- After staying home for nearly 2 years, many people are ready to take a long-awaited vacation.
- Pent-up demand has travelers eager to book, but flights and hotels are often expensive or booked up.
- Here’s why that’s happening and what experts say you can do about it.
After spending two years at home, Los Angeles-based event producer Kate Mazzuca was vaccinated, vacation-starved, and ready to travel again. But even though she started searching months ahead of her proposed travel dates this winter, she was shocked by the results.
“I set my sights on a sunny locale and thought Hawaii would be ideal, but it was unbelievably cost-prohibitive,” she told Insider. “It was $1,000 a night for a hotel 10 minutes from the beach.” She next looked into the Caribbean, but found prices also in the thousands.
If you’ve tried to book a trip recently, you might recognize your own experience in Mazzuca’s search, either from a lack of availability or eye-popping prices that translate to total nonstarters.
Here’s why and where travel and hospitality experts say that’s happening, and what you can do to get around it.
Travel demand is highly concentrated right now around domestic, warm-weather destinations
Recent research from travel insurance company Allianz Partners, which reviewed four million round-trip itineraries from US airports for a period in December, found that 87 percent of them were for domestic travel, compared with just 13 percent for international travel.
It’s a trend that Willis Orlando, the senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, is seeing as well. Orlando spends his days analyzing flight prices and told Insider that domestic airfare is still down slightly in price from pre-pandemic levels overall, even in the face of rising inflation. But he acknowledges that for the most popular destinations, airfare can feel very expensive.
“Demand is highly concentrated at the moment,” he said. “It has surged on domestic and short-haul international leisure routes. If you’re traveling at a peak time [such as the holiday season], you’re going to be fighting with a lot of other folks for those tickets, which can result in higher prices.”
Specifically, travelers are very interested in places like Miami, Maui, Disney, or the Caribbean, and are prepared to pay for it
Brandon Berkson helms the trip-planning service HAP Concierge, which customizes boutique and unique travel itineraries for generally affluent Americans between ages 25 and 44. He told Insider many of his clients want to travel to New York City, Miami, Maui, Sedona, and Disney parks.
“Domestic destinations with year-round appeal for families who are not ready for international travel, or have kids who are unable to get vaccinated, are seeing the highest rates,” he said. “The focus is on outdoor or beach destinations, Disney, and a high desire for escapism.”
Additionally, many popular, close-to-home locations in the Caribbean and Mexico that are easily accessible by nonstop flights are seeing high prices and low availability.
“Anything that’s less than a five-hour flight from major US metros, in particular, places with a beach, will be particularly challenging this winter,” warned Henley Vazquez, travel advisor and co-founder of Fora, a tech-driven startup travel agency.
Deferred major life milestones like weddings and honeymoons are driving an uptick in luxury leisure travel
Another factor is all the once-in-a-lifetime events that were deferred due to the pandemic, like destination weddings and honeymoons. These types of trips are expensive, and often in desirable areas like Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean. And yet, so many people are waiting for their turn.
“We’ve seen incredible demand for stays centered around delayed celebrations, primarily weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries, and babymoons,” explained Brad Packer, director of PR and communications for the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora.
Anastasia Stevenson, a destination wedding planner with Coastal Creative Event Design, told Insider that couples are traveling in large numbers both as a way to finally execute on plans postponed earlier in the pandemic and also as part of an industry trend toward destination events.
“Destination weddings have become more popular than ever and couples are traveling either to cut costs by keeping their guest counts smaller, or to have an elaborate celebration in a beautiful locale with family and friends,” she said. “After two years on lockdown, everyone is ready to travel.”
This trend is impacting hotel bookings, and, correspondingly, rates.
“To stay safely distanced from strangers during the pandemic, couples are choosing a destination hotel venue. This way they can have their wedding and reception and guests take over a hotel and have limited interaction with others for the event,” Stevenson said. “So many couples are traveling to destination wedding spots and not only are we seeing complete weekends booked, we are seeing bookings for destination weddings in the morning hours and even mid-week at hotel venues.”
