If you’re dreaming of a summer vacation, you may want to book your flights now.
Domestic airfares in the U.S. are up 12% since April, according to the booking app Hopper. Prices are only expected to rise further — another 4% — as the July 4 holiday inches closer. International airfares are already up 8% since April. Hopper expects them to rise another 3% before peaking at an average of around $800 round trip later this month.
You could postpone your trip for a couple of weeks, but that may not save you much money. Demand for domestic travel in mid-July also looks strong. And while prices are climbing, flying across the U.S. is still cheaper than it’s been in years.
This is the first year in four that Hopper is expecting an increase in average domestic airfares. The average round trip domestic airfare in the U.S. is now $247, according to Hopper. That’s expected to climb to $281 by the end of the year but down from $315 in 2017.
While flash sales do pop up, you may want to push your trip until late August to find a deal, said Scott Keyes, co-founder of the email newsletter Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Summer is always the most expensive time of year to travel, whether it’s a pandemic year or not,” he said.
This year is particularly unusual with vaccinated Americans becoming increasingly comfortable taking to the skies, at least domestically, after months of pandemic restrictions.
How far in advance should you book your flights?
Keyes recommends booking domestic flights one to three months in advance. Book within a month of your planned departure, and you’ll pay for it. “Last minute fares tend to be the most expensive,” he said.
Even during fare sales, airlines typically require advance purchase. Southwest Airlines, for example, typically requires 21-day advance purchase on its sale fares.
For international flights, Keyes usually recommends booking between two and eight months ahead of time. With the pandemic continuing, however, international travel remains complicated and everything can change in just a couple of months.
“Most people are actually still pretty hesitant to fly internationally,” Keyes said. As a result, there are rare last-minute flight deals to be had to farther flung destinations.
He recently found a next-day nonstop flight to Reykjavik for $349 round trip from New York. “Not only is that a great fare, but to be able to book with one day advance purchase is not something you would normally see,” he said.
How do you know if you’re getting a deal?
Nowadays, Keyes describes anything under $500 round trip to Europe as a phenomenal deal. Some of the best summer fares to Italy he’s seen from cities like Dallas, Charlotte and Phoenix are around $515 round trip.
For domestic destinations, travelers should be thrilled to book flights from the West Coast to Hawaii for under $350, he said. From the East Coast to Hawaii, Keyes considers anything under $550 round trip a deal.
This year, some of the best deals are for travel to outdoor destinations including Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and Alaska. Noticing the popularity of national park travel, airlines have added enough flights to hold prices down, though it may be a challenge to find a car rental.
Keyes was excited about finding round trip flights between New York City and Alaska for just over $200.
Do border reopenings spike ticket prices?
Just because everyone is searching for flights somewhere, doesn’t mean they’re actually buying tickets and packing their bags.
Iceland reopened its borders to vaccinated travelers March 17. The island nation’s reopening drove a 93% spike in searches for fares to Iceland — the largest spike in demand Hopper has seen in 2021. Flight prices to Reykjavik, however, have been falling.
Since March 17, Hopper says airfares between the U.S. and Reykjavik have fallen from an average of $697 round trip to $550 round trip, a 21% decline despite the sharp increase in searches.
An 85% spike in search interest over the past six weeks also hasn’t led to higher prices on flights between the U.S. and Dubrovnik or Split, two popular cities in Croatia, which is now welcoming vaccinated travelers without quarantine. Athens, Greece, has seen an 85% spike in searches and 8% decline in prices since announcing it would reopen for foreign tourism in May.
Hopper searches show demand for summer travel is highest for Mexico, which never closed its borders to U.S. travelers, Central America and the Caribbean.
Merida, Mexico, is among the most popular summer destinations on Hopper users’ radars. It has seen a 119% increase in search interest and 6% increase in average airfares. The average “good deal” price for a summer round trip flight between the U.S. and Merida, the largest city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, is now $345, according to Hopper.