- Airlines are bracing for a fall travel season with fewer business travelers after a lucrative summer.
- Airfares from September to November are expected to be lower than normal as a result.
- But holiday travel will likely be priced similarly to last year’s levels as leisure demand rebounds.
Travelers who missed the bargain basement pricing of pandemic airfares have another opportunity to get deals on flights this fall.
As the summer comes to a close and leisure travelers hibernate for the fall, airlines are facing a shortage of business travelers that would normally help fill the gap until the Thanksgiving or Christmas travel season. Big corporate spenders including Google are still keeping employees at home and largely holding off on expending travel budgets as the Delta variant plagues the US.
Airfares this season, as a result, are expected to be lower than fall 2019 levels as airlines entice leisure flyers to get back in the air during their off-season.
September may be the cheapest season of the fall, according to the travel data company Hopper. Airfares are estimated to drop 10% into September with the average round-trip flight costing $260 for domestic travel.
Holiday travel may not be as good of a bargain this year, however, as Hopper expects airfares to rise 11% from September levels into December. Average round-trip airfares are expected to be $289 as a result.
“This would make domestic airfare over the holiday season equivalent to summer airfare, similar to what we saw in 2019 and 2020,” Hopper told Insider. Holiday travel spiked in 2020 despite pleas from public health officials about a second wave, with airlines likely estimating similar demand this year.
Travelers looking to head overseas can also expect to spend less on airfare this fall. Hopper estimates September to November airfares will be 15% lower than fall 2019 levels and the average round-trip will be $734.
International round-trips in the fall of 2020, for comparison, averaged $717. Those prices are still lower than the fall 2019 levels when the average airfare was $859 round-trip.
September is also expected to be the cheapest month for international travel of the fall season months. Hopper expects September airfares to