So what should you do?
This summer started out great for airlines and hotels. More than 10 million passengers were screened by the TSA from July 1-5, around 83% of the volume in 2019. The numbers definitely looked better than they did in 2020 throughout the summer season. However, a surge in Delta varient-fueled COVID cases forced travelers to pullback and the question “should I cancel?” started popping up on travel forums once again.
After a chaotic summer of uncertainty due to the rise in infections, travel bans, and cancellations, Americans are ready to kick off the holiday season. But when should you start planning?
Demand for Winter Travel
According to the vacation rental company Vrbo, Americans started planning their December holidays earlier than usual. In July, the company released that demand for Vrbo homes had increased more than 19% compared to 2019 and popular destinations were getting snatched up by early birds.
Melanie Fish, Vrbo’s travel expert, said, “We typically see December bookings peak in October and November, but families are locking in their holiday vacation plans much earlier than usual. Vacation homes have been quickly scooped up during every popular travel season this year, so it’s no surprise that families are planning ahead to ensure they have a great place to spend the holidays together.”
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Last year despite warnings by the CDC to avoid holiday travel, the TSA screened more than a million people for two consecutive days—the highest since the pandemic began. This year, travel booking app Hopper expects two million passengers going through the screenings every day, it revealed in its 2021 Holiday Travel Guide Report.
With prices soaring, the report also suggested booking airline tickets for Thanksgiving no later than Halloween to snag the best deals and getting Christmas tickets before Thanksgiving. “With domestic airfare for Christmas at around $430/round-trip, airfare is up 71% from 2020 ($250) and up 10% from 2019 ($390), suggesting airlines may be anticipating stronger Christmas travel relative to Thanksgiving,” it points out.
Rental house management software firm Guesty also anticipates higher prices on home rentals around Christmas. “Christmas is projected to be the most expensive holiday period in the United States this year, with consumers booking at rates 58% higher than 2020 and 82% higher than pre-Covid 2019. The average nightly rate for Christmas 2021 is already at $602/night, compared to $380/night in 2020 and $331/night in 2019.”
Guesty warns that holiday vacation rental bookings look optimistic, but it’s important to keep in mind that these numbers will continue to fluctuate due to new variants and the flu season.
Expert Tips When Booking Your Holiday
As it’s been for the past few months, don’t make any decisions before doing your homework on the destination. Take the CDC’s warning seriously; check infection and vaccination rates; consider buying good travel insurance. Things can change unexpectedly (Europe opened up to Americans this year, but countries added more restrictions after the Delta surge in the U.S.) and you should be prepared for it.
Start tracking and book by the end of October: Hopper recommends tracking holiday prices and buying as soon as you see a good deal. It suggests booking flights by the end of October.
You might be able to find last-minute deals: Scott’s Cheap Flights Member Operations Specialist Willis Orlando tells Fodor’s Travel, “During the summer, as optimism about travel skyrocketed, airlines put hundreds of planes back in the sky, adding an enormous amount of capacity on popular domestic leisure routes in particular. Demand hasn’t quite kept up with this surge in supply, and airlines have been left to scramble to fill empty seats, which has resulted in intense competition, very low fares, and even some last-minute deals the likes of which we rarely saw pre-pandemic.” However, when things normalize, these trends will become less common.
Look for flexible cancellation policies: Confirm your airline’s cancellation policy and try to book a flight that allows you to change dates or refunds your amount if you cancel. Guesty recommends booking platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com that have flexible policies that do not require pre-payments for accommodation bookings. The company implores travelers to consider booking in advance because last-minute bookings will likely result in high average nightly rates and less inventory to choose from.