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Feeling the squeeze? How to be a thrifty traveler as prices soar

Feeling the squeeze?
(Photos: NYTimes/ Shutterstock)
Travelers are feeling the squeeze. Rising prices related to inflation, employment shortages, and supply chain slowdowns are hitting the travel industry, just as summer travel planning — compounded by pent-up demand — peaks.اضافة اعلان

Prices for consumer goods were up 8.5 percent in March compared with March 2021, with airfares, up 23.6 percent, beating that. The return of leisure travel has bumped nightly hotel prices up 11.7 percent on average, to $148, according to the hospitality benchmarking firm STR, compared with 2019 at $132. Rental cars, gas, and even Uber rides are siphoning travel budgets.

When the going gets expensive, the frugal get smarter. You may spend more time planning your vacations while pursuing thrifty strategies, but the following tips provide a return on that investment.

On the road

High gas prices are a headwind. In a March survey from the market research firm Longwoods International, 38 percent of respondents said the rising cost of gas would greatly impact their travel decisions in the next six months.



Rental car prices are expected to remain high throughout the year, as agencies run short on inventory after selling much of it at the height of the pandemic and unable to replenish their fleets because of supply chain challenges. The travel search engine Kayak recently put the average rental car price at $101 a day in summer, up 67 percent over 2019.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are one way around gas hikes. They’re still scarce as rentals, but Hertz now advertises them in seven US airports and recently announced a deal with Swedish electric carmaker Polestar to buy 65,000 EVs over five years, with availability expected this spring in Europe and, by year-end, in North America and Australia.

Taking the train

Taking a train is not realistic in most of the US, except in the Northeast corridor, where Amtrak said it carried five times as many riders between Washington, DC, and New York City as airlines last year. Check the Amtrak deals page, which has a variety of sales, depending on where you are traveling, including a current half-off deal on up to three companion tickets after paying for one full price ticket in Southern California.

There are many more rail options in Europe, where travelers can enjoy the scenery and reduce emissions, rather than taking a low-cost airline at rock-bottom prices. For four days of travel within a month, a Eurail Pass, good in 33 European countries, costs $273 for a person older than 28.



 “Traveling by train in many European countries is cost-effective and efficient, with a wide choice of punctual services,” said Sarah-Leigh Shenton, marketing director of Red Savannah, a travel planning service. “Traveling from Venice to Florence, for example, takes three hours by road, compared with just over two hours by high-speed train.”

In the air

Airfares are 7 percent higher than pre-pandemic prices, at an average of $330 for a US domestic round-trip ticket, according to the booking app Hopper. It expects the average to rise through May to $360.

“We will likely continue to see prices increase heading into summer travel due to a combination of pent-up demand, rising fuel costs, and labor shortages,” said Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president of the North American division of Kayak.

Since ticket prices change constantly, let websites do the monitoring. Search engines Kayak and Skyscanner offer flight price-tracking. In the US, Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly domestically, according to Kayak, with fares 13 percent lower; Sunday is the most expensive.

For international, fly Thursday and avoid Fridays. Book 16 weeks for international flights, but stay vigilant.

“After booking, keep checking the fare,” said George Hobica, founder of flight-deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, who canceled a $650 flight when he found the same itinerary with the same airline earlier in the day for $400; after rebooking, he had a $250 flight credit. “Thanks to no-fee cancellation policies, it’s much easier to change to a cheaper flight or date,” he said.

Internationally, Hopper predicts the average round trip will be $940 in June, exceeding 2019 fares. Providing alternatives, a number of foreign low-cost carriers are new or returning services to various airports

Remember that most low-cost carriers charge extra for things such as checked bags, meals, and seat assignments, so factor those in when comparing prices to standard carriers, which include many of these in their fares. Flight frequency is another potential hazard; if something goes wrong weather-wise or mechanically, it may take a while before a low-cost carrier can get you on your way.

Using loyalty points

Experts say now is always a good time to use your points and miles. Why? Because they do not accrue interest and are prone to deflation as airlines may change their value, and, if you cancel, you will usually get the points back (versus a cash sale, which is often returned as a voucher).

Now is especially good as “points and miles don’t necessarily react as fast to external pricing pressures in the same way airfares do,” said Zach Griff, a senior reporter covering loyalty points for The Points Guy website.

Paying with miles may sometimes mean paying a fuel surcharge. Domestic carriers have not imposed surcharges on most award tickets, but if you’re looking to use your miles on British Airways or Emirates, be prepared.

“British Airways has astronomical surcharges, especially if you’re redeeming for coach or premium economy,” Griff said.

The Points Guy has a useful calculator that will help you determine whether to spend cash or use miles based on the value of the mile.

Hotels and updated hostels

Hotel rates are surging. “The desire to leave the house and travel is tremendous on the leisure side,” said Carter Wilson, senior vice president in consulting for hotel analyst firm STR. Demand is still lower than 2019, he said, but leisure travelers tend to pay more than business travelers, who often get corporate discounts, which accounts for the higher prices.

Hostels are not just for students anymore. Private rooms with multiple beds make them family-friendly, and European brands such as Generator have expanded in the US in recent years. The new Lolo Pass in Portland, Oregon, fits 282 guests in 87 rooms (rates from $35 for a shared room and $125 for a private), and includes a rooftop bar, restaurant, and art gallery.



Penny-pinchers, keep your eye on Stay Open, an updated hostel in which each bed is a private pod and guests share upgraded bathrooms and lounges ($69 a night). For now, there’s just one 10-bed Stay Open in Venice Beach in Los Angeles, but another 240-bed property is coming to San Diego in 2024, including private rooms from about $100; its founders aim to turn vacant office space — a pandemic plague — into a chain of lodgings for digital nomads.

Always check the deal page of the hotel you would like to book or sign up for their newsletter.

Renting a vacation home

Strong demand for short-term rentals has pushed prices up. Rentals are up 27 percent at Hawaii Life, a brokerage service with 320 rentals across the Hawaiian Islands, now averaging $490 a night. HomeToGo.com, a rental company, said the average price for a unit in the US is up about 10 percent compared with 2019.

Keep an eye on fees, especially cleaning fees, which are best amortized over a longer stay. A $100-a-night cabin on Airbnb with a $150 cleaning fee comes to $250 for one night. Spread over a week, it adds closer to $20 a night to the rate. Or look for a rental without a cleaning fee, such as one of the tiny homes at Majestic Farm in rural Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains (from $155 a night).

Consider a big house — which may look expensive — and fill it with friends and family to split the cost. Sasha Hoffman, who runs group-travel planning service The Sasha Edition, recently rented a villa for 14 on St. Lucia for $1,900; a nearby luxury hotel was charging $3,000 a night for a double. She and her group paid the equivalent of $135 a person a night.

Where the bargains are

Warm-weather destinations often reduce their rates in summer, including Miami, where hotels may be slashed up to half-off June through August. Scottsdale, Arizona, runs an annual campaign promoting bargain summer stays, starting at $111 a night.

Peak seasons for Washington, DC, are fall and spring, making summer a good time for a deal in the capital, which is renowned for its free-admission attractions, including the Smithsonian museums.

Explore alternatives off the beaten path. Consider Virginia’s wine country, where a stay at one of its top wineries, Barboursville, starts at $240.

Cities are projected to be busier this year, though Hotels.com said major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam are still cheaper than normal, with nightly rates $175 to $250. Smaller cities such as Detroit offer even lower rates.

Alas, don not look for bargains in Hawaii this summer. Expedia said demand for Oahu is well above 2019. On the Big Island, bookings in September are up six fold compared with pre-pandemic times.


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