per the Federal Reserve of St. Louis,” said Liam Hunt, writer and analyst at SophisticatedInvestor.com. “However, airline tickets in Australia are up 56% since April alone. Globally, airline ticket prices are rising at rates we haven’t seen in over a decade,” he said.
Thanksgiving flights are up 22% since before the pandemic, and Christmas flights are up nearly 33%.
I did a deep dive into Thanksgiving flights from 2019 to now, and what I saw was shocking. In 2019, November flight prices were more than 20% cheaper. According to research done by the travel site Hopper, the average domestic airfare for trips over Thanksgiving is around $350, while international round-trip flights are closer to $795. This is a 22% increase compared to what flight prices were in 2019.
Additionally, CNBC reported that flights will be more expensive this holiday season than they have been in five years. In terms of Christmas, domestic round-trip tickets are nearly a third more expensive than they were in 2019, averaging $463, while international is up 26% to $1,300.
Some of the cheapest Thanksgiving flights are $350 – $415 for 2022.
Since Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest travel times of the year, flight prices always tend to be higher than usual (the same is true for Christmas).
Hunt looked into flights that depart the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and return the Sunday after. He found the cheapest round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles was currently $416 with Spirit Airlines, without carry-on baggage or a checked bag. From New York to Chicago, the cheapest round-trip flight was $349 with United Airlines, also without a carry-on item. Be mindful that if you have a carry-on or checked luggage, this will cost you extra.
However, you can still find deals on Thanksgiving flights if you’re able to be flexible with your travel plans, including dates and times. For example, flying on Thanksgiving Day itself is usually cheaper than flying the day before or after. This could be problematic for some people, but it could really end up saving a lot of money in the long run.
Average flight prices should decline a bit through the fall.
Flights were the cheapest during the winter months of early 2022. Fewer people were traveling in January and February following the end of the 2021 holidays. Flight prices started picking up in the spring. Prices rose during the summer, but are expected to decline a bit in the fall.
According to Hopper, flight prices are actually already going down, but very slowly. In an April 2022 article, Hopper noted that domestic airfare should seasonally decline into the fall shoulder season. It’s encouraging to see flight prices are declining, but don’t expect to save hundreds of dollars just yet.
Related: We assembled all the best tips for how to find cheap flights.
Book your flights as early as possible to save more.
It helps to book your flight at least four weeks ahead of time. (It’s ideally better to book it as far out in advance as you can, but if you can’t, four weeks is fine.)
People used to believe some days and times were better to book flights, and according to Hopper, that’s not true anymore. The Golden Rule: It’s best to book flights as far out as possible. Keep price trackers on the flights you want and book them when the prices go down.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly.
According to The Points Guy, the cheapest days to travel are Tuesdays and Wednesdays (aka right smack in the middle of the week). Since leisure travelers usually flock to airports on Fridays and Sundays and business travelers do the same on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to have lower demand for flights, which makes them cheaper.
A Google report also noted that it’s cheaper to fly in the middle of the week than on the weekend. “On average, flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday have been 12% cheaper than weekend departures,” the report explains. “If you exclude international destinations, the potential savings jump even higher to 20%.”
I found also found that Saturday tends to be the cheapest weekend day to travel since most leisure travelers leave for trips on Thursdays or Fridays and return home on Sundays.
To save money, fly early in the morning or late at night — and pack light.
According to Baker, there are a few things you can do to save money when booking flights.
“First, try to be flexible with your travel dates and times. Flying mid-week is often cheaper than flying on weekends, and flying early in the morning or late at night is usually cheaper than during peak hours,” he said. This might pose a problem to people who work, but if you can adjust their schedule for a day, it might pay off big time.
Another way to save money on flights is to pick low-cost carriers and pack only a single personal item (this means no carry-on on checked luggage). This could save you upwards of $50, depending on which airline you’re traveling with.
If you really want to save money, you could try flying to a busier or cheaper airport than one that might be closer to your final destination, and take a bus or another form of public transportation the rest of the way.
Rack up the points and rewards with airline credit cards.
In terms of saving, it’s recommended to sign up for an airline credit card to earn points that can be redeemed for future flights.
Some of the best credit cards for getting airline points include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the American Express Platinum Card. These two cards have great rewards programs that can be used to book flights on any airline. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you also get $50 a year in hotel credit as well as up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each anniversary year. On top of that, you get five times more points on travel purchases. If you travel a lot, you’ll notice that this card really pays itself off (there’s a $95 annual fee).
Which credit card should you pick? It depends on where you live.
Hunt also weighed in, adding, “Which travel credit card you should buy depends on where you’re typically flying from, as each major airport serves as a hub for different national airlines. In most of the Midwest, I recommend an AMEX Platinum for Delta Airlines, which also includes SkyClub access. If you’re in Phoenix, Miami, Charlotte, or Dallas, I’d go with Citi for American Airlines. Chicago and Houston residents, however, would be better off choosing a Chase card for United, and Hawaii locals would want a Barclays World Elite Mastercard for points with Hawaiian Airlines.”
To make the most of these credit cards, use rewards. These rewards can sometimes be worth over 5%.
“Many credit card issuers offer lucrative rewards when you redeem your points for travel,” said personal finance expert Forrest McCall. “Not only do credit card points go further when redeemed for travel, but many cards also offer additional rewards specifically for travel purchases. While it might be 1% to 2%, this can add up when spending thousands.”
Southwest and Allegiant are the most-budget friendly airlines.
“Southwest Airlines is a great option for domestic travel, as they offer low fares and a variety of flight routes. Allegiant Air is a good choice for budget-conscious travelers who are willing to fly from smaller airports. They often have cheaper flights than major airlines, but it’s important to check their schedules carefully as they don’t operate every day.”
Frontier also has cheaper flights than most airlines and some crazy good Frontier deals from time to time, but they charge for things like seats, carry-on bags, and more. Be sure to factor in those extra expenses before you buy a ticket.
Use airfare search engines like Kayak and Skyscanner to easily compare prices.
By checking out a variety of airfare search engines, you’re sure to find the cheapest price. You can also set up price trackers on sites like Google Flights to get notified when the price changes.
Good sites to find cheap flights include Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Skyscanner, and Momondo. These sites will allow you to check out flight prices, track prices, and sometimes even see how they have changed. They will also send you emails if you sign up to track flight prices. Additionally, they compare flight prices across all of the airlines, so you can ensure you’re getting the best rate. Hopper is also a good resource if you want to see how flight prices are tracking during the year.