More Americans will return to planes, trains and automobiles this year for summer vacations, after two years of being mostly cooped up at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But price hikes, particularly in airfare and gasoline, will be steep.
The combination of high consumer demand for travel and the rising costs of gasoline, jet fuel for planes, restaurant food and hotel stays will make summer getaways pricier, so some vacations will be shorter in duration and/or distance than normal, travel experts said.
“We’re seeing travelers really want to come back in full force, that leisure traveler, that weekend warrior,” said Mel Dohmen, a spokeswoman for Expedia Group Inc., a Seattle-based online travel company whose brands include Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire and CheapTickets.
Average airfare for summer travel is higher than it was in 2019 and is now at the highest level seen in several years, said Chuck Thackston, managing director of data science and research at the Airlines Reporting Corp., an Arlington, Virginia-based air travel data provider.
So, just how expensive will summer travel be this year?
Here is the rundown:
Airfares for roundtrip domestic flights from the three major New York City-area airports between Memorial Day and Labor Day are averaging $458, which is 44.5% higher than the price for the same period in 2021 and 21.2% higher than the price in that period in 2019, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.
Gas prices have hit record highs, mostly due to uncertainty in the crude oil market over Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Also, production of crude, which is refined to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products, has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, while consumer demand for fuel is up as consumers return to driving for work and leisure. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline on Long Island rose daily to record-breaking highs between May 6 and May 21, when it was $4.973, according to AAA. The price again hit a record Monday, when it was $4.974, which was 63% more than the price a year earlier, $3.058.
There will be some relief at the pump for summer travelers in New York state.
Starting June 1, drivers will get a break of 16 cents per gallon off the state sales tax. In Nassau and Suffolk, partial caps on county taxes will knock another 9 cents or so off the price.
Hotel rooms are expected to cost about 10% to 15% more this summer compared to the same season in 2019, the last normal year for rates, due to strong demand, Expedia’s Dohmen said. Current hotel rates are more than $200 a night in top destinations, she said.
Dining out will be more expensive this summer, as food prices continue to rise and restaurants try to recoup their added expenses by hiking menu prices. Moody’s Analytics projects that the final demand producer price index, a measure of wholesale food price increases, will be 8.8% higher from July to September than the price in the same period last year, a steep hike compared to the 2.6% increase between the same three-month periods in 2018 and 2019, said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at the West Chester, Pennsylvania-based economic research provider.
The rising food prices this year are due to supply chain shortages and the shortage of factory workers and equipment brought about by the pandemic, Hoyt said. Shortages “have been intensified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since Ukraine and Russia are large exporters of several grains and other foods and most of that supply has been taken off the market,” he said.
Restaurant customers will be picking up the tab for more than just the food price hikes, said David Henkes, senior principal at Technomic, a restaurant and retail industry research firm in Chicago.
“The cost of food is only a part of the menu prices that you’re paying at the restaurant. That will be passed on [to customers], along with labor costs, along with everything else, to the extent that restaurants can,” he said.
Despite the costs of summer travel increasing steeply, most consumers are not being deterred from planning excursions.
But some are making adjustments.
At Travel America RV Center in Commack, customers are reserving recreational vehicles for summer trips that are shorter in distance than usual because of the high price of gas, owner Suzanne Mechwart said.
The facility’s smaller RVs, which are 25-footers that sleep six people, can be rented for about $2,300 for seven days and travel totaling 1,500 miles, which is typically the average distance of a trip, she said.
But customers now are reserving RVs for summer trips that will average about 750 miles, Mechwart said.
RV users might be saving on hotels and dining out while on vacation, but they’ll pay more at the gas pumps.
The RVs at Mechwart’s business can hold 55 gallons of regular gas, which will take them 500 miles, she said. At Wednesday’s average regular-gas price on Long Island, $4.967 per gallon, it would cost $273.18 to fill up the tank.
“They’re still camping and they’re still renting but they’re not going as far, which is good for me, because it keeps the mileage down on the vehicles. … they’ll go to Hersheypark [in Pennsylvania]. Myrtle Beach [in South Carolina] is a huge spot because it’s only 1,200 miles roundtrip,” Mechwart said.
Shorter RV trips are a trend nationwide, according to the RV Industry Association, a trade group based in Reston, Virginia.
This summer, 53% of RV users plan to drive more than 16 hours, down from 60% last year, according to an association survey with 1,224 respondents that was conducted in mid-May. The poll also found that 44% of RV users plan to stay within a three-hour drive, an increase from 41% last year.
Long Islanders’ plans
Some Long Island residents are planning different types of getaways.
Islip resident Maryann Woods, 71, would normally take a summer vacation to visit her son in Georgia but won’t this year because of the high travel prices and the pandemic, she said.
“I do have a pension but the money, it just goes so fast,” the retiree said.
Instead of traveling out of state, Woods will save money by going to a local beach or the pool at her daughter’s home in Lindenhurst, she said.
Melville resident Deanna Fernandez usually travels with her husband and two kids, 7 and 14, to visit family in the Dominican Republic every summer, she said.
That is out of the question this summer, she said.
“We can’t afford it, just because of gas, expenses … and the flights are expensive, too,” said Fernandez, 36, who is pregnant with her third child.
Roundtrip airline tickets to the Dominican Republic for the family would cost about $3,000, well above the $800 it cost last summer, she said.
So, the family’s outings will be to Long Island beaches this summer, she said.
Still the friendly skies?
Airlines did reasonably well financially last summer, given the pandemic, but this summer will exceed that performance, industry experts said.
The price of jet fuel has doubled in the last year but demand for air travel is so strong that most major airlines have added fuel surcharges to ticket prices that they believe will not affect sales, said John Grant, senior data analyst with OAG Aviation Worldwide, a United Kingdom-based global travel data provider.
Jet fuel spot prices are approximately $4 per gallon, compared to $1.78 a year ago, said Chris Lafakis, director of energy and climate economics at Moody’s Analytics.
“High travel demand means more pricing power for airlines, which has allowed them to raise airfares at a very aggressive rate. The consumer price index for airline fares has increased by an astonishing 33.3% over the past year compared to 8.3% for all items,” he said.
In fact, the number of roundtrip tickets purchased between September and April for summer travel from the three major New York City-area airports is at 98% of the number purchased by the same point in 2019, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.
While 2019 had the highest amount of domestic airline travel nationwide of any year in history, the highest amount from the three major New York City-area airports was in 2018.
Right now, the top three summer destinations from those three airports are Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, according to Airlines Reporting Corp.