Consumers are spending again and hitting the road for travel. Cruise and tour operators are seeing much healthier bookings. It's hardly a return to glory days for the travel industry. But it is the beginning of the end for the buyer's market travelers have been enjoying since the global economy tanked. Here are some travel truisms.
Airfares Up, Hotel Rates Down. Bing Travel, a Microsoft company, trolls the Internet every day looking at airline and hotel rates. It consistently finds airfares up more than 20 percent from last year, while hotel rates are much softer, and are lower by 8-10 percent. The reason is that airlines have reduced costs by cutting flights and equipment use, so any uptick in demand flows through to higher rates much more quickly. Closing hotels is not such a winning strategy, so room rates are recovering more slowly until occupancy trends improve.
[See Best Mutual Funds 2010.] Luxury is Back. When people can once again afford to travel, they like to go first class. High-end facilities and tours are reporting near sold-out conditions, and the gold standard destinations are still popular. "While ocean liner cruises are always popular, small ship cruises like river cruises throughout Eastern and Western Europe, barge cruises in France and yacht cruises in places like Greece, Alaska and Australia, continue to grow in popularity," says John T. Peters, general manager of digital strategy and travel for Rand McNally. The company owns the online travel site, Tripology, which provides consumers with travel planning help and access to 14,000 travel agents.
"More travelers are looking for unique 'hosted' packages where the itinerary is pre-arranged with transfers, sightseeing and distinctive extras," he says. “Hosted packages allow consumers to vacation on their own -- versus motorcoach tours where you travel with a group -- yet take advantage of tour operator buying power."
Second Tier Bargains Abound. Demand for less exclusive and expensive travel clearly remains in recovery mode. There are bargains still to be had. "In 2010, while travel is still a bargain," Peters says, "airlines have cut the number of planes flying, some hotels have temporarily closed floors, and tour operators have reduced departures. For these reasons, the deals will not be as deep as in 2009."
Your (World) Cup Runneth Dry. That giant sucking sound you hear is South Africa failing to draw anticipated audiences for the World Cup in June and July. We will once again be reminded that most of the world goes ga-ga over soccer. But more of us will do it on television than promoters hoped.
Book Really Early. The return of healthier travel demand means you should lock-in your plans as soon as possible, particularly if you have limited time flexibility.
Book Really Late. Booking late is less attractive than it's been but booking really late is still a valid strategy for uber-flexible travelers. Airfares in late summer will offer some relief from early-summer prices.
Travel Insurance Looking Good. Iceland's volcanic ash has made this an easy sell these days. The memories of seas of exhausted travelers camped out in many European airports are still vivid. No one wants to repeat that experience, of course, but pity the poor vacationers who had no travel insurance.
Patience is a Virtue. How many ways can we say that it's an uncertain world out there? Itineraries get changed. Flights get delayed or cancelled. Mother Nature is not predictable. Stuff happens. To enjoy your travel, give yourself extra time for everything. Develop flexible travel plans.
And if you're traveling in the U.S. and nearby locales, here's a special list of flight and hotel pricing trends this summer, provided by Bing Travel. It covers top travel destinations, provided by Orbitz. Airfares are a blend of rates from all U.S. airports serving the destination city. Bing also predicts future price trends based on its analysis of fare histories.
Average summer airfare to Cancun (CUN) is $404 (up 22 per cent from last year, $330).
Average premium hotel rates in Cancun are $153 (up 2 per cent from last year, $150).
Average summer airfare to Chicago (ORD) is $290 (up 31 per cent from last year, $222).
Average premium hotel rates in Chicago are $241 (down 4 per cent from last year, $250).
Average summer airfare to Honolulu (HNL) is $714 (up 7 per cent from last year, $666).
Average premium hotel rates in Honolulu are $160 (down 3 per cent from last year, $165).
Average summer airfare to Las Vegas (LAS) is $325 (up 24 per cent from last year, $263).
Average premium hotel rates in Las Vegas are $104 (down 13 per cent from last year, $120).
Average summer airfare to Miami (MIA) is $284 (up 22 per cent from last year, $233).
Average premium hotel rates in Miami are $116 (down 11 per cent from last year, $129).
New York City:
Average summer airfare to New York City (JFK) is $291 (up 14 per cent from last year, $256).
Average premium hotel rates in New York City are $266 (flat from last year, $265).
Average summer airfare to Orlando (MCO) is $264 (up 19 per cent from last year, $222).
Average premium hotel rates in Orlando are $170 (down 9 per cent from last year, $187).
Average summer airfare to San Diego (SAN) is $321 (up 28 per cent from last year, $251).
Average premium hotel rates in San Diego are $173 (down 11 per cent from last year, $194).
Average summer airfare to San Francisco (SFO) is $324 (up 31 per cent from last year, $248).
Average premium hotel rates in San Francisco are $160 (down 12 per cent from last year, $183).
Average summer airfare to Washington D.C (IAD) is $317 (up 23 per cent from last year, $257).
Average premium hotel rates in Washington D.C are $287 (down 6 per cent from last year, $304).