Why Flight Prices Surge Ahead of Some Hurricanes, Like Irma, But Not Others

September 15, 2017, 8:43 PM UTC

Unfortunately, it’s a fact that price surges precede (and often follow) a hurricane storm surge.

Data from Kayak.com shows searches and prices for flights experienced a much bigger surge ahead of Hurricane Irma than they did in the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey making landfall in the Houston, Texas area.

“When you have a mandatory evacuation in a state as populous as Florida — you’ll see a lot more people on the move,” said David Solomito, vice president of North American Marketing at KAYAK. “In the case of Harvey, where there was no mandatory evacuation, we saw an increase in flight searches of about 15% in advance of the storm.”

Searches for flights out of Southern Florida on the site from September 4 to September 7 increased 388% compared to the week before. At the peak of the evacuation frenzy on Tuesday, September 5, search volume was up nearly 500% from the day before, according to Kayak.

Prices also peaked on Tuesday of that week. Flights that typically hovered around $350 the week before increased by 25% on the site. Car rental searches increased by nearly 700% in the South Florida area as the storm approached.

Of course, this kind of thing doesn’t just show up in data. As people tried to escape the path of Hurricane Irma and saw the price of flights out of Florida skyrocketing, they took screenshots of Delta and American Airlines.

It’s worth noting that hurricanes Irma and Harvey didn’t have quite the same impacts on search traffic and prices.

With more than 6.5 million people under evacuation order on the peninsula, fewer people were able to drive out of Irma’s path than in the Houston area where Hurricane Harvey made landfall the week before.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, car rental searches were up 136%, likely because Houston and other affected areas in Texas have higher than average car ownership rates. More people were able to drive to safety in their own vehicle and could likely get clear of the storm without having to even leave the state.

“The difference in evacuation strategies played a role here,” Solomito said. “Additionally, many flights out of SouthernFlorida were cancelled in the days leading up to Irma, which likely contributed to the spike in rental car searches out of the area.”

Flight prices out of Texas leading up to Hurricane Harvey were largely the same as the week prior, according to the data from Kayak. Search volume for flights on only increased by 15% the week before Harvey.