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For summer travel deals, stay off the beaten path

Jhe majority of Americans – 7 out of 10 – plan to travel in the next 12 months for leisure, according to a NerdWallet February Poll. Many Americans are looking to travel this summer, and most are hoping to find a bargain.

Air travel is almost back to pre-pandemic levels. The number of travelers passing through TSA checkpoints was down just 19% in February and January compared to the same period in 2019. Hotels are filling up and vacation rentals are booming.

“Overall demand for summer travel in 2022 is up 20-25% from 2019,” says Jamie Lane, vice president of research at Airdna, a vacation rental data platform, which tracks travel data. trends on Airbnb and Vrbo. “When we started in 2021, demand was 20% below 2019 levels. And now that we’re starting 2022, they’re 20% above 2019.”

Oil price volatility could also impact summer travel costs. The price of kerosene-type jet fuel from the U.S. Gulf Coast hit $3.46 in March, down from $0.46 at its May 2020 low.

With so many factors pushing travel prices up, where are the deals? And which destinations should budget-conscious travelers avoid altogether?

Zig while others zag to Mexico

Rising inflation has reminded consumers of a simple economic truth: when everyone wants something and there isn’t enough, prices go up. This is true for real estate, microchips and airline tickets.

So when planning a trip this summer, it helps to know where demand remains high.

“Resort areas are up 40% from 2019,” Lane says of vacation rental occupancy rates.

Mexico has been a particularly popular destination for American travelers, due to the proximity and easy-going testing requirements. Indeed, the number of travelers to Mexico in early 2022 exceeded 2019 levels.

Deals for summer trips to Mexico might still exist, but they will be harder to find than in less popular destinations. The same goes for rural US destinations, especially those near national parks.

“The greatest demand is in small rural towns,” says Lane. “Demand has doubled compared to 2019.”

Instead, Lane suggests targeting destinations that rely heavily on foreign tourists and have been slower to pick up tourists.

“Places like Croatia, Italy and Greece have been very slow to recover. And are down 40-60% in demand. They haven’t seen the price increases that we’ve seen in the States -United “

Flight bookings to Europe plummeted after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, data from Hopper, a travel-booking app, shows, suggesting travel to the continent could remain sluggish through the summer . This means that offers should follow.

Book (some things) late

The pandemic has changed the number of travelers planning. Instead of setting dates months in advance, many started booking trips just weeks later. And despite a lot of conventional travel wisdom, it’s actually a great way to get deals.

“Generally, if you book far in advance, you’re going to pay more,” says Lane, pointing out that Airbnb’s pricing algorithm will drop prices at the last minute to fill remaining availability. “As you get closer to the date of the stay, if it is not booked, you will get a discount.

The same goes for hotels, which are often cheaper to book in a few weeks or days reservation rather than a few months, offers on rental cars are also usually easier to find at the last minute.

This comes with two big caveats. First, if demand exceeds supply at a particular destination, prices could actually rise in the few weeks leading up to a trip rather than fall. Worse still, availability could dry up completely, leaving few cars or vacation rentals available.

Second, last minute airfare is usually more expensive. This is not a hard and fast rule – last minute deals may appear, but they are more common a month or so.

Stay flexible

The one thing we don’t know about what will happen this summer is everything. Another variant could emerge. Borders could close. International conflicts could worsen. Who knows.

As a traveler, that means flexibility is a must when it comes to finding deals.

Rather than making a firm plan to visit a particular destination, follow the offers. See airfare and accommodation deals available on target dates and create a trip around them Flexibility has always been important for budget travel. Now it is necessary.

Also, be sure to only book trips that can be easily changed or cancelled. A good deal on airfare with a low-cost airline such as Spirit could lead to steep change and cancellation fees. The same goes for basic economy fares, which generally cannot be changed or canceled at all.

The bottom line

Travel is back, but it may never be back to normal. Finding deals requires some understanding of what’s changed, where others are traveling, and more importantly, where they’re not.

This summer, target major cities, avoid rural areas and resort destinations, and try to book accommodation and a rental car closer to the travel date. And always book modifiable or cancellable rates.

“A last minute booking in Croatia? You’re going to find a lot of stuff,” suggests Lane.

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