Flying is cheaper in 2024. But not for some destinations

Personal finance

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Americans traveling this summer have broadly seen prices fall for airline fares, a welcome trend after last year’s sticker shock.

But airfare remains more expensive in 2024 for some regions and destinations, largely for trips abroad, data shows.

For example, an average round-trip flight to Tokyo, Japan — one of the top hot spots for American tourists — costs $1,372 this summer, up 2% from 2023, according to travel site Hopper.

Flights to Canada, South America, and the Middle East and Africa regions are also up 6%, 2% and 1%, respectively, from summer 2023, Hopper found.

Of course, there’s significant variation among the cities and countries of such vast regions and continents.

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For example, while the price of a round-trip fare to Asia is flat from a year ago, those for certain destinations have soared: by 65% (to $3,196) for an average flight to Sakata, a coastal city in the northeast of Japan; by 42% (to $4,190) to Ipoh, among Malaysia’s biggest cities; and by 35% (to $4,092) to Udon Thani, in Thailand’s northeast, according to Hopper.

High prices to certain Asian cities impact many American tourists since the continent is their second-most frequented international travel destination, Hopper said.

Flights are also up for some major hubs in South America, according to Hopper: by 16% (to $955) to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; by 34% (to $667) to Lima, Peru; and by 13% (to $826) to Santiago, Chile, for example.

Average fares to Europe, the most popular trip abroad for Americans, are down 8% in summer 2024 versus a year ago, when they were at record highs. But they’re still elevated in some areas like Friedrichshafen and Memmingen, in southern Germany, and Bratislava, Slovakia. Fares there are up 265%, 109% and 99%, respectively.

Travel prices have fallen broadly

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“Last year was kind of an extraordinarily expensive year,” said Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper.

International travel was especially costly as consumers unleashed pent-up demand to go abroad following Covid-19-related restrictions, many nations reopened their borders to foreign visitors, airlines worked to re-establish their flight schedules and jet fuel prices soared.  

Some of those dynamics haven’t yet unwound for certain areas. Additionally, specific destinations have their own idiosyncratic supply-and-demand factors that have kept prices high.

Overall, though, travelers have gotten broad price relief.

Average airline fares for flights originating in the U.S. fell by 5.8% in the year from April 2023 to April 2024, according to the consumer price index. They’ve declined almost 1% in just the past month.

“Mostly what we’re seeing [now] is tremendous improvement across most routes,” Berg said. “I do expect that to continue.”

However, Americans may feel flight prices are broadly increasing due to certain airline trends like higher fees for checked bags, said Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet.

Major carriers including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines raised their checked-bag fees this year, for example.

While those fee hikes are generally $5 more per bag, that can add up, especially for round-trip fares for families, French said.

“It can completely inflate the cost of your trip,” she said.

There are ways to save, though, such as flying with certain airlines, combining bags, or even trying to forgo checking a bag altogether. If you know you’ll have to check a bag, doing so ahead of flight check-in will likely save you money, too.

Booking a flight well ahead — at least one to three months before a domestic trip, and three to four months ahead of international travel — is another way to save on flight costs, French said. Airlines generally don’t reduce airfare at the last minute, unlike many hotels, for example, she said.

Other ways to save include being flexible with travel time — perhaps by visiting a destination during a shoulder season instead of its peak, or flying mid-week instead of around weekends. Don’t forget to use rewards like frequent-flier miles and certain perks like travel insurance offered by some credit cards.

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