HAP Concierge’s John Beeler’s experience dovetails with Stevenson’s assessment of the wedding business, as well as Packer’s observations in Bora Bora.
“We have seen a huge increase in clients seeking private accommodation — villa bookings have grown 350 percent since the travel recovery began,” he said. “Most often, clients are looking for villas operated by Four Seasons, Rosewood, or similar high-touch operators. They want the option to go to the beach, or head to dinner at the restaurant, but then retreat back to their own world where they can attend remote work/school sessions, and otherwise be safely ensconced.”
The Omicron variant is a concern, but it isn’t crashing demand for travel … yet
Industry insiders we spoke to said that although the Omicron variant raises the specter of another potential COVID travel crisis, many remain undeterred, at least for the time being.
Indeed, a new survey among 2 million Scott’s Cheap Flights members found as many as 87 percent planned to go ahead with travel plans.
“The vast majority of our clients are proceeding with confidence,” said Beeler. “They are vaccinated, often boostered, have stayed at home long enough, and are taking necessary precautions.”
If that’s you too, you might want to follow Beeler’s advice to his clients, which includes purchasing newly expansive travel insurance policies and booking hotels with on-site testing.
Just be sure to first understand what your travel insurance does and does not cover if you’re going to buy it.
“Travel insurance, like all insurance, is very situational and buyers need to understand what is and is not covered before purchasing,” said Rob DelliBovi, luxury travel advisor and founder of RDB Hospitality. “The new COVID policies on the market are treated much like other health-related travel insurance in the past. They will cover you should you get, and more importantly prove, that you have COVID-19.”
But these policies won’t cover you if you simply choose not to travel due to concern over COVID risk. “There must be either official regulation in place, or you must have a doctor’s note and positive test saying you cannot go,” he told Insider.
That’s why many people are now seeking what’s known as, cancel for any reason insurance. “This insurance is more expensive, only covers a portion of the traveler expense (usually half), and has limitations on when you can cancel,” he said.
DelliBovi underscored that policies that offer coverage if you get sick while traveling will require testing from a reputable company (home testing does not count), and, if positive, can assist with alternate arrangements required regarding travel.
If you still want to travel now, here’s how to make it happen
As daunting as current conditions might feel, it’s possible to book an affordable trip.
First, be as flexible as possible with the calendar.
“Flexibility is your best friend, particularly when flying on a super-popular domestic or short-haul international route,” Orlando said.
For the best prices, Orlando advises flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, rather than a Monday or Friday. If you’re looking to travel around the winter holidays, consider either flying on Christmas Day or in early January, when prices fall substantially.
If your ideal destination is out of reach, consider nearby cities.
For instance, if you’re having trouble finding cheap flights or hotels in popular Caribbean locales, “take a look at Belize or Panama,” Orlando said. “Airlines have added capacity there, but crowds are generally smaller and prices can be lower than Cancun or the Dominican Republic. Similarly, instead of Cabo, try Puerto Vallarta, La Paz, or even Liberia, Costa Rica, which are all great beach destinations that are likely to be less crowded and expensive than Cabo.”
Vazquez also suggests if you’re willing to make longer, less convenient journeys, you might find better deals.
“I prefer a nonstop like anyone else, but I’ll do an easy layover if it brings down the cost of my flight significantly,” she said. “That and early-morning flights, which may help you avoid delays on a busy travel day.”
When it comes to lodging, Vazquez says to try new hotels. “Resorts that have just opened face stiff competition, and may offer free nights or promotions to secure business while they aren’t as well-known,” she said.
She further suggested properties with residential-style accommodations that come with full kitchens and laundry to offset the costs “For families, a two-bedroom apartment set-up usually comes out cheaper than the suites or connecting rooms.”
Vazquez’s biggest piece of advice? Things probably aren’t going to change anytime soon. “Don’t expect the rollercoaster of a news cycle to change anything for the cheaper, since everyone is now busy rebooking their international trips in favor of spots closer to home,” she said.
So, no, it’s not just you. Planning a trip right now is likely to induce sticker shock. But it’s doable with some finesse, flexibility, and a loosening of the purse strings.