Shirshikov flew his family from New York to Albuquerque this spring, and he says it was a hassle and too expensive. So, for Thanksgiving, he drives from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to visit relatives. With three children under 5, he will make frequent stops and stay in hotels.
“Thefts were out of the question,” says Shirshikov, who runs a real estate investment firm in New York. “Gasoline prices are definitely a concern. We are a little worried about any impending health issues and would love to lose the money we have already spent on the trip if it meant everyone was healthier.
Many travelers have already begun to wonder if this fall will be a repeat of summer, with high fares and many cancellations. And what about gasoline prices, which peaked at the height of the summer travel season?
Travel insurance expert Chiranth Nataraj predicts the number of air travelers will return to 2019 levels this Thanksgiving. But Nataraj, president and CEO of International Services and founder of Visitor Guard, says it will be anything but business as usual. As airlines continue to experience staff shortages and other operational issues, he expects more flight cancellations than last Thanksgiving.
“Covid will also play a big role this Thanksgiving and cause medical uncertainty for many travelers,” Nataraj said.
That said, fall travel won’t be an unwanted sequel to summer travel, according to Michael Taylor, managing director of travel, hospitality and retail at JD Power, a marketing research firm. It will be more of a spin-off.
“Last summer was characterized by strong demand that didn’t seem to be blunted by rising ticket, room or car rental fees,” he says. “Thanksgiving trips are very date specific. And airlines will better understand what the current system can handle compared to what happened last summer.
Experts predict that gas prices will remain stable. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts retail gasoline prices to average $3.60 per gallon in the fourth quarter and $3.61 per gallon in 2023.
But air fares will remain high. Airfare app Hopper sees the average domestic round-trip airfare hit $373 in November, up 24% from 2019, the last year before the pandemic. You may find lower fares if you book earlier in the fall, but prices are rising rapidly from the August average of $286. Hotel rates will also remain stubbornly high. Hopper says average room rates this fall ($217 per night) are 28% higher than in 2019.
This isn’t the year to wait for a last-minute deal, says Christina Tunnah, general manager for the Americas at travel insurance company World Nomads. “Don’t try to outsmart the market,” she says. “The cheapest time to book is always in the past.”
So price-wise, it’s going to be almost as tough as it was in the summer, excluding gas prices. But it depends where you want to go.
“The cost of airfare and accommodation will be at summer level for the most popular destinations, such as Mexico and the Caribbean,” said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group. But Europe will cost significantly less than last summer due to weaker demand.
It won’t be just another Thanksgiving. Even the last “normal” Thanksgiving in 2019 was different, says Matthew Colbert, founder of Empire Aviation Services. At the time, the planes were full, but the flights were numerous.
He warns that if you treat this holiday like previous Thanksgivings, you’ll be in trouble. “It’s a short and intense vacation and travel period, and any mishap can cause a big headache. Travelers should allow more time at each end of the journey to get where they are going and back.
Baruch Silvermann, CEO of Smart Investor, said travelers have overpaid for plane tickets this summer. Worse still, they were on uncomfortably crowded flights.
But there are ways to make Thanksgiving trips less frantic — and less expensive.
“If you can travel before the holiday rush or plan to return the following Tuesday or Wednesday, you can reduce the risk of crowded flights where you could easily get hit,” he says.
Research from online travel agency CheapAir suggests avoiding the Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving (November 19 and 20) and the Saturday and Sunday after the holidays (November 26 and 27). The cheapest days to travel are Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
How do you clear up those Thanksgiving travel hurdles? If you’re flying, you could do what travel consultant Andrew Steinberg does for his clients: hire an airport greeter to guide you through the chaos. An airport concierge can find a faster way through security or a shortcut to your gate or airline club. Services start at around $100 per person. “With cancellations, lost luggage and general confusion, it’s worth the cost to have on-the-ground support to help iron out any potential issues, especially internationally,” says Steinberg, who works for Ovation Networks.
Maybe you can’t escape high prices or Thanksgiving cancellations, but you can get away from the crowds. Consider America’s favorite Thanksgiving destination for six years, according to a survey by Allianz Partners USA. “Since the survey began in 2016, Allianz has found that the most visited US city by Americans for Thanksgiving festivities is New York City,” said Daniel Durazo, spokesman for Allianz.
Perhaps Shirshikov is making a smart move by taking advantage of lower gas prices — and leaving the crowds of Manhattan behind.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.