Save Money on Summer Travel Despite Rising Gas Prices and Flight Fares With These Expert Tips
Americans are feeling the pinch when it comes to traveling amid skyrocketing gas prices, staffing shortages, and overall high demand, but experts say there are still ways to save and even get a good deal in the process when planning a summer trip.
"Revenge travel," a term that became popular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as people were itching for a getaway, is in full swing as an AAA survey shared with Travel + Leisure found that more than half of Americans planned to take a vacation this summer.
But that increase in demand, coupled with other outside factors like high gas prices, has created a huge jump in prices from flights to hotels and even the cost of a road trip — and it doesn't seem to be stopping. Of the 52% of Americans who told AAA they would travel this summer, 42% said they wouldn't consider changing their travel plans no matter the price of gas.
"Pent-up demand is there [and] people are going to travel. They haven't traveled freely in two years, they're going to travel now," Paula Twidale, senior vice president for travel at AAA, told T+L. "They need the respite, they need the time off and they're not willing to give that up. They'll give something else up instead."
The price at the pump is most keenly felt when filling up a car for a road trip, but Twidale said it also has a trickle-down effect and can be seen in nightly hotel rates and even restaurant prices. Currently, the average price of gas in the United States is hovering just above $4 with some of the highest prices seen on the West Coast, according to AAA.
When it comes to rising flight prices, another factor may be at work: the combination of high demand and staff shortages, which have led to some airlines cutting back on summer schedules.
"The biggest factor here is the increased demand. We're really seeing a huge demand of people taking their revenge vacations… while [there are] some issues with capacity and staffing on the airline's side," Lousson Smith, a product operations specialist with Scott's Cheap Flights, told T+L. "People are essentially bidding on fewer seats on those flights."
But while higher prices may be difficult to avoid, there are a few things travelers can do to get the most out of their summer vacations at the lowest cost possible.
Be Flexible When Booking a Flight
Smith said the best way to save money on flights is for travelers to be flexible with their dates and/or destination. It's a tried and true way to save money on a great vacation, both before and after the pandemic.
"If you have the flexibility of where you can go... get on that Google Explore map... and see what's available in the next six months," he said.
For those who can't be as flexible, Smith said they need to be "proactive" about searching for a trip, but there are still deals to be found. Smith pointed to popular flights like New York to Fort Lauderdale, which is currently as low as $108 round trip, and New York to Milan, which is currently as low as $441 round trip.
Book Flights Early
Smith said the best time to book a domestic flight is 1 to 3 months before the travel date, while the best time to book an international flight is 2 to 8 months before travel.
"That will give you enough time to monitor and see how prices are going up and down," he said, adding, "If you're looking for summer travel, now is the time to start looking for that cheap flight."
Broaden Your Flight Search to Include Nearby Airports
Travelers who can search larger airports where there is a lot of airline competition will likely score a better deal than travelers who are intent on flying out of smaller airports or airports where one airline serves many of the departing flights (like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, where many of the flights are on Delta Air Lines), Smith noted.
"It really comes down to how much competition there is at the airport," he said
Plan a Road Trip Closer to Home
Countless Americans will hit the road this summer, and while rising gas prices may give travelers some pause, Twidale said simply changing the route could help salvage people's vacations and their wallets.
"We have a whole spring and summer ahead of folks getting on the road domestically and traveling in the United States and gas prices do affect that," she said. "They may not stay as long or may adjust their routes."
Smith pointed to the country's abundance of great national parks that are dotted all over the U.S. as a road trip option.
"You can't really avoid the cost of the pump, it is what it is," he said. "But you could find closer options to where you are."
Make Sure Your Car Is in Tip-top Shape
Before embarking on a road trip, AAA recommends travelers ensure their tires are properly inflated and they're using the correct type of gas for their vehicle so they get the most mileage possible.
Watch Your Speed
Fuel economy actually peaks at about 50 mph on most cars so AAA says drivers can reduce their highway speed by 5 to 10 mph to save some money. This can increase fuel economy by as much as 14%.
Additionally, travelers should avoid excessive idling since it can cost a quarter to a half-gallon of fuel per hour. And drivers can save fuel by avoiding unnecessary stops and slowdowns (think: using "fast pass" toll lanes).
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.