Have you noticed flight prices going through the roof lately? You're not alone. The cost of plane tickets has risen drastically in 2022, leaving many travelers frustrated and searching for answers. In this blog post, we'll break down the key reasons flights have gotten so expensive and provide tips to help you find affordable airfare, even in today's high-priced environment.
It's no secret that booking a flight nowadays often requires taking out a small loan. But why have prices for plane tickets increased so sharply? Several factors have combined to drive the cost of air travel upward.
Inflation Driving Up Airline Operating Costs
One of the biggest contributors to pricier plane tickets is good ol' inflation. As consumer prices have risen across the board in 2022, airlines have been hit with higher operating expenses. From fuel to crew salaries to in-flight snacks, nearly everything costs more for airlines to provide today.
Major airlines have reported double-digit percentage increases in their unit costs this year. And unsurprisingly, many have raised ticket prices to help offset these higher expenses. Delta, for example, said its operating costs per seat mile were up 22% in the first quarter of 2022.
So as long as widespread inflation persists, travelers can expect elevated airfares to stick around. Airlines aren't going to absorb all those added costs themselves. They're businesses after all, not charities for budget travelers!
Shortage of Planes as Airlines Struggle Post-Pandemic
Here's an economics 101 lesson: when supply is low and demand is high, prices rise. And that's exactly what's happening in the airline industry today.
During the depths of the pandemic, airlines parked planes and made big cuts to survive. Now travel demand has roared back, but the supply of available seats hasn't kept up.
With fewer planes in service, airlines are struggling to carry the surge of eager travelers looking to make up for lost time being stuck at home. It's a supply and demand mismatch. And we travelers are the ones paying the price, quite literally.
Pilot and Flight Attendant Shortages
Along with fewer aircraft, airlines are also grappling with a shortage of pilots and flight attendants. During 2020 and 2021, many pilots and crew members were offered early retirement or buyouts as airlines downsized.
Now air travel has rebounded, but all those experienced pilots and attendants are no longer around. It takes substantial time and training to develop new hires. So airlines are scrambling to staff up amid huge demand.
This staffing crunch has forced some carriers to trim schedules and cancel flights. That strains the system even more and drives prices higher. It's a perfect storm that has made cheap last-minute airfare an endangered species.
Pent-Up Demand for Travel as Pandemic Restrictions Ease
After two years of quarantines, border closures, testing requirements, and other obstacles to travel, people are beyond ready to get out and explore again. There is tremendous pent-up demand from consumers who've had to put their vacation plans on hold.
Now with most pandemic restrictions lifted, travelers are making up for lost time. Everyone seems to be booking flights this year - families visiting relatives, groups of friends having bachelor/bachelorette parties, and folks chasing their bucket list adventures.
This surge in travel demand is colliding with reduced supply, sending fares upward. Air travel is as popular as ever, but the industry's capacity can't fully meet this boom.
Fuel Costs Have Skyrocketed
Of all the supply chain disruptions and price increases from inflation, perhaps none have hit airlines harder than the rise in jet fuel prices. Fuel is an airline's single biggest cost, so when oil and gas prices spike, it's devastating for the bottom line.
The average price for jet fuel has nearly doubled over the past two years. Just within the last 12 months, it has shot up around 60%. This is by far the largest contributor to airlines' escalating operating expenses.
Carriers have no choice but to tack on fuel surcharges and raise base fares to try covering these astronomical fuel costs. Some analysts think if oil drops below $90 a barrel again, it could bring a reprieve to sky-high airfares. But for now, fuel remains a huge financial burden for airlines and travelers alike.
Extra Fees and Surcharges Added to Ticket Prices
Over the last decade, airlines have become increasingly reliant on ancillary fees as a revenue stream. You're now charged extra for checked bags, seat assignments, onboard snacks and drinks, and more.
These fees and surcharges have become huge profit drivers that pad airlines' bottom lines. And travelers should expect even more add-on costs as airlines grapple with inflation and supply chain woes.
Charging for extras allows airlines to advertise lower base fares. But by the time you select seats and check bags for your family, that cheap fare can balloon significantly. Savvy flyers need to factor in these fees when comparing ticket prices.
Many airlines also tack on fuel surcharges when oil prices spike. These can range from 10 to upwards of 50 each way. So on top of higher base fares, fuel surcharges are another way carriers pass on skyrocketing fuel costs to us.
