Vacationers will face lower travel expenses this year over 2012

Hank Hayes • Jun 4, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Key summer travel expenses — by land and air — apparently won’t be up dramatically this year as the economy attempts to get back to pre-recession levels.

Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, reports more people will fly this summer than a year ago, while a record number of passengers will fly internationally.

A4A expects U.S. airlines will carry close to 209 million passengers globally from June through August, an increase of 1 percent from the same period in 2012. The system-wide summer estimate includes 27 million international passengers, a record number for U.S. airlines.

A4A further notes the busiest travel days are expected to be Thursdays and Fridays between the middle of June and the first week of August.

A4A attributes the uptick to rising household net worth and corporate profits, strong airline operational performance and recent relief in energy prices.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the average inflation-adjusted domestic airfare (including taxes) was down 0.2 percent to $374 in the fourth quarter of 2012, compared with the average fare of $375 in the fourth quarter of 2011.

BTS also points out that since 1995, inflation-adjusted domestic airfares have declined 13.1 percent compared with a 49.6 percent increase in overall consumer prices.

Still, operating costs remain an ongoing challenge for all airlines. In the first quarter, 10 airlines spent nearly $12 billion on fuel alone, according to A4A. Jet fuel cost the airlines $50 billion in 2012 for the second consecutive year despite using half a billion fewer gallons than in 2011.

A4A complains customers continue to be impacted by excessive taxes, regulations and inefficient and costly government actions, including last month’s Federal Aviation Administration-imposed furloughs and resulting delays when an estimated 600,000 airline customers were disrupted by 7,200 federal sequestration-related flight delays.

Those delays, for the most part, didn’t affect flights at Tri-Cities Regional Airport, which is heading into its busy time of the year.

“Passenger numbers typically increase during the summer months as more people vacation,” said Melissa Thomas, TCRA’s director of marketing and air service development. “Load factors have remained steadily high as carriers have reduced the number of seats available. Projections are for prices to be higher this year, but from what we're seeing, (TCRA’s) fares are competitive with those in Asheville and Knoxville. Sometimes we’re a little lower, sometimes we’re a little higher. It really just depends on the destination and how far in advance people book their tickets. We always recommend booking at least three weeks in advance, if possible, to get better fares and more seat selection.”TCRA is served by U.S. Airways Express flights to Charlotte, Delta Connection flights to Atlanta and Allegiant Air flights to two Florida markets.

Thomas points out air carriers typically price a certain number of seats for last-minute business travelers who may not be as price sensitive.

“With aircraft more crowded, it can be difficult to find even the pricier seats if someone is traveling on particularly busy days or at popular times,” she said. “The more flexible passengers can be with their travel schedules, the better chance they will have of finding a seat at a good price.”

Back on the ground, national gas prices are slightly higher than last year, according to AAA.

AAA says the national average gas price has increased by more than 7 cents recently and now sits above $3.60 per gallon. While Southeastern states have seen little to no change, prices in the Midwest have soared during the last several days due to refinery outages and extended maintenance, according to AAA.

The national gas price average hit the year-to-date peak in February at $3.78 per gallon.

AAA also says the average hotel rate for a “two diamond” hotel remains unchanged with an average cost of $120 per night.

But AAA notes weekend daily car rental rates will average $43, 19 percent more than last year and the highest post-Memorial Day rate recorded since 2009.

For more about AAA, go to www.AAA.com.

For more about TCRA, go to www.triflight.com .

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