Get ready for the most expensive holiday travel season ever

New York
CNN Business

For travelers getting ready to make their first holiday trips since before the pandemic: prepare for sticker shock.

Airfares are way up. US gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been at this time of year. Rates for hotel rooms and rental cars have jumped 12% and 46% respectively from where they were in 2019.

The good news is that the prices for airfares, gas and hotel rooms are down from the record highs hit earlier in 2022, but they’re still among the highest on record for this time of year. Only rental car prices are lower than what travelers were paying at the end of last year, although they’re still far above pre-pandemic levels.

Here’s what will cost travelers more this holiday season:

When air travel ground to a near halt in 2020 due to the pandemic, US airlines cut staff through early retirement and buyout packages. Staffing is now approaching pre-pandemic levels at most carriers, but the number of flights and seats available haven’t returned to those levels.

Data from aviation analytics firm Cirium shows the number of flights scheduled for November and December is down 15% from the same months in 2019. Many of those missing flights previously were flown by smaller regional carriers serving smaller airports, and some of those airports have since lost service altogether. But even with a greater percentage of flights on larger planes, the number of seats available is down 3.5% compared to that same period in 2019.

A surge in Covid cases at the end of 2021 depressed demand for leisure travel, but this year it’s positively robust, according to the airlines and industry experts.

“Holiday travel has come back…

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