Spring break becomes expensive as travelers revert to old booking habits

People gather on a beach in Miami, Florida, USA, Saturday, March 5, 2021.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The demand for the spring holidays is increasing, and the prices of plane tickets and hotels are increasing.

Travel app Hopper said in a report last week that domestic airfares averaged $264 one-way for March and April, up 20% from a year ago and 5% above pre-pandemic levels.

Airlines, which are struggling with pilot shortages and delays in the delivery of aircraft, already have limited capacity growth, which is keeping flight prices up from last year.

Now travelers are returning to booking patterns that were common before the pandemic, flying on peak days to traditional destinations, airline executives say. That makes it even more important for travelers to be flexible if they’re trying to save money to avoid high prices.

That’s good news for airlines trying to make up for higher costs.

Spring break demand is “probably the best we’ve ever seen,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said in an interview. “Constrained capacity is real. When you couple that with higher costs, especially fuel, people are willing to pay (the higher prices) and the airlines have to charge that.”

Matt Klein, chief commercial officer for Spirit Airlines, told CNBC that there was a lull in travel after the new year, when schools reopened after a longer-than-usual vacation, but demand has picked up for trips through the spring, even beyond the peak. holiday weeks.

“The busiest days of the week come back to Fridays and Sundays,” Klein said in an interview. “The best deals and the best deals should be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be my expectation.”

But midweek during popular holiday periods, such as when schools are out, can keep demand high throughout the week, he added. “People will move around for the best opportunity,” he said.

Klein said demand to Florida is particularly strong and that Spirit has increased capacity to certain cities such as Orlando, where it has increased service to a near-record 96 daily departures on peak days.

“There are deals available, but what consumers may not want to hear is that they need to be flexible,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s chief economist. She recommended looking at alternative destinations to some of the most popular places and booking outside the more traditional departure on a Thursday or Friday and returning on a Sunday schedule.

For example, a Spirit flight from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sells for $411.78 before fees, such as seat selection or carry-on baggage, from April 7 to 16, while a shorter trip from April 8 to 15 was $233, 78.

A flight from New York to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic costs $1,691.25 in standard economy on JetBlue from April 10-14. For the same trip leaving and returning a day earlier, that drops to $1,392.25.

This is the first US spring break season since the Biden administration scrapped a requirement that travelers show proof of a negative Covid test before flying to the US, making it easier for some people to travel abroad, while capacity remains limited.

Hopper said round-trip flights to Mexico and Central America from the United States are up 60% from last year and 30% from 2019 to $536 in March and April. Fares from the US to the Caribbean islands average $433, up 38% from last year and 9% from 2019, while round trips to Europe average $706, 45% higher than in 2022 and 16% higher than four years ago.

“It’s not like a wedding. You have some flexibility about where you’re going,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a flight deals site that the company recently renamed Going. “If cheap flights are a priority, see where there are cheap flights and then decide on your destination.”

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