May 16 2012 by Chris McGinnis
Increasing consumer confidence in the US, moderating gasoline price increases and the release of pent up demand for vacations will likely lead to an extremely busy summer travel season. This means business and leisure travelers should be formulating plans and making reservations now to avoid high prices or sellouts later this summer.
This year, the peak summer travel season begins around June 15 and lasts until about August 24.
With over 2,000 hotels in the US alone, Best Western International expects a very busy summer travel season this year. Looking ahead, its advance bookings in the US for June, July and August are up a dramatic 22% compared to this time last year. In addition, advance summer bookings at its roadside hotels are up 17.6%, which indicates that higher gasoline prices are having little impact on summer driving plans. And at Best Western hotels in resort areas, bookings are up 28.7%, which indicates very strong demand for summer vacations.
To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning trips during the peak of the peak summer travel season (July and August) should make reservations as soon as possible. This is especially true if you are headed to popular summer destinations along the coasts, near national parks or other popular recreation areas, or in major cities frequented by both leisure and business travelers such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston or Miami.
The big spikes in gasoline prices seen earlier this year have leveled off. In fact, as summer approaches, gasoline prices are declining in many areas. Due to instability in international markets, the price of a barrel of oil has tumbled below $100. On May 7, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the US was $3.79--nearly 20 cents cheaper than the same time last year. The US Energy Information Administration expects that average price to hold through September.
Nonetheless, $3.79 per gallon is tough on a vacation budget, so travelers will economize in other areas--they may shorten trips, eat out at less expensive restaurants or bring along food from home. They'll also choose to stay in more economically priced hotels--and seek out those that include extras in their rates such as in-room Wi-Fi and breakfast or parking.
TIP: Consider online or smart phone tools like Gas Buddy, which shows the cheapest current gas prices by zip code. Their mobile apps that allow users to determine (from their cars) which exits along the freeway have the cheapest gasoline.
Despite declining fuel prices, airlines have been reluctant to lower summer airfares because demand has remained steady. As a result, we've seen multiple fare hikes so far this year, and very limited and restricted summer fare sales.
TIP: To get the lowest fares, you must have the flexibility to travel during non-peak times, such as early June or late August and into September-- the "shoulder season." Travelers who can travel mid-week--on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are also more likely to find lower fares.
While demand for hotels is increasing, average rates have only crept up marginally-- for example, Best Western's average daily rate this summer is only 3.1% higher than last summer. This should be a relief for travelers spending more than they'd like at the gas pump or when buying airline tickets.
Hotel rates in large coastal cities in the US such as Boston, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Seattle are rising fastest. Rates in smaller, interior US cities remain about the same as this time last year--making them great choices for vacationers on a budget.
Scheduling around the crowds
- To avoid the biggest airport crowds, try to avoid traveling on weekends during the peak summer season break period--from roughly June 15 through August 24. Travelers are most likely to find lower airfares and hotel or rental car rates if they schedule trips before or after these dates.
- Airlines routinely clock their busiest days of the year on Fridays and Sundays in July and August, so air travelers should always be prepared for unexpected delays and long lines at airport security, restaurants and bathrooms.
- Beware of crowding and possible delays on the days leading up to and shortly after
July 4, which falls on a Wednesday this year. Peak days on highways and skyways will likely be the Tuesday before and the Saturday and Sunday after July 4. Due to the mid-week timing of the holiday this year, many travelers will opt to take the entire week off, leading to crowding and delays on the weekends before and after the holiday
- Labor Day falls on Monday, September 3 this year, so expect crowded airports and roads on the Friday before and the Monday and Tuesday after this three-day weekend.
- Those who are able wait to take their vacations after September 5 will find much better deals, fewer crowds and friendlier locals as we enter what's known in the travel industry as the "shoulder season"-- one of the best times of year to save money and avoid crowds--and one of the smartest times time to schedule business trips. During shoulder season, demand for travel (and prices) drop significantly from the summer peaks. The best part about the fall shoulder season is that summer weather conditions typically last until well into October in most parts of the US.
- If you are a business traveler staying over in a resort or beachside hotel, ask for a quiet room away from the shrieks and squeals from the pool or other public areas.
Chris McGinnis is Best Western's travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com