Thanksgiving airfares aren’t just back to where they were before the pandemic—they’re much higher

Passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Passengers arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on November 22nd. Airlines are preparing for an increase in passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with demand expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels.
Kevin Dietsch—Getty Images

‘Tis the season to be jolly—unless you are trying to buy a plane ticket. 

Soaring inflation and pent-up demand after pandemic-era travel restrictions are affecting flight prices for the rest of the year—just as people in the U.S. gear up to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday

A round-trip ticket for a domestic flight in the week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday now costs $398, up 30% from 2021 and 33% from 2019 prices, according to data from Hopper Inc., a mobile travel application. And round-trip fares for international destinations within the same time period are now averaging $1,033, which is 17% higher than in 2021 and 29% above 2019 prices.

There are a few different reasons for expensive plane fares this year, Hopper’s lead economist Hayley Berg told Fortune, including jet fuel prices, higher labor costs, and a more rigid travel demand. 

Jet fuel prices have surged nearly 90% compared to 2019 levels, and Berg estimates that about 10% of that increase is being passed on to consumers. Travelers are also more likely to commit to traveling home to see their families, compared to a summer trip where they might have more leeway to pick their trip dates.

“We have a huge volume of people who want to book tickets for Thanksgiving and for Christmas,” she said.

Many Americans are facing those higher prices firsthand as the country gets ready for its busiest travel season since COVID hit the U.S. in early 2020. 

Between Nov. 23 and Nov. 27, nearly 4.5 million people are expected to fly for Thanksgiving this year, according to travel group AAA. That’s 8% higher than 2021, and just 1% short of travel numbers for 2019.

Two million travelers have passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints each day since Nov. 17. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to screen 2.5 million passengers on the Sunday of this week, following Thanksgiving celebrations. That number would be higher than 2021 levels, but still down from a historic high of 2.9 million in 2019, according to the agency.

So although inflation is forcing many Americans to reconsider their spending habits, it seems travelers are not holding back on their travel plans.

“All of the research that we have done, and we have seen coming from other industry leaders, is that families are trading out expenses on consumer goods for expenses on travel as they tighten their budget,” Berg said.

AAA predicts that 2022 will be the third busiest year of Thanksgiving travel since 2000. 

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