A long, cold winter in much of the U.S., combined with an improving economy and increasing consumer confidence mean that the upcoming summer travel season will be busy, crowded and more expensive than last summer.
Here’s some evidence of a strong season ahead: The number of advance bookings for summer stays at Best Western’s 2,200+ hotels in the US are already up 9.5% compared to this time last year. Plus, business travelers have come back in droves–the Global Business Travel Association recently had to increase its spending growth forecast for 2014 last week to 7.1% this year, compared to its previous prediction of 6.6%. The Airlines Reporting Corporation says that summer airfares are already up 4% compared to last summer– and don’t forget that last summer’s airfares were painfully high.
Nonetheless, summer is the best time of year to get out and see the world, visit family and friends, or just get away from the grind to relax and renew. And with the economy percolating along, business travel is as important as ever.
So here’s my advice on making the best of the coming summer season.
HIGH PRICES. High demand is going to mean high prices, especially for those planning to visit popular destinations along the coasts, near national parks and amusement parks in the U.S. Remember, you will not only be competing with fellow Americans for those airplane seats, restaurant tables and hotel rooms–the U.S. Department of Commerce expects a record 72.2 million tourists from other countries in 2014. Perennially popular European destinations such as London, Paris and Rome will remain stubbornly expensive for summer visitors.
WHEN TO BOOK? Make air and hotel reservations now if you plan to travel on or around the summer’s long weekends (Memorial Day, July 4 or Labor Day) and just about any time during the “peak of the peak” weeks of July and early August. If you don’t make reservations early on, you’ll not only be shut out of any price breaks, but you’ll likely to have to settle for less desirable middle seats on the plane, or “garden views” instead of water or skyline views at hotels. You might also not be able to find the right size rental car for you or your family.
CALENDAR CHECK. Memorial Day is Monday May 26th this year. The 4th of July falls on a Friday this year, making for a compact, very busy, crowded weekend. And Labor Day is Monday, September 1.
FLEXIBILITY COUNTS. While summer is the most expensive time of year to travel with “deals” few and far between, those who can travel in early June or late August are most likely to pay the lowest rates. For those with schedules not dictated by school calendars, the “shoulder seasons” of May and September offer the very best rates due to lower demand. Generally speaking, summer airfares are least expensive for trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
US DOLLAR. Canada has become newly affordable due to a recent 10% decline in the value of its dollar compared to the US dollar. (Currently, a Canadian dollar goes for about 90 US cents) As a result, demand for vacations in Canada is up– for example, Best Western reports that advance bookings for summer stays at its hotels in Canada are up 17.7% compared to this time last year.
EUROPE. Despite economic doldrums in Europe, the euro and British pound have held up relatively well. For example, right now you need nearly 1.70 US dollars to buy a British pound or $1.40 for a euro. Airfares from the US to Europe are up 7% over last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. You can avoid high costs and still enjoy a European adventure by heading to eastern European countries that don’t use the euro such as Poland, Hungary, Turkey or Croatia. Among western European countries, the least expensive are the “PIGS”–Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
HIT THE ROAD. It doesn’t cost a cent to check your bag in the trunk of your car! If high airfares and increasing fees could keep you grounded this summer, take a road trip instead. The average price per gallon across the US should run about $3.57 this summer, a penny less than last summer. While we’ll likely see the typical early summer bump up in gasoline prices, the overall trend is down. According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average price of a gallon of gas in the US fell from $3.63 in 2012 to an average of $3.51/gal in 2013. This year, the agency expects the average price to continue to fall to $3.45 and even lower–to $3.37 per gallon in 2015.
THE BIG THREE. When shopping around for the best hotel rates, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. This means you always need to know what’s included in the rate…and what’s not. You’ll find the most value at hotels that include the “big three” amenities in their rates: wi-fi, breakfast and parking. If you can’t tell what’s included in the rate from a hotel’s website, always call to find out before you click the “buy” button! A family of four can start off the day saving about $40 by staying at a hotel that includes breakfast in the rate. And you could end up paying $50+ for parking at some downtown hotels.
(Chris McGinnis is Best Western’s travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com where this post originally appeared)