Patrick De Haan has a bird’s-eye view of skyrocketing prices around the country. He’s the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a company that crowdsources gas price data. But more recently, he is feeling the pain of emptying his wallet for one of the latest trends of surging costs – air travel.
“My wife and I booked two trips to Rio last year,” De Haan said. “Now I’m spending 20% more just to get to Atlanta than we spent to go to Brazil.”
But it’s bad news beyond De Haan’s household budget. Many travelers used to scoring pandemic flight deals are in for an unpleasant surprise as the tides of cheap air travel have shifted.
According to Hopper, a flight-book app, the cost of domestic air travel is up 40% since the start of the year with the average roundtrip flight at $330. The company expects prices to rise 10% in May.
Multiple air travel experts say the worst is still to come. After two years of COVID crushing our travel plans, consumer demand is now high despite increasing prices just as the cost of jet fuel has ballooned due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And that’s a double whammy on fares.
“People see an opportunity where they can book summer travel as (COVID) cases seem down. So it’s really propelling this desire to travel,” said Vivek Pandya, a lead analyst for Adobe Digital Insights, which compiles air travel data.
The era of cheap prices officially ended in February when domestic air travel fares finally topped pre-pandemic costs, Pandya said.
Airlines are also seeing trouble keeping the planes flying off the tarmac due to pilot shortages and weather delays contributing to cost increases. Earlier this month Alaska Airlines and other carriers canceled more than 3,500 U.S. flights in one weekend impacting tens of thousands of travelers. This week, Jet Blue said it is expected to reduce flight capacity by up to 10% through the summer, CNBC reported.
For California’s most popular route San Francisco to Los Angeles a weekend roundtrip flight is around $200 in May, nearly double the average cost over the past two months, according to price data on Google Flights. But weekday travelers are in luck as they can still land a sub-$100 flight. That’s cheaper than driving the same route, with a car getting 40 miles per gallon or less, by upwards of $10.
Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot, and spokesperson for the flight tracking company FlightAware said there is a small window for flying in May where deal-hunting travelers could snag cheaper airfares. “Especially the earlier part (of May), as it’s a post-spring break, yet not Memorial Day weekend,” said Bangs. “But demand is huge right now for the summer season even Europe is back, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.”
Michele Godwin, who lives in San Francisco, is going to Austin, Texas, later this month to see country musician George Strait. She just booked the return leg this week. “Booking that flight yesterday it was like ‘ahh’ — I felt like I was being tricked,” said Godwin. In the end, she booked a 5 a.m. return trip for $200 to avoid the other options, which were all over $600.
“When I traveled before I accepted that it was expensive, but now it’s so expensive that I can’t do that,” she added. “It will definitely keep me from going places this summer.”
At Mineta San Jose International Airport on Tuesday, travelers waiting for their baggage shared stories of sticker shock and regret as they watched prices sometimes double in days.
“I watched my flight go from $139 to $300,” said a 72-year-old who would only give his first name as Tom. He purchased his one-way ticket from Boston three weeks ahead of time. “I thought I had a pretty cheap ticket to start with, but I waited a little too long.”
But not all travel booking has to be an excruciating process of emptying your wallet. Some travelers who hunted for bargains or got lucky were pleasantly surprised by the price of their tickets.
Michael Petrelis, a longtime LGBTQ advocate in San Francisco, snagged a $300 business-class flight on United from Newark to San Francisco. “After sleeping for two hours, I watched a favorite Polish film, IDA, while enjoying a snack from the airline,” said Petrelis. “All my flights should be that way!”