For the past three years, we’ve seen one blockbuster summer after the other… with each season breaking records in terms of the number of travelers on the road and in the skies. It’s been crazy out there. But despite the heat and the crowds, we’ve all survived, had great vacations or business trips, and returned home safely.
This year, I predict we’ll see a similarly busy summer, but with some differences you should know about.
First, let’s take a look at demand, which remains healthy. How healthy? Well, according to Best Western Hotels & Resorts, advance bookings for peak summer season at its 2,000+ hotels in the U.S. are up 6.9 percent compared to this time last year. Plus, travelers are staying longer— the number of room nights booked at Best Western’s U.S. hotels is up 9.9 percent. Advance bookings are even stronger in Canada– up 14.8 percent compared to last year, and room nights booked are up 20.5 percent.
Airlines in the U.S. will see a very busy season, too, with a record 234.1 million passengers expected in June, July and August, which is four percent more passengers than last summer according Airlines for America, the industry trade group. It also says that the nation’s airports will handle 100,000 more passengers per day than last summer. More competition and lower fuel costs are resulting in airfares that are flat to down slightly compared to last summer, which is attracting more flyers.
Consumers have spent $19 billion on airfare year-to-date, a 4.3% rise over the year-earlier period, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.
Peak season hotel bookings in the U.S. are likely up due to a strong economy and increased interest in road trips after the string of airline customer service snafus exposed in social media this spring. In addition, low gasoline prices are making road trips an even more attractive option. A May 2017 Gasbuddy.com survey of 1,500 users found that 82 percent plan to take a road trip this year- that’s up 7 percent over last year. Gasbuddy points out that the normal springtime gasoline price increase was only 1.5 cents this year compared to the average spring season increase of 47 cents.
With summer just around the corner, let’s take a look at the trends that will shape our travel experiences over the next four months.
First, expect a mass migration from the U.S. to Europe this summer. Transatlantic airfares have hit new lows due to increased competition from low fare carriers forcing established carriers to match the discounts. These days airlines can lower fares relatively painlessly because they are paying so little for jet fuel. In addition to airfares, the U.S. dollar is still very strong against European currencies, making summer trips across the pond even cheaper for Americans. The opposite is true in Europe, where a strong dollar is forcing Europeans to reconsider summer trips to the U.S. Lower demand from Europeans means lower airfares for Americans as airlines scramble to keep seats full.
Lower demand from Europeans should also help keep prices low in the U.S. cites and regions historically attractive to Europeans- think New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and the desert Southwest.
Be Flexible: Did you know that most Friday and Saturdays in July and August now outrank Thanksgiving as the busiest air travel days of the year? With demand like that, you can always expect to pay top dollar during the peak season, which generally runs about June 20 through August 20. If you have the flexibility to book summer business or vacation trips in early June, or late August, you may still find a few “deals.”
Fly midweek: If possible, try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to avoid those lengthy lines at airport security checkpoints. Bonus: Fares for midweek trips are usually slightly less than those on more popular weekends.
Last minute: Low demand for European flights (by Europeans) could mean that we’ll see even lower last minute fares on transatlantic routes later this summer. Monitor this by signing up for fare alerts on specific routes on sites like Google Flights or Kayak.
Don’t wait: For domestic trips, make reservations NOW if you have specific dates and destinations in mind. The most convenient flights, the hotel rooms with ocean views, or the right size rental car for your family will likely sell out soon. Get to the front of the line and reserve now to get what you want. Otherwise you could be stuck with inconveniently timed flights, wrong-sized rental cars, or hotel rooms with parking lot views.
Be a smart airfare shopper: Overall transatlantic fares are down about 15 percent compared to last summer according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. When comparing transatlantic fares, be sure you compare apples to apples. While low fare carriers like Level, Norwegian or Wow may advertise remarkably low fares, be on the lookout for things that more established carriers might include such as:
-Cheap one-way fares for the trip over, but expensive one-way fares for the trip back
-Fees for checked, or in some cases, carry-on bags with charges may apply per leg, which means you’ll pay four fees for a round trip from say, San Francisco to Paris via Reykjavik on Wow Air.
-Advance seat selection, meals, drinks and even bottled water
Go. Get. Rewarded: In addition to spending time with friends, family or colleagues this summer, it’s always nice to earn something more. For example, you can go get rewarded at all Best Western branded hotels this summer, earning a $10 gift card for every stay, with no limit on how many stays you make. Registration is required at BestWestern.com/summer. Plus, Best Western Rewards members save 10 percent when booking direct on bestwestern.com.
Pay more, get more: If you are headed to work when everyone else is going on vacation, treat yourself to an upgrade this summer. You can avoid the flip-flop and beach ball crowd by paying a fee (around $50) for a one-time pass to an airport club, or slightly higher rate for a hotel on a quieter concierge floor. Also, airlines frequently discount first and business class seats during summer months, so they end up not much more expensive than inflated economy class tickets—so don’t forget to compare when searching fares. Most important during summer: Ask for a room that does not face the noisy pool area.
Timing: While transatlantic fares are dropping, domestic fares are inching up. Airlines usually offer some pretty good fares for travelers willing to travel early or late in the summer, but those sales did not materialize this spring. That’s a sign to me that domestic demand is high and airlines don’t feel like the need to discount to fill their seats.
More cars: Higher fares will push many domestic travelers to the highways instead of the skyways this summer, with low gasoline prices luring them. That means more cars on key summertime routes in or near National Parks, beaches, recreation areas and major cities.
During the peak of the peak season (June 20-August 20) road trippers should always make reservations for roadside hotels a day or two in advance if possible. Otherwise, you may end up finding a full house at the end of a long day and the possibility of having to drive later into the night than you want…or end up sleeping in your car!
Off the beaten path: If you are headed to Europe and don’t like crowds, try to stay away from Paris, London, Rome and Barcelona during the peak of the peak summer season. Consider countries such as Poland or Portugal instead, which you’ll find less crowded and less expensive.
This post originally appeared on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog
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