Shirshikov moved his family from New York to Albuquerque this spring, and says it was a hassle and too expensive. So for Thanksgiving, you’re driving from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to visit relatives. With three children under the age of 5, you will make frequent stops and stay in hotels.
“Flights were out of the question,” says Shirshikov, who runs a real estate investment firm in New York City. “Gas prices are definitely a concern. We’re a little worried about any health issues coming up and we’d lose the money we’ve already spent on the trip if it meant keeping everyone healthy.”
Many travelers have already begun to wonder if this fall will be a repeat of summer, with high fares and numerous cancellations. And what about gas prices, which hit their peak around the summer travel season?
Travel insurance expert Chiranth Nataraj predicts that the number of air travelers will return to 2019 levels this Thanksgiving. But Nataraj, president and CEO of International Services and founder of the Visitor Guard, says it will be anything but business as usual. As airlines continue to experience staffing shortages and other operational issues, expect more flight cancellations than last Thanksgiving.
“Covid will also play a big role this Thanksgiving and cause medical uncertainty for many travelers,” says Nataraj.
That said, fall travel won’t be an unintended sequel to summer travel, according to Michael Taylor, managing director of travel, hospitality and retail at JD Power, a market research firm. It will be more of a spin-off.
“Last summer was characterized by a sustained demand that did not seem to be mitigated by the increase in ticket, room or car rental prices,” he says. “Thanksgiving travel is very date-specific. And airlines will have a better understanding of what the current system can handle versus what happened last summer.”
Experts predict that gas prices will remain stable. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that retail gasoline prices will average $3.60 per gallon in the fourth quarter and $3.61 per gallon in 2023.
But airfares will remain high. Airfare app Hopper predicts the average domestic round-trip airfare will reach $373 in November, up 24 percent from 2019, the last year before the pandemic. You can find lower rates if you book earlier in the fall, but prices are rising quickly from an average of $286 in August. Hotel rates will also remain stubbornly high. Hopper says average room rates this fall ($217 per night) are 28 percent higher than in 2019.
This is not the year to wait for a last-minute deal, says Christina Tunnah, managing director for the Americas at travel insurance company World Nomads. “Don’t try to outsmart the market,” she says. “The cheapest time to book is always in the past.”
So in terms of prices, it will be almost as difficult as the summer, excluding gas prices. But it depends on where you want to go.
“The cost of air and lodging will be at summer levels for the most popular destinations, such as Mexico and the Caribbean,” says Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group. But Europe will cost considerably less than last summer due to lower demand.
It’s not going to be just another Thanksgiving. Even the last “normal” Thanksgiving in 2019 was different, says Matthew Colbert, founder of Empire Aviation Services. Back then, the planes were full, but the flights were plentiful.
Be warned, if you treat this holiday like previous Thanksgivings, you’re going to be in trouble. “It’s a short, busy holiday and travel period, and any hiccups can cause a huge headache. Travelers have to leave extra time at either end of the journey to get where they’re going and back.”
Baruch Silvermann, CEO of Smart Investor, says travelers overpaid for their plane tickets this summer. Even worse, they were on uncomfortably full flights.
But there are ways to make Thanksgiving travel less hectic and less expensive.
“If you can travel before the holiday rush or plan to return the following Tuesday or Wednesday, you can reduce the risks of crowded flights where you can easily find yourself,” he says.
Research by online travel agency CheapAir suggests you should avoid the Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving (November 19 and 20) and the Saturday and Sunday after the holiday (November 26 and 27). The least expensive days to fly are Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
How do you remove obstacles from Thanksgiving travel? If you’re flying in, you can do what travel advisor Andrew Steinberg is doing for his clients: hire an airport concierge to get you through the chaos. An airport concierge can find a faster way through security or a shortcut to the airline’s gate or club. Services start at about $100 per person. “With cancellations, lost luggage and general confusion, it’s worth the cost to have support on the ground to help smooth over any potential concerns, especially internationally,” says Steinberg, who works for Ovation Networks.
You may not be able to escape the high prices or cancellations this Thanksgiving, but you can escape the crowds. Consider the favorite Thanksgiving destination for the past six consecutive years, according to a survey by Allianz Partners USA. “Since the survey’s inception in 2016, Allianz has found that the number one city in the U.S. that Americans head to for the Thanksgiving holiday is New York City,” says Daniel Durazo, Allianz spokesperson.
Perhaps Shirshikov is making a smart move by taking advantage of lower gas prices and leaving the Manhattan crowds behind.
Potential travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information about travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.