Why are airfares sky-high and will they ever come back down?

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Airfares are sky-high -- will they come back down?
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"Airfare really is spiking, and spiking quickly, so I think it's leading to a lot of sticker shock for folks as they are planning their summer vacations and beyond," said one travel expert.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The summer tourism season is upon us and travel experts say our desire to get away is exploding -- but so are airfares.

If you've noticed fares are through the roof, it's not your imagination. So how much more are you paying -- and will prices ever come back down?

Millions of COVID-weary Americans are eager to travel this summer -- even with sky-high airfares. So 7 On Your Side asked experts: why are prices so high -- and how long will this last?

The return of travel season came with a shock, with fares rising faster than ever.

"It turns out airfares increased 18% in the past month. That's a record high," says Scott Keys of Scott's Cheap Flights.

It's not your imagination, Keyes says.

RELATED: As COVID-19 cases rise, here's a look at impact on travel, weddings and return to office

"Airfare really is spiking, and spiking quickly, so I think it's leading to a lot of sticker shock for folks as they are planning their summer vacations and beyond," he said.

Experts say a surge in jet fuel prices is one reason for fare hikes.

"That is a huge factor in airlines determining the price of the flights they sell because it accounts for 30% of their operating expenses," said Hayley Berg of travel site Hopper.

RELATED: Airlines are slashing flights due to staffing shortage: 'The summer will be chaos'

But it's not the only reason. Airlines slowed operations during the pandemic and now are struggling to ramp up staffing and airplane deliveries.

"Even if they did have the planes, in large part you're seeing airlines actually having to trim their schedules... because they don't have enough pilots and they don't have enough ground crew," said Keyes.

"Because two years ago, the airlines weren't thinking 'pilot shortage,' they were thinking 'pilot oversupply.' They were worried about being able to survive this pandemic," he continued.

"And rebuilding that capacity takes time. It takes network planning; which flights will we run from which airports with what crew on what plane?" said Berg.

But perhaps the biggest factor is a pent-up wanderlust.

"We have seen travelers booking spring break trips, summer vacations, bucket lists, vacations to you know, Mexico, Europe. There has been a huge recovery in demand, and we're expecting to see that continue through the summer," said Berg.

Travel site "Hopper" found domestic flights are 34% higher than they were in 2019... to an average of $383 per ticket. International flights rose only 2.5%, mostly due to less demand.

RELATED: Delta says hiking fares can help it turn a profit as fuel costs surge

But it won't stop here.

"So that 34%, we expect it to increase even more as we get into June. And we'll see prices closer to $420 for domestic round-trip tickets compared to about $260 for a roundtrip ticket in 2019," Berg said.

Hopper found fares from San Francisco spiked in some cases, but not others.

For example, it found...

  • The average round trip to New York is $628, up 99% since 2019.
  • To Chicago, it's $567, up 100%.
  • To Dallas, it's $411, up 97%.

Yet, to Honolulu, it's just $480 - down 2%.

"We saw flights, including, San Francisco, to places like Barcelona for $286 round trip... Cheap flights can still be popping up and popping up abundantly," said Keyes.

Both experts say they expect airfares will start to drop in September and October, when the summer travel season ends and folks go back to work and school.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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