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Soaring Airline Prices: Why Does it Seem Like Flights Are So Expensive in 2024?

Did the price of your plane ticket make you do a double take? You aren't alone. But are flight prices really going up and what can you expect for 2024?

Remember those pre-pandemic days of scoring roundtrip flights for less than a tank of gas? Yeah, me neither. Welcome to the new normal, where snagging affordable airfare feels like winning the lottery (with much less champagne and confetti). Buckle up, wanderlust souls, because we're about to dissect the storm clouds causing this sky-high pricing chaos.

Are flights really costing more in 2024? The answer is mixed. I've heard lots of anecdotal stories from travelers flying both domestically and internationally and they are all crying foul over sky-high fares - in some cases, having to rethink their destination to keep their trip within budget. And while cheap fares may be available on low-cost carriers, recent horror stories have made many flyers hesitant to book with them.

So yes, right now you shouldn't be surprised if that plane tickets costs a bit more than you are used to paying. It's a trend that began in 2021 and in 2023, airline prices were 25% higher than prior years - outpacing inflation.

However, there is good news on the horizon and many industry experts expect prices to stabilize in 2024 and we should see the end of the dramatic year-over-year price hikes we saw in the aftermath of the pandemic. But, that doesn't necessarily help you NOW if you are working on booking a trip in the first part of the year.

So what gives? Why are prices still high and what can you do to help find the best deal.

Demand Takes Off and Isn't Slowing Down: Revenge Travel is Still a Thing

Picture this: everyone's travel itch, suppressed for years, erupts simultaneously. Boom! Demand for flights explodes, while airlines, still recovering from pandemic losses, haven't quite reached cruising altitude. Fewer planes, fewer pilots, fewer flights. It takes time to ramp up and increase flight options to meet demand, so airlines respond by cranking up the price to keep their heads above the clouds. It's basic economics, but ouch, does it sting.

The Return of the Road Warrior: Business Travel is Back

The pandemic brought business travel to a standstill, but years later companies are ditching the endless Zoom calls in favor of more face-to-face time and business travelers are hitting the friendly skies again. Remember what I said about demand earlier? That means there are even more travelers competing for those seats. Plus, business travel is big business for airlines and accounts for as much as 75% of an airline's revenue. Not to mention, business travelers typically fly more often and aren't as price sensitive as, say, a family of 4 looking to enjoy a Florida vacation. The result? Some of my clients have found certain domestic flights cost more than a flight to Europe.

The Feast or Famine of Flexibility:

Want to be spontaneous? Prepare for sticker shock. Airlines are pushing hard for those non-refundable, pre-booked fares. The flexibility of changing your plans comes at a premium, sometimes doubling or tripling the ticket price. So, unless you're a fortune teller with wings, booking last minute means digging deep.

But Wait, There's More!

Don't forget the ever-growing constellation of fees lurking in the fine print. Baggage fees, seat selection fees, even fees for breathing the recycled air – airlines have mastered the art of nickel-and-diming us to death. If you do opt to book with a budget airline, be sure to read the fine print because after adding in all those extra fees, it may not be the deal you think it is.

So, What's a Budget-Conscious Traveler to Do?

Fear not, intrepid explorers! While the skies may be stormy, there are still ways to navigate the pricing turbulence.

  • Become a Points Pro: This is my #1 tip. If you travel frequently, try to commit to a primary airline to help rank up those loyalty reward miles. Most airlines also offer credit cards that allow you to earn miles with each purchase you make. In my household, we use our United Visa Card for essentially everything except our mortgage and just pay it off each month. It can add up fast and my family has enjoyed some amazing trips where our flights cost essentially nothing (Chicago to Hawaii for 2, round-trip for $12 anyone?).

  • Be Flexible with Your Dates: Did you know flights can be cheaper some days of the week than others? Domestic flights can be up to 24% cheaper if you fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, but Wednesday and Thursday are your best bets if you are flying internationally.

  • Stalk Those Flight Prices Track prices with airfare alerts, and pounce on deals like a cheetah on a gazelle (minus the teeth, hopefully). Some claim searching for flights in an incognito may score you a better price, although I've not found that to be the case (but it never hurts to try).

  • Consider Alternatives: Trains, buses, even road trips can be surprisingly affordable options, especially for shorter distances. Last year we went to Key West but the flights were so high, we flew into Miami and made it a fun road trip through the Florida Keys.

Remember, knowledge is power, and when it comes to airline pricing, the more you know, the better equipped you are to weather the storm. So, arm yourself with these tips, keep your wanderlust compass spinning, and don't let sky-high prices clip your wings. Happy (and hopefully more affordable) travels!

P.S. Share your own airfare hacks and travel tips in the comments below! Let's help each other navigate the friendly skies without blowing the budget.



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