Americans are ready for summer vacation. After two years of pent-up pandemic wanderlust, demand for booking June through August getaways has increased in recent weeks—and so have airfares.
“Airfare prices for summer travel have been on the rise, and while there are several factors at play including fuel prices and staffing and operational factors for airlines, a lot of it is simply due to strong demand,” says Christie Hudson, senior public relations manager at Expedia. “We tend to see prices drop only when airlines can’t fill seats, and right now travelers are still booking.” In fact, summer airfares are the same or higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to Hudson, though destinations and dates play a major factor.
But there’s still a chance for frugal travelers to score cheap flights this summer, according to a recent Expedia analysis. The booking website’s data shows that August is the cheapest month to fly this summer—with average ticket prices about 10 percent cheaper than those in July, and five percent cheaper than those in June.
“It’s pretty normal to see a ‘mini shoulder season’ at the end of August, sandwiched right between the last burst of families traveling and the quick spike that happens around Labor Day weekend,” Hudson says. Honing in, Expedia’s data shows that Tuesday, August 23, is the cheapest day to fly this summer, with the period of August 13 through 29 being “primetime for better summer fares,” she adds.
July marks the priciest month to take to the skies, with the most expensive day being July 1, which is the Friday before the Fourth of July (which falls on a Monday this year for a perfect three-day weekend). Over that holiday weekend, average airfares are 25 percent higher than the average for the rest of the summer months.
Broadly speaking, throughout the summer, the highest airfares are found on Fridays, and the cheapest on Tuesdays. “Expect to pay a bit more if you want to travel from a Friday to Sunday or ahead of a holiday when a lot of people will be off work,” Hudson says. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally cheaper because they’re less common days to start a trip.”
Where to fly for under $350 round trip
Expedia’s report also shows that airfares to several popular destinations in North America have been consistently below $350 round trip in recent weeks. At the top of the list, which examined average summer airfares from all U.S. airports booked through March 28, is Fort Lauderdale, with round trip airfares averaging $275 this summer. The southeastern Florida city has 24 miles of sandy waterfront and waterways lined with extravagant mansions; plus summer is also the middle of sea turtle nesting season.
The list then continues with Toronto, Tampa, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Providence, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Kelowna, Canada; Nashville, and New Orleans. Ending the list with an average airfare of $345 is Charleston, South Carolina, where rooftop bars, art galleries, and boutique shops are all doused with southern charm.
Though the cities seem to lean toward the East Coast and Texas, there are “several [destinations] on the West Coast that just barely missed making this list,” Hudson says. “Generally speaking, destinations closer to the West Coast like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Seattle are really appealing in the summer when the weather is nice and there’s plenty to do, and on the flip side, a lot of popular East Coast beach destinations are drive-to destinations, which could mean slightly less air travel demand,” resulting in cheaper airfares.
No matter where or when the travelers are eying their summer vacations, Hudson says above all to book early and be flexible. “Usually the [ideal] booking window for domestic travel is around 30 to 45 days, but this summer I’d recommend booking at least 60 days out,” she says. “Start setting up price alerts for summer travel now so you can get an idea of what the going rate is.”