Travel experts say pent-up travel demand is about to burst from the seams for the summer.
It's leading to price increases for all things travel-related. You may have noticed that while searching for flights, trying to book a rental car or getting a ride-share from the airport.
"It’s the laws of supply and demand," said Rick Seaney, a Dallas-based travel expert and CEO of travel analytics firm 3Victors and FareCompare.com. “There’s only so many slots you can fly into airports in Florida, for example."
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With more people getting vaccinated and pandemic restrictions lifting in different parts of the country, more people are itching to travel.
In April, NBC 5 reported on the busy travel season ahead. More than half of Americans are set to take a trip in the next three months, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
The Transportation Security Administration even said it's hiring more than 6,000 security officers nationwide before the summer to prepare for the influx.
Seaney said TSA numbers are also showing the U.S. is back to two-thirds of the travel volume of 2019, but with fewer places to choose from.
Seaney's technology with 3Victors allowed him to take a deep dive into a metric known as the "look to book ratio" or "search to book ratio."
He shared some of that data with NBC 5 to get a better understanding the movement and flow of airline travelers as the industry continues to recover. The data literally allows him to see what this pent-up travel demand looks like.
“There’s good news and bad news baked into the data," he said.
The above graph shows search demand for flights right now in the U.S.
The blue line is 2019, when travel was normal. That orange line was 2020, and you can see where it took a dive. The red line, though, is this year and you can see the spike in searches in March.
Seaney said that comes from the stimulus checks hitting that month and more people getting vaccinated while reopenings continue across different destinations.
Unfortunately, international travel continues to remain stagnant.
“International travel is going to take a while, business travel will take a while," Seaney said. "I do see a little bit of shopping for places like Paris and London for outside of summer, like late August or early September. I think they’ve announced a couple of weeks ago that they’re going to be opening back up for business if you’ve been vaccinated, but there were no real details. So I guess that’s TBD.”
Actual flight bookings (above) are also slowly trending upward much higher than last year, inching closer to 2019 numbers.
But here's where a new trend kicks in. Seaney provided a graph below showing in what time frame people are booking flights ahead of their departure.
Those two green bars show significantly more people are booking flights at the last minute, within 30 days of departure.
"That one thing I noticed that was a little bit odd, was that people weren’t shopping way out in advance like two or three months in advance. They were actually shopping closer in than they normally would," Seaney said. "For example, the bulk of that shopping that was occurring in March and April was for travel before Memorial Day, not actually in the summer."
So that means we have yet to see the spike that’s about to occur in summer travel.
But why are people waiting until the last minute to book?
“First of all, there was a bunch of stimulus checks that came out in March and another wave actually came in April when they weren’t delivered in a timely fashion, so I think that's part of it," Seaney said. "I also think because people might want to change the location or date. They want to see if something is going to open up at the last minute. I see all of this great vaccine news, maybe something will open up. I think those are a couple of theories that I have."
He added that we have yet to the travel spike that's about to happen in the summer.
"If you are planning on travel, I will go ahead and start to book a little bit further out, go ahead and start shopping," he warned. "And I think you’ll see prices are going to start going up fairly dramatically in the 5%, 10% and 15% range for some of these destinations that are super popular like Orlando and Las Vegas. I expect these ticket prices to go up pretty dramatically over the next couple of months."
Seaney also pulled some data for us on where people in Dallas are traveling to the most. Common themes include domestic destinations with mountains, beaches and pretty much all of Florida.
"They all want to go to the same spots, which is warm and as few pandemic restrictions as there can be," he said.
Interestingly, places like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York are still struggling to recover. That's because those cities relied on business travel, which is still mostly non-existent.