Between surging demand, limited capacity, and mounting expenses for airlines, all signs point to elevated airfares being the new norm. But the good news is there are still ways for savvy travelers to find affordable flights, even in today's environment.
Tips for Finding Cheaper Flights
While the cheapest last-minute deals may be scarce, you can still unearth some flight bargains with smart planning and a bit of effort. Here are 10 tips to help you keep airfare costs under control:
1. Be Flexible with Travel Dates
If your schedule allows, staying flexible with your departure and return dates can open up cheaper flight options. Consider searching a few days before and after your ideal travel window. If you see major fare differences on nearby dates, it may be worth shifting your trip plans.
2. Book Early, But Not Too Early
In most cases, booking at least a few weeks in advance scores you the best fares. But booking ultra-early like 6+ months out can also backfire. Airlines will often open bookings 330 days out or so, but introductory fares that far in advance don't always last. Aim for the 4-8 week sweet spot for domestic U.S. flights.
3. Travel Midweek and Off-Peak Times
Flights are generally more expensive on weekends than weekdays. And peak travel seasons drive up demand and prices too. If your plans allow, fly midweek and during shoulder seasons for the best values.
4. Use Flight Comparison Sites
Check aggregator sites like Kayak, Google Flights, and Skyscanner to quickly scan options across different airlines and routes. Setting price alerts can also notify you when fares drop on specific travel dates.
5. Consider Budget Airlines
Major carriers have cut their cheapest economy class options. For the lowest base fares, look at budget operators like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant. Just know you'll pay more for add-ons like seat assignments, so do the math.
6. Mix and Match One-Way Tickets
Sometimes booking two one-way tickets on different airlines is cheaper than a round-trip fare. But this takes more research, since you'll have to compare multiple options.
7. Take Advantage of Sales and Deals
Sign up for airline email alerts and follow their social accounts to hear about limited-time sales and promotions. Flash sales can offer deep discounts, even when standard fares are high.
8. Use Miles and Points
If you've been saving up airline miles and credit card points, now's the time to cash them in for flights. This can help offset high cash fares. Signing up for a new travel rewards card can earn you a large lump of points too.
9. Fly Basic Economy
Basic economy fares are restrictive—you can't pick seats ahead of time and you'll board last. But if you pack light and don't mind uncertainty, these fares can offer substantial savings over standard economy.
10. Try Private Airfare Sales Sites
For last-minute deals, check sites like Priceline's Last-Minute Deals or Secret Flying. You can find unsold premium seats at big discounts within a few weeks of departure. The tradeoff is no cancellations or changes allowed.
When to Book Flights for the Best Deals
Finding budget airfare often comes down to precise timing. Here are some guidelines on when to book for maximum savings:
Book midweek flights. According to The Points Guy, the cheapest days to depart are typically Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Book 6-7 months out for international. Watch for fare sales and book when prices are favorable.
Book domestic flights 4-8 weeks in advance. This is the prime booking window for getting good rates.
Book on Sundays. Fare sale discounts are often rolled out on Sundays when airlines are trying to stimulate bookings for the coming week.
Book 28-35 days before departure. Multiple studies have found this is the "sweet spot" where airfares tend to be lowest, on average. Don't wait until the last couple weeks.
Be flexible. Searching a few days before/after your ideal dates can uncover cheaper flights, especially if your travel is not tied to set plans.
Paying attention to booking windows, travel days, and sales cycles can help you score lower fares. But there are always exceptions too. Flexibility and regularly checking prices remain your best bets for deals.
To recap, flights have gotten astronomically expensive lately due to:
- High inflation driving up airline operating expenses
- A shortage of planes and pilots as airlines rebuild capacity
- Huge pent-up demand as travelers make up for lost time
- Skyrocketing fuel costs as oil and jet fuel prices climb
- Extra fees and surcharges added to boost airline revenues
Finding cheap airfare still takes work, but being an informed flyer can help you save substantially:
- Book 4-8 weeks out for domestic and 6+ months for international
- Search midweek and off-peak travel dates
- Use comparison sites to find deals across airlines
- Take advantage of fare sales and sign up for price alerts
- Consider budget carriers but watch for fees
- Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Sundays for lowest fares
- Mix and match one-way tickets on different airlines
Even with high airfares, you can still get to your dream destination without breaking the bank. Flexibility, planning ahead, and knowing tricks like mid-week and off-peak travel are key. Don't let outrageous flight costs clip your wings!