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April 9, 2014

2014 Summer Travel Guide


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Scott McCartney
Cooped up all winter and eager for warm
summer fun? So are millions of other
travelers, driving summer travel prices
higher as they snatch up airline seats and
hotel rooms early.
Airlines and online travel agencies say 25%
to 30% of tickets for travel between
Memorial Day and Labor Day are already
sold. Early buying shows U.S. travelers are
ready to venture farther, with strong demand
for Hawaii and Europe in particular. British Airways IAG.MC -0.71% ' website already says
its cheapest round-trip price anytime in July is $1,487 for a round-trip between London
and New York. This month, the lowest price offered is $821.
U.S.-to-Europe bookings for summer trips are up 9% compared with this time last year,
according to Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets for online and traditional
travel agencies. Prices to Europe are up an average 7% on tickets sold, ARC said.
"There is somewhat pent-up demand for people who put off big summer trips in past
years," said Chuck Thackston, ARC's managing director of data and analytics.
One destination that bargain buyers are jumping on: Milan, which has new nonstop service
on Emirates Airline from New York's Kennedy International Airport. Milan has seen a 97%
increase in summer-travel ticket volume over the same selling period last year and a 22%
price drop down to an average of $1,500 from $1,924.
Another bargain destination: Russia, out of favor because of political unrest in Eastern
Europe. Hotel companies say bookings have been very weak and airfares are so cheap you
can buy a ticket from the U.S. to Moscow cheaper than to London or Pariseven when
making a connection through London or Paris.
Two flights are cheaper than one: From New
York, Air France AF.FR +0.52% offers round-
trip fares for mid-June travel of $1,141 to
Moscow with a stop in Paris and $1,552 to
Paris on the same dates. (You can't book the
flight to Russia and just stay in France without
voiding the return half of the ticket.) A Delta
Air Lines DAL +0.78% nonstop to Moscow in
mid-June costs $1,065, but a Delta nonstop to
London on the same dates is $1,591, and
Moscow is 1,250 miles farther east.
The World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil is
driving heavy bookings. Orbitz says ticket sales
for the June-to-August travel season to Rio de Janeiro this year are 454% higher than last
year at this time, and fares have shot up as well. Prices for trips to Natal, Brazil, which will
host the first match for the U.S. team, are up 84%; Rio fares are up 39% based on tickets
already purchased, Orbitz said.
For domestic trips, ticket sales have increased 5% and prices are up 4%, ARC said. The
biggest price increases have been on flights to Hawaii, which have averaged about 15%
higher, but demand remains strong, according to ARC.
Warmer destinations, some with less-than-pristine summer weather, have been showing
huge demand. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando in Florida have all seen double-digit
price increases already, Orbitz said. And the top destination booked for summer so far on
Orbitz is Cancun, Mexico, which was No. 3 at this time last year. Cancun jumped ahead of
Orlando and Las Vegas. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, also
had huge increases in buying.
London is the most popular European destination from the U.S. Summer bookings are
already up 9.2%. Getty Images
"People are still reeling from winter weather," said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of
Orbitz.com. In many of those destinations, she notes, hurricane season starts in June and
temperatures get so hot that seasonal travel slows and prices typically drop in summer.
"We're seeing people go a little bit farther and pay a little bit more," she said.
It's the same story for hotels in popular destinations this year. The average price of hotels
booked on Orbitz in Mazatlan, Mexico is up 59% compared with January-to-March
bookings for summer last year. Florence hotels are up an average 27%, Berlin up 23%,
London up 20% and Rio up 19%.
Bob Diener, a co-founder of Hotels.com who now runs a website called Getaroom.com that
specializes in unpublished prices for hotel rooms sold only over the phone, says summer
travelers have not only been booking early this year but also booking longer stays.
Hotel rates are running 3% to 5% higher on average, and travelers this year shouldn't
expect to find last-minute bargains as they have in the past, he said. Some hotels have
upped the use of advance-purchase requirements on discounted prices. Dream South Beach
has different price levels for purchases seven, 21, 60 and 90 days in advance. Mr. Diener
recommended booking summer travel at least 21 days out. "Booking 60 days out is even
better," he said.
Travel companies say there's not much question about when to buy summer airfare:
Earlier is better, particularly this year. Jeff Klee, chief executive of CheapAir.com, says
European airfares have already gone up an average $100 since mid-January, and as planes
fill up, fares go for remaining seats. Paris and London fares have been particularly high.
Dublin has been the least expensive European destination at CheapAir.com, followed by
Moscow.
For domestic trips, a CheapAir study looking at hundreds of millions of airfares showed 54
days in advance was the best time to buy, Mr. Klee said. But that can vary considerably
between 29 to 100 days. "Domestic fares are so volatile," he said. As always, flying on a
Tuesday or Wednesday can yield savings.
June has the highest airfares of any month, according to Kayak, which studied the prices
displayed by airlines, at an average of $652, which is 21% higher than the $537 average for
the whole year. July was close behind at $627 in average fare.
The big increase in trans-Atlantic fares comes as the airline industry has consolidated
through both mergers and joint ventures. As of Jan. 1, London-based Virgin Atlantic is now
in a joint venture with Delta Air Lines, which owns a 49% stake in Virgin. As of the summer
schedule, US Airways moves into a joint venture with its new owner, American Airlines,
and its partners British Airways and Iberia.
This summer, airline capacity between the U.S. and Europe will be up about 4.5%, a modest
expansion that may ease pricing pressure a bit, said Craig Jenks, president of
Airline/Aircraft Projects Inc., a consultancy. On the other hand, multiple joint ventures will
have 90% market share on flights between the U.S. and Europe, up from 80% last summer,
and that takes away some price competition.
"US Airways, in particular, was a price arbitrager, if not outright disrupter" in past years,
Mr. Jenks said. Independent carriers driving competition include Ireland's Aer Lingus,
EIL1.DB -1.78% which adds flights to San Francisco this year, Icelandair, ICEAIR.RK -0.55%
Norwegian, Air Europa, which plans to add flights to Miami from Madrid May 30, and
Emirates.
British Airways has added capacity from London to New York and Seattle, plus a new
Boeing BA +2.20% 787 flight to Austin, Texas. New flights sometimes offer the opportunity
for cheaper prices as airlines build traffic, but not in this case. A round-trip ticket on the
new Austin-London nonstop departing June 11 and returning June 18 was priced at $1,731,
while British Airways offered round trips from nearby Dallas-Fort Worth for $1,674 on the
same dates.