How bad will the 2022 holiday travel season get? So bad that people like Raj Mahal are telling everyone to stay home.
And that’s remarkable because Mahal has created an app called PlanMoreTrips, which helps people save money when they travel. It’s almost like a car manufacturer asking you not to drive. Or an airline telling you not to fly.
Mahal, who lives in Seattle and often flies to Chicago, says round-trip airline tickets typically cost about $300. This year, he paid $525 to get to the Windy City. He’s staying home for Christmas — and not just because of the prices.
“This will probably be one of the most expensive holiday periods ever,” he warns. “When you factor in the recent airline issues, the likelihood of more cancellations and delays, my advice is to stay home.”
Ah, but what if you don’t have a choice? What if you have to be at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving or with the kids for Christmas?
When should you book flights, hotels and car rentals for this year’s holiday season? Are airports and airlines likely to have significant disruptions? Or is this the year to stay close to home for the holidays?
Seattleites want to travel during the holidays, says Annie Scrivanich, a senior vice president of Cruise Specialists and a Seattle resident. “Mexico, Caribbean and Hawaii are top cruise destinations, with the South Pacific and Central America following close behind,” she says. “The more adventurous visit the Galápagos or Antarctica.”
How much will I pay to travel?
No matter who you ask, travel during the holidays will be dramatically more expensive. The latest forecast, issued last week by the travel app Hopper, predicts record-high prices for almost all modes of travel.
For Thanksgiving, domestic round-trip airfares will average $350 nationwide, up 22% compared to 2019. But for some markets, as Mahal discovered in Chicago, they’re significantly higher. Hotel rates will average $189 per night, and if you want to rent a car, you’ll pay an average of $60 per day. Hopper didn’t track hotel and car rental rates in 2019, but car rental rates are down about $10 from last year.
For the Christmas travel season, domestic airfares will rise 31% from 2019 to $463. Hotel rates will average $218, but rental cars will cost a little less — just $53 per day on average.
Bottom line: You’ll pay significantly more than you did during the last pre-pandemic holiday travel season. Thanksgiving travel will cost a little less than Christmas.
Hopper says you can save money by planning early. For Thanksgiving, travel on Monday, Nov. 21, or on Thanksgiving itself to find the lowest fares. The Monday or Tuesday before Christmas are the cheapest days to fly. For best results, book your airline tickets no later than Oct. 10.
“It’s best to book flights, hotels, car rentals and other reservations as soon as possible,” advises Angela Borden, a product marketing specialist with Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. “The longer you wait, the more expensive tickets are likely to be.”
Are airports and airlines likely to have major disruptions?
Seattle escaped some of this year’s air-travel disruptions. Airlines canceled about 2.5% of flights out of Sea-Tac for the first six months of the year. That’s about three-quarters of a percentage point better than the national average.
Airlines delayed about 18% of their flights from Seattle, which is slightly better than the national average of 21%. But experts aren’t sure if their luck will hold this fall. Most industry watchers are looking for even more cancellations and delays later this year.
“It is unlikely the aviation industry will manage to staff up to accommodate the traditional holiday demand,” says Mercedes Zach, a travel expert at ASAP Tickets. “Passengers should prepare for long lines and, if necessary, book flights with slightly longer connections than usual.”
What’s driving the crisis? High travel demand — particularly for flights — continues to exceed supply, according to Janna Hyland, an aviation analyst at Crisis24.
“That, plus the training backlog of pilots, staff shortages and rest requirements of current airline crew, are all creating major disruptions,” says Hyland.
And then there are weather delays, which are historically worse during the winter holiday travel season.
“Travel-related emergencies due to operational issues and weather-related disruptions are more likely,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance marketplace.
That doesn’t even factor in a possible resurgence of COVID-19. It all adds up to the high likelihood of travel chaos.
Should you travel during the winter holidays?
That’s the big question for many travelers.
“I’m on the fence,” says Sam Finch, a marketing strategist from Seattle. “On one hand, I want to be cautious about COVID and flu season ramping up because of holiday travel.”
His biggest fear is that a COVID surge will worsen staffing problems at airports and in the hospitality industry. The result, he fears, will be “chaos.”
“I’m leaning toward staying home and visiting family in the offseason,” he says.
But he may be in the minority. A recent survey by travel insurance company World Nomads found that nearly half of respondents were planning between two and three trips in the next year, and 39% were taking at least one trip.
“While it’s no secret that there has been some turbulence in the travel industry, such as major delays, lost baggage, cancellations and increased cost, this isn’t stopping people from planning their next trip,” says Christina Tunnah, general manager of marketing and brands at World Nomads.
Tips for planning your holiday travel
Don’t wait to book. “My No. 1 advice to clients is to plan as early as possible,” says Melissa Beers, a travel adviser with MyJourneyBeginsTravel.com. “Demand for airline seats, hotel rooms and concierge-level travel experiences is still outpacing supply and most likely will continue in 2023.”
Avoid the most popular holiday destinations. Travel agency Trevolution Group says for the Seattle market, the most popular destinations for travel from the Pacific Northwest between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in North America are the Mexican cities of Cancún, San José del Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. Overseas, the biggest international destinations are Manila, Philippines, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If you want to go there, wait until after the holidays.
Don’t book the wrong days. Here’s another revelation from the Hopper data. There are wrong days to book your ticket. If you fly the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving or a few days before Christmas, your ticket price rises by as much as $300. Instead, book earlier or later — or, if you can, fly on the holiday itself, which is usually much quieter and less expensive.
Sure, staying home is an option. But if you wait for the perfect conditions to travel, you may never go anywhere.
“It’s a great time to finally start traveling again,” says Shelley Ewing, president of Tier One Travel. “The world has adapted to the hurdles that the pandemic threw at us, and it is becoming easier to travel. It might look a little different. But it is doable.”