2022 by the Numbers: A Look Back on the Year That Travel Returned

How travel made a major comeback this year.

This year has been a banner one for travel with traffic nearly reaching pre-pandemic times.

Whether Americans took to the roads, flew across the world, or just hung out in a new neighborhood, experts told Travel + Leisure that travelers planned trips like it was going out of style. Vacationers took the term “revenge travel” to new heights with trips to previously-closed destinations, big cities, and warm-weather beaches. 

“Travel came back with a vengeance in 2022, with increased pent-up demand following the pandemic,” Hayley Berg, the lead economist at Hopper, told T+L. “We saw Americans prioritizing travel to big cities post-pandemic… As international destinations reopened particularly in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, demand for trips across the pacific surged in the second half of 2022. We expect this to continue into 2023 as Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok are already ranking in the top trending destinations for travel next year.”

Airport travel has steadily picked up over the last year. In November, the Transportation Security Administration screened the highest number of passengers in a day since before the pandemic. 

When it came to where people were traveling, New York City was the most-booked domestic destination for flights in 2022, according to Hopper, followed by Las Vegas and Orlando. For international trips, travelers overwhelmingly opted for Mexico (T+L’s 2022 Destination of the Year) with Cancun the top favorite throughout the year. 

As for airports, Los Angeles International took the cake with the most drop offs of any airport in the United States, according to data from Lyft shared with T+L. Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport came in at No. 2 on the list, followed by New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

But not everyone chose to fly and road trips remained a popular vacation option in 2022. Drivers headed most often to Orlando, Las Vegas, and Nashville, according to data from AAA shared with T+L, but that varied depending on the time of year. Las Vegas won out during the spring, for example, while Orlando was the favorite destination during the summer and fall.

 Airline passengers, some not wearing face masks following the end of Covid-19 public transportation rules, wait at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint to clear security before boarding to flights in the airport terminal in Denver, Colorado on April 19, 2022

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

“Americans prioritize leisure travel, and for many people, packing up the car and hitting the road is the most economical and scenic way to see family and friends,” Aixa Diaz, a AAA spokesperson, told T+L. “In spite of the roller coaster year we’ve been on with gas prices, drivers have made adjustments in other areas of their life and budgeted for long-awaited trips.”

The popularity of road trips, especially over the summer, grew as airlines saw a spike in cancellations and delays caused by a combination of air traffic control problems and staffing shortages.

Things started to get better during the second half of the year, and while Department of Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg admitted the end-of-year holiday travel wouldn’t be perfect, he said it would be an improvement from the chaos of the summer.

Another improvement has been flight prices, which spiked throughout the year and into the fall, rising more than 42% from September 2021 to September 2022. But that is expected to get better in 2023, according to data from Scott’s Cheap Flights shared with T+L. In fact, the site found airfare prices have fallen 17% from May to November. 

“After record lows to start the year and record increases in the spring, airfare ended 2022 looking like something else entirely: aggressively average,” Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Scott’s Cheap Flights, told T+L, adding “airfare is at the moment looking pretty similar to where it did pre-pandemic (2019). Airlines have staffed up and are able to put more flights on their schedules, meaning more competition amongst carriers, which drives prices down. As consumers we should expect to see prices get cheaper leading into and through 2023.”

Last-minute trips, which grew in popularity due to uncertainty during the height of the pandemic, also remained popular in 2022. But experts warned that could be a pricey mistake.

“Today, travel bookers are booking flights more than a week closer to their departure dates than pre-pandemic,” Hopper’s Berg said. “When travelers book more last minute, they can miss out on the best deals. Hopper recommends you start monitoring prices for your domestic flight 3-4 months in advance and 5-6 months for your international trip."

Looking ahead to 2023, international travel was expected to continue to rebound, according to Hopper, and especially to Asia where several countries and cities have started to open back up to tourists like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and more.

In fact, 62% of flight searches on Hopper for 2023 are for international destinations, higher than the 55% from the same time last year.

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