Airfare takes off this holiday season — pricieest in recent years

Airline ticket prices are set to soar this holiday travel season.

Domestic price for Thanksgiving is expected to increase by more than 17% per round-trip ticket, according to travel booking group Hopper lead economist Hayley Berg.

International fares have increased 30% compared with last year, with a round-trip ticket this week averaging $842, up about $195 from last year and 30% higher than 2019, according to Hopper.

Current Christmas prices are averaging $374 round-trip, a 25% increase from last year, but in line with 2018-19 prices, according to Hopper.

“Airfare remained relatively stable throughout October but spiked 10% this last week,” Berg said.

Berg said several factors are contributing to this season’s uptick in fares, the highest in five years.

“The key driver is demand,” Berg said. “Higher jet fuel prices and two years of pent-up holiday travel demand will combine this year to drive up Thanksgiving and Christmas fees.”

This summer, a surge in flight cancellations caused by staff shortages and rising fuel costs plagued the nation and pushed airline stocks down.

Travelers at Pittsburgh International Airport reacted to the reality of higher holiday fares.

Stacy LoCastro of Altoona treated her daughter to a girls getaway this week to Naples, Fla.

LoCastro said she paid more than $1,000 for two tickets.

“This will affect a lot of people flying. They might change their mind and not fly and drive instead,” LoCastro said. “Something’s gotta give with the economy.”

LoCastro said she plans to stay home this Thanksgiving and commented that driving 17 hours to Naples still would be much cheaper than flying.

“This is my daughter’s first time on a flight, though, and I am using my credit card now more than ever,” she said.

Joyce Hanz | Tribune-Review

Abrie Rumfola, 13, chats Wednesday with her mother, Stacy LoCastro, at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Frequent flier Karl Rice of McKeesport is a believer in planning ahead.

Rice books his flights well in advance in an effort to stay ahead of holiday travel increases.

“I planned early because I knew prices were gonna go up,” said Rice, 48, who paid about $400 for his flight.

“If I tried to buy it today, it would be much higher. Other years when I booked the same trip to Florida, I usually paid about $250. I’m real good at budgeting and planning, and I don’t wait until the last minute to book my flights,” he said.

Ulrike Siddall relaxed in the terminal Wednesday before boarding an international flight back to England.

Siddall flew to Pittsburgh with her husband for a two-week visit with her daughter.

Siddall said she noticed airline prices changing within minutes while shopping online for the best price.

“I paid $1,900 for the two of us to fly here,” Siddall said, adding she enjoyed her time in Pittsburgh. “I think it’s bad. A lot of people want to travel, but a lot of people with kids can’t afford it. We visited now and won’t be flying back for the holidays. It’s too expensive.”

Freeport Travel owner Beth Stello opened her full-service travel agency six years ago.

“Holidays always bring an increase in air travel, and this year I’m seeing the highest fares. The location dictates the cost,” she said.

Stello said some of her customers have complained about the higher fee costs.

“Everyone wants a deal and a cheaper price,” Stello said.

Berg noted the busiest travel days over the holidays will be the Sunday before Thanksgiving, with an estimated 3.3 million travelers, and will peak on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with 3.4 million fliers.

Kathy Seraphin, 26, flew into Pittsburgh International on Wednesday for work.

She lives in Raleigh, NC, and lamented the high price of air travel.

“I’m driving home to Florida this year instead of flying with ticket prices going up,” Seraphin said. “It’s cheaper.”

Joyce Hanz | Tribune-Review

Kathy Seraphin of Raleigh, NC, travels Wednesday through the baggage claim area at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Robert Aston of Abilene, Texas, is a frequent flyer and works in the aviation industry.

He was connecting through Pittsburgh International on Wednesday. As a business traveler, he said has seen the evolution from cheaper flights during the pandemic to current pricier flights.

Aston said the prices “suck” and the airports are full with passengers.

“I feel like things are back to normal. I remember flying when flights were empty, and now everyone is packed in there,” Aston said.

Pittsburgh International Airport public affairs manager Matt Neistein said passenger traffic this year in the terminal is at 85%.

“We expect the holiday season to be at 91%,” Neistein said.

Neistein provided data on scheduled seat capacity (arrivals and departures) for the two holiday travel periods in 2021 and 2022.

Last year, Pittsburgh International served 226,823 passengers during Nov. 21-28. This year, more than 230,700 passengers are scheduled for the same week.

Christmas passenger travel is expected to increase significantly, up from 206,600 in 2021 to more than 231,200 travelers this year during Dec. 21-28, Neistein said.

Dwayne Pickels, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said there were 3,751 outbound passengers last year who traveled from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport between Nov. 21-30 to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa/Fort Myers, and 4,582 outbound passengers who traveled to the same destinations from the Unity airport between Dec. 21-30.

The airport has incomplete travel numbers for 2022, when there will be outbound flights to just two destinations: Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Officials said there are 1,515 bookings for Thanksgiving week and, so far, just 347 listed travelers for Christmas week.

Spirit Airlines, which operates the flights and tracks future passenger numbers, did not respond to a request for comment.

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, established a subscription-based, low-fare flight booking business in 2015 after he scored a $130 round-trip flight from New York City to Milan.

Keyes stressed travelers should focus on the day they take a flight, not when it’s booked.

“In general, the cheapest days to take a flight are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, mostly because that’s when business travelers are the fewest,” Keyes said.

But those recommendations don’t apply during Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

For passengers willing to be flexible with their holiday travel plans, Keyes said the cheapest fares are found if one flies on the actual holiday itself.

“You can typically expect fares 20% to 30% cheaper then,” Keyes said.

Another way to land the cheapest fare is to book flights in opposite seasons.

Book your holiday, winter flights in June for the most affordable fare, Keyes recommended.

“Booking opposite season is how you get the best deals, because only a small amount of people are taking advantage,” Keyes said.

Additionally, Keyes recommends booking flights several weeks in advance, when possible.

“I’m a big fan of 21 days,” he said. “Set that as the drop-dead deadline to get your flight booked.”

In general, Keyes pegged the priciest months for air travel as July and late November and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

The cheapest fares can be found usually after Jan. 7 through February, he said.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce by email at or via Twitter .