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Traveling By Plane This Thanksgiving? Expect to Pay More

Travel for Thanksgiving this year may cost you more than in 2022, as the travel sector bounces back from the pandemic downturn, but airlines are yet to fly the same number of planes from their pre-COVID era, Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel, told Newsweek.

Average booking prices for November and December show that a domestic flight may cost about $680, 5 percent higher than in 2022. On the flip side, international travel may cost less at about $1,230, a decline of a little under 6 percent from last year.

Part of the reason the cost may be higher this year, Twidale said, is due to airlines still struggling to get back to their pre-2020 level of capacity.

The airlines “don’t have the capacity that they had back in 2019,” Twidale told Newsweek, “so they haven’t put all of their airplanes back in service because they had limited staffing and they were training people and so forth.”

thanksgiving travel
A flight status display shows the current flight times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on November 22, 2022. Air travel during Thanksgiving may cost more in 2023 than last year.

Last year, the sector had been hit with delays and it was “terrible” flying, Twidale recalled, prompting transportation officials to ask airlines to take a look a their schedule and warn them against overcomitting what they could handle.

“So they started to cut back,” Twidale pointed out. “When there are capacity constraints, it’s going to affect the cost, so the cost is up.

“It’s expensive, but it’s been expensive every year the last few years. It keeps going up and up from last year.

“Speaking with the Thanksgiving holiday, from an air travel perspective, we are higher. We’ve already surpassed 2019 which was pre-pandemic,” she told Newsweek. “You know, it’s the highest since 2005 [and] it’s 2.5 percent over 2019.”

Even though there aren’t as many planes to put passengers on, world-weary travelers and vacationers are showing pre-pandemic desires to get away, Twidale said.

Other modes of transportation—bus, train, cruise—have all recovered and are passing pre-pandemic levels of travel.

A lot of people are taking advantage of holiday travel because they want to be with their families. “So you’re going to have a very concentrated time of people traveling,” Twidale said.

Twidale added overall, people are now back to traveling, even beyond the holiday trips.

“For the most part, everybody’s out there traveling in airports. If you’ve been to an airport recently, you definitely know it, it’s crowded,” she told Newsweek.

Even in an environment of high inflation—in October inflation came at 3.2 percent, lower than the previous month’s of 3.7—Americans are still showing their appetite for travel.

“There’s been some declines in pricing, which has helped this forecast a little bit,” Twidale said.

The decline in gas prices, which are about 50 cents lower per gallon than they were last year at this time for the holiday, has encouraged travelers to hit the road and travel.

But things like food are more expensive, so travel is an added expenditure that may not be necessary.

“Travel is discretionary, so discretionary income comes into play and do you have the money to do all the things you need to do for your household and still be able to travel,” Twidale said families may be thinking. “But when we talk about this concentrated holiday, thanksgiving is a time that they really kind of go all in, ‘I am going to be with my family so I’m taking this trip.'”

The question is, with inflation still relatively high, how that may shape people’s choices heading into next year.

“We have some really good bookings for 2024, it’s still strong. But as we get that little softening, you know there may be people taking a little bit less, maybe they take a less of a trip, you know, a shorter trip, less expensive,” Twidale said.

Consumers may also pare down the amount of traveling they do as they become mindful of higher prices.

“Instead of taking multiple trips, they condense them to one and two instead of three and four,” Twidale told Newsweek. “So I think we’ll see a little softening at the beginning of the year, but clearly we have bookings for 2024 that are already in play and it hasn’t impacted us negatively yet. And Thanksgiving is an indicator because it’s such a family holiday, so people are traveling for that reason.”