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The official start of spring is right around the corner, which means it’s time to start planning your summer vacation — seriously.
We know it might seem a little early to start locking in plans for travel in June, July and August. But pent-up demand for travel coupled with ongoing staffing shortages, reduced air loads and limited availability could spell a perfect storm of summer sellouts.
Americans are ready to return to travel in a big way, and as more destinations reopen and drop COVID-19 test requirements, hotels and flights are expected to be much busier, which is likely to lead to rising prices, says a Tripadvisor spokesperson.
Even if you can snag your ideal hotel room or preferred flight time, travel booking app Hopper says domestic airfare prices are expected to “increase 7% monthly through June” while “international airfare [could] increase an average of about 5% each month until June.”
Plus, the average spending per trip for 2022 is beyond that of 2019 (up 29% for Americans), according to Tripadvisor, as travelers look to “level up their travel experience.”
This, says Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, means people “are more willing to splurge on trips and accept higher prices, whether it’s choosing to stay at a luxury hotel or seeking out more local tours and experiential activities.”
In other words: Now is the time to book if you want the most selection and the best prices for a summer getaway.
If you haven’t locked in any summer trips yet, here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming summer travel season — and how to start planning now.
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For summer getaways, “travelers should start watching airfare now,” says Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper.
“We forecast an average 7% increase in domestic airfare each month until June — prices typically peak in June due to summer travel demand. This amounts to a 35% increase in airfare from current prices by the end of May. We’re forecasting domestic flight prices will average $315 round-trip this summer, which is up 9% from last year and up 29% from 2020.”
As far as international travel, especially to Europe, Damodaran doesn’t expect a full return to 2019 demand due to continued COVID-19 restrictions and the crisis in Ukraine (according to MMGY Travel Intelligence, 47% of travelers surveyed want to wait and see how the situation in Ukraine evolves before making plans to visit Europe this year).
But he does say that you can expect international airfare to increase an average of about 5% each month until June.
The awe-inspiring natural wonders of the U.S. National Park Service are perennially popular in the summer months, but the pandemic — when travelers were looking for social distancing and outdoor vacations — saw an even bigger uptick in visitors. For many of the parks, you’ll need to reserve well in advance for timed-entry tickets to visit, and for camping or lodging you had better commit now or wait until 2023.
For example, for campsites at Yosemite, reservations become available five months in advance on the 15th of the month at 7 a.m. PT. That means for a reservation in August, you’re going to have to book on March 15.
And, says the National Park Service, “Be aware that nearly all reservations for the months of May through September and for some other weekends are filled the first day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 a.m.!”
If you have your heart set on a particular destination and property, don’t delay booking your trip, says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of the Fora online travel agency.
“Domestically, people who have postponed weddings or big family trips — the trips that were rescheduled so many times in the last two years — are now scheduled for this summer, so availability is getting eaten up really quickly,” says Vazquez. “For instance, Triple Creek Ranch is already sold out May through October.”
This is a trend hotels are already watching play out.
“We’re seeing an earlier booking window this year,” according to Lisbeth K. Yori, the senior sales manager at Cliff House Maine. “Last year,” she says, “we were almost fully committed for the summer by April/May.”
Elsewhere on the East Coast, popular summer destinations are filling up fast.
“We had many new domestic visitors this year, people who normally would have traveled to farther-flung locations, but came and loved their visit, and the ease of domestic travel. Many of them booked ahead for 2022, even before leaving the resort,” says Katherine Hawk of Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
And in New York City, NH Collection New York Madison Avenue general manager Ruth Abellan expects it to be a “good summer” and is already seeing an 80% occupancy rate.
So, what should you do if you get shut out of your first-choice domestic vacation spot? Try the Caribbean or Mexico for a good beach and nice weather, Vazquez advises. “After having very strict [COVID-19] protocols, we’re seeing destinations like the Caymans reopening, plus they’re adding airlift there as well,” she said.
At this point, you may be thinking of leaning on a vacation rental as your backup plan. But not so fast.
Airbnb has seen a spike in global gross nights booked, increasing from 20% in the last quarter of 2021 to nearly 35% in the first quarter of this year, attributing some of the increase to “the live and work anywhere” trend, which has contributed to a decrease in availability.
You probably already know that booking early will typically give you the best selection of vacation rentals, but home rental site Vacasa says one of the leading factors in determining how far in advance you should book is the size of the home you’ll need.
Larger vacation rentals tend to book up quickest, whereas smaller homes that are well suited for last-minute family getaways will more often be available closer to an arrival date. And that makes sense when you consider all the advance planning that goes into coordinating a large group trip, says Natalia Sutin, vice president of revenue management at Vacasa.
The median booking window was 35 to 40 days, according to Vacasa’s Vacation Rental Search Report from 2021, so if you’re looking for a larger home in particular, it’s helpful to get ahead of the curve and look at least a couple of months in advance.
“People are looking into trips in wide-open spaces to reconnect with nature,” according to Liz Bates, director of adventures and custom travel for luxury rental platform ThirdHome. Specifically, Bates says, “on the domestic side, there has been an increased interest in places like Montana, Utah and Joshua Tree.”
The travel experts at Vacasa are seeing a trend toward beach destinations, with Ocean City, Maryland; Destin, Florida; and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, topping the summer travel list on the East Coast. Out west, the resort community of Sunriver, Oregon, was very popular with cycling enthusiasts.
Abroad, Hopper reports that London; Cancun, Mexico; and Paris were the most popular destinations in searches for international flights.
If you’re searching for those destinations too and can’t find anything, try expanding your search to similar or nearby destinations — but don’t give up on your summer plans.