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‘It was Overwhelming and Frustrating’: Inflation Might Keep Many People From Traveling This Holiday Season

By Claire Ballentine and Nur Dayana Mustak

 For the past two holiday seasons, Andi Garland wasn’t able to visit her dad for Thanksgiving due to the pandemic. This year, the Louisiana native’s plans were stymied by a different force: inflation. 

Travelers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Air traffic for the Thanksgiving holiday is expected to approach pre-pandemic levels and travelers are likely considering their plans with some dread, given fresh memories about thousands of canceled flights.

With ticket prices surging compared to last year, the 22-year-old who works in a dermatology clinic decided to forgo seeing her dad and his new wife in Atlanta. 

“I was shocked and kind of upset,” she said. “The ticket would have been $600. It’s never been that high before.”

After two years of pandemic disruptions, this holiday season was supposed to be the time families could get together again. Yet with inflation pushing up the prices of everything from plane tickets to gas and groceries, some are choosing to forgo gatherings due to cost, not Covid. 

It’s a problem with no clear end in sight. Although the Federal Reserve is aggressively hiking interest rates to combat rising prices, the latest inflation reading was still up 7.7% from a year earlier, with airfare notching a 43% surge year-over-year. 

Meanwhile, the average price of a domestic airline ticket in September was $307, according to Hopper Price Tracker, up 36% from last year and 41% from 2020.

Cheaper Alternatives 

Hunter Malloy in Brooklyn decided to skip her family’s Thanksgiving festivities in Orlando, Florida, after looking at plane ticket costs. Although they’re always high this time of year, the prices shocked the 23-year-old, who works as a tutor while looking for a full-time job in research. 

Malloy decided to spend Thanksgiving with her aunt in Virginia instead, taking the bus to get there. She’s hoping to make it home for Christmas if she can find reasonably priced airfare. 

“I definitely will be sad if this is the first Christmas I really don’t see my family because of finances,” Malloy said. 

According to a recent survey from Bankrate, almost 80% of Americans travelling this year for the holidays have changed their plans due to inflation. The most common ways to cut costs are traveling for fewer days, doing cheaper activities and selecting less expensive destinations and lodging, the study showed. 

At the same time, about a third of holiday travelers say their trips will strain their budgets and 22% feel pressure to spend more than they’re comfortable with.

Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate, recommends checking to see if you have credit card rewards, frequent flyer miles or hotel points. 

“Many people have amassed a lot of these and haven’t traveled much the past few years, so it’s a good time to cash them in,” he said. 

Others are turning to buy now, pay later services to afford holiday travel. Teresa McGill, a 28-year-old property manager in Austin, Texas, just used Klarna — which lets consumers pay for purchases in four installments over the course of a few weeks — to buy plane tickets for Thanksgiving. It usually costs about $250 for her to fly from Austin to her family in St. Louis, but she ended up having to spend more than $310. 

“It was overwhelming and frustrating,” she said. “I’ve been asking myself what purchases am I going to cut out. I have to be more conscious when I go to the grocery store and things like that.”

Road Tripping 

With gas prices dropping from this summer’s peak, some travelers are choosing to drive home for the holidays instead of flying. 

The national average gas price is currently $3.77 per gallon, according to AAA. That’s down from around $5 at the summer’s peak but still up from $3.41 at this time last year. 

Rosalind Kidwell, a 23-year-old living in New Orleans, is driving 10 hours to see her family in Orlando for Thanksgiving in order to avoid a $500 plane ticket. It usually costs her about $200 to get there. 

She still has Google flight alerts set up in case airfares decline, but is resigning herself to the road trip. 

“It does make me wonder what else I could be doing with my time,” she said about the drive.

Thanksgiving is not as important to her as it is to the rest of her family, Kidwell admits. “But if it matters to them, I’ll make an effort,” she said. 

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