Skip to main content
By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Expensive flights are here to stay, but there’s good news

Airfare experts say plane tickets got pricier during the pandemic, but they could still be cheaper than last year

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
4 min

Shocked by the price of flying lately? You’re not alone.

“Airfares are expensive, more expensive and a lot more expensive,” said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, a travel services provider. He said some customers have even asked whether they could save money on plane tickets by flying somewhere close to their destination and renting a car.

For the week starting Jan. 30, leisure airfare prices on top domestic routes averaged $289 for the three biggest carriers in the country, 71 percent higher than in 2019, according to Bob Harrell of Harrell Associates, a company that tracks airfares.

The travel booking app Hopper forecasts that domestic airfare will reach about $277 for a round-trip ticket this month, then increase as more people book their spring and summer trips. Airfare is expected to peak around $350 this summer.

There is good news: That number is lower than last year’s peak of about $400, when a post-omicron wave of travelers returned to the skies despite airlines still operating at lower capacity.

Airlines are getting tough on ‘personal items,’ and it could cost you

“We expect prices to be lower than last year, because we’re not going to have that bubble of very intense recent travel demand combined with very low capacity from airlines,” said Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist. She noted that jet fuel prices also increased significantly last year between January and May: “Everything that could have driven up prices happened at once.”

On the not-so-great side, plane tickets are still expected to cost more than they did before the pandemic began.

That’s because many of the factors that were at play last year remain an issue this year, Berg said. Jet fuel prices are still very high, consumers still have huge appetites for travel and airlines are still not operating full pre-pandemic schedules, she said.

“This year, we expect prices to be very high — higher than 2019, higher than 2018 — but not as high as that very incredible peak that we saw in 2022,” Berg said.

The best airports for cheap flights abroad, according to new data

Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, agreed that prices could fall year over year and said that the broader economic environment will also play a role in pricing this year.

“If the economy remains uncertain — between layoffs that we’ve seen and companies looking for ways to reduce expenses — if we don’t see business travel return to the level before the pandemic began, it’s very possible that airfares this year may be lower than they were in 2022,” he said.

Although Hopper’s data is looking at national average prices, Berg said there will be occasions where some travelers on specific routes will pay far higher fares than what’s in their comfort zone. That’s especially likely in smaller markets where competition has decreased or where airlines are flying less frequently.

“There are definitely travelers who are having that sticker shock of, ‘Wow, I’ve never paid this much to fly on this route,’” she said.

We asked: What happens if TSA finds weed in my bag?

“There are definitely travelers who are having that sticker shock of, ‘Wow, I’ve never paid this much to fly on this route.’”
— Hopper lead economist Hayley Berg

To find fares that are better deals, Expedia travel expert Melanie Fish said in a statement to The Washington Post that leaving on a weekday instead of a weekend will be less costly. The company’s flight data shows that flying on April 4, a Tuesday, instead of April 1, a Saturday, could save an average of nearly $125 for a round-trip flight.

Fish said cities, either in the United States or abroad, are also a better deal now as other travelers head to soak up the sun on the beach or hit the slopes.

Harteveldt said his advice to anyone looking for a flight is to book, then keep searching for deals, as long as the airline will issue a travel voucher if you cancel and rebook.

“If your budget allows, book the flight so you have that fare, and keep shopping,” he said. “Check back every so often. If the fare goes down, you can call the airline and ask how you go about canceling and then rebooking at that lower airfare.”