May 27, 2023 - Economy

It's the summer of international travel — despite high prices

Illustration of Ben Franklin looking out of a plane window.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Even as travelers gripe about sky-high ticket prices, air travel — especially the international variety — is way up as we head into summer.

The big picture: With COVID-19 restrictions largely a thing of the past, travelers are itching to dust off their passports.

  • There's especially high demand for tickets to Japan, leading to higher ticket prices, says Clint Henderson, managing editor of travel site The Points Guy.
  • China, too, has opened back up — but airlines haven't yet restored their pre-pandemic service levels, meaning there's a shortage of available seats.

Plus, the U.S. dollar is currently weak against many other currencies, effectively hiking the cost of buying goods and services abroad.

  • "International travel has fully rebounded and then some," Henderson tells Axios.

By the numbers: U.S.-to-Europe tickets are averaging $1,300 round trip, per deal-spotting site Hopper — a 50% jump from last year.

  • Tickets to Asia, meanwhile, are up a staggering 70% compared to pre-pandemic figures, averaging nearly $2,000 round trip.
  • This'll be the most expensive Memorial Day weekend for international travel in at least a half-decade, Hopper says.

What they're saying: "While U.S. travelers are returning in droves to popular destinations including New York and Cancun, the biggest year-over-year increases are for longer-haul destinations including Auckland, Hong Kong and Osaka," per travel booking site Expedia's summer forecast.

  • Hopper says the top international destinations are London, Paris and Tokyo, plus "newly open Asian destinations," including South Korea and Shanghai.

Between the lines: Airlines are opting for bigger planes but fewer overall flights this summer amid an air traffic controller shortage and aircraft production issues.

  • United Airlines COO Toby Enqvist called this summer's travel season the airline's Super Bowl.

Yes, but: The rise of emerging low-cost airlines, such as Norway's Norse Atlantic Airways, is helping to suppress prices in the markets they serve, Henderson says.

Be smart: If you're looking for a (relatively) cheap international getaway from the U.S., Henderson recommends Southeast Asia — particularly Thailand and Indonesia — where your dollar goes further.

  • The dollar is also "insanely strong" against Turkey's lira right now, he adds. (The U.S. State Department, however, cautions against visiting regions close to or along the Syrian border.)
  • And domestic airfare is getting cheaper, with the average round-trip ticket at $273, per Hopper, down 26% from last year.

The bottom line: "Last summer was predominantly a domestic travel summer. This summer is all about international travel," Hopper's consumer travel expert Lindsay Schwimer tells Axios.

  • "Americans are really eager to get out there and take those bucket list trips."
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