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2024 Travel Costs Seem Pricey, Yet Match Inflation [Data Trends]

Brett Holzhauer's image
Brett Holzhauer
Brett Holzhauer's image

Brett Holzhauer

Content Contributor

8 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 22U.S. States Visited: 29

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he's had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards.
Edited by: Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

82 Published Articles 462 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 4U.S. States Visited: 23

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
& Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

29 Published Articles 3091 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 45U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Summer is around the corner, and Americans are itching for their next getaway. But travel prices seem to be through the roof, so what’s the best way to secure yourself a deal?

If you have a colossal amount of rewards in the coffers for your next adventure, I tip my hat. But the average spender, or someone who regularly earns and burns their rewards (like myself), may not have a rewards balance to cover the majority of a trip’s costs. What’s the best way to book a trip without breaking the bank?

Many consumers pay for travel the old-fashioned way, with hard-earned cash. However, travel cash doesn’t go as far as it once did. Inflation remains stubborn at 3.2% year-over-year, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).¹ This is a much-improved number from the surging inflation we saw in 2021 and 2022. Unfortunately, inflation is cumulative. Since 2020, prices of total consumer goods are up a whopping 20%.²

But here’s the kicker when it comes to travel costs: federal data suggests that travel costs haven’t gone up when accounting for inflation. Such seems shocking because if you’ve traveled at all in the last few years, you’ve certainly felt the sting of travel expenses. In fact, a recent Gogo Charters study suggests a family of 4 could expect to pay nearly $8,000 for a 1-week trip.³

Let’s explore the current economic data on booking travel and how can you fight back against the sticker shock.

Travel Prices Are Normalizing, According to BLS Data

I’ve covered travel, personal finance, and economics for several years, so I make it a regular habit to glance at the latest Consumer Price Index data from the BLS. This data measures the average change over time in prices paid for goods and services.

While analyzing the most recent data, I discovered that the costs of travel are roughly flat when adjusted for inflation. It’s shocking, even for myself, as seeing recent flight costs has made me reconsider some trips.

But the numbers don’t lie. Here’s what the data is currently showing.

Domestic Flight Prices Hit Cruising Altitude, International Prices Are Spiking

If you’re looking at domestic flights, you’ve likely groaned at how expensive tickets are and found yourself reminiscing on the “good ol days” of cheaper flights. But here’s the irony: prices aren’t actually higher than in years past. In fact, federal data says we’re at the same CPI level that we were pre-COVID-19 and down nearly 15% since the peak in June 2022. Airfare prices at that time were red-hot, outpacing inflation.

Airline Data Fed
Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers: airline fares in U.S. City average. Image Credit: Federal Reserve Bank

Here’s the good news. We’re only one-quarter of the way through the year, but coming into 2024, several consulting firms predicted this year will bring price stabilization for airline fares. Part of this backpedal to lower ticket costs is a return of supply. Airline seat miles, the measurement of how many miles are available for consumers to purchase, have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

If you’re flying within the U.S., don’t feel too bad about buying a ticket. The data suggests you may not be paying a terrible price after all. However, those with international wanderlust might feel more of a sting.

Unlike their domestic counterparts, international flight prices have risen 10% year-over-year, according to Kayak. There are several causes for this. First, longer flights obviously demand more fuel, and jet fuel costs remain elevated.

Second, there are more people flying internationally than ever before. The 2023 fiscal year saw a record-breaking 21.5 million Americans apply for a passport, and half are planning on traveling outside the U.S. this year, according to a Nationwide survey. With this excess demand, you can expect prices to be exceptionally high for your international summer adventure. 

Checking In and Largely Staying Put

When it comes to accommodations, you may feel that price sting, thinking prices look higher than years prior. 

However, federal data shows only a slight uptick in accommodation pricing since 2019 (about 2.8% when adjusted for inflation). 

Lodging Fed Data
Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers: lodging away from home in U.S. City average. Image Credit: Federal Reserve Bank

In 2019, the average daily rate (ADR) for a hotel room night was $131, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. In 2023, this jumped to $155, an 18% increase — roughly matching the rate of cumulative inflation since. While prices are only slightly higher today, there may be signs of ADR dropping further, with an estimated 672,000 hotel rooms under construction. As occupancy rates are beginning to stagnate at hotels, this could lead to a scenario of falling prices.

Additionally, hotels are facing pressures from alternative lodging platforms such as Airbnb. Prices for Airbnb stays have been sliding downward, along with growing numbers of first-time users, according to the company’s most recent earnings call. With Airbnb actively adding more properties to its platform, there may be a future of either stagnating or even slightly lower prices for you to rest your head at night.

Saving on Travel Costs

I’m a firm believer in living your life to the fullest, and if a vacation is something that’s important to you this year, you should book it, even if prices feel higher. But how do you do it in a way that fights back against inflationary costs for your flights and hotels?

First, use points and miles to your advantage. While the amount of rewards needed to book a flight or hotel has also gone up in tandem, saving money should be the priority. Additionally, if you can, be flexible with your bookings to search for the best deals. Maybe instead of a hotel, search for a comparable Airbnb. And if you want to avoid spending at restaurants, book an Airbnb with a kitchen.

Final Thoughts

This article isn’t meant to gaslight readers into thinking that travel-related expenditures are subjectively affordable. You shouldn’t feel some sort of relief at the sight of larger numbers by justifying that it’s the fault of inflation. Still, travel is worth it.

The only thing we can’t get back in life is time, and that time should be spent (pun intended) creating memories with those who you care most about. So book the trip, and maybe just close your eyes while you hit submit.

Brett Holzhauer's image

About Brett Holzhauer

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he’s had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards. He learned the tricks of the trade from his mom, and has taken many steps forward. He wasn’t exposed to much travel as a kid, but now has a goal of reaching 100 countries in his life. In 2019, he sold all of his possessions to become a digital nomad, and he says it was one of the best decisions he ever made. He plans to do it again at some point in his life.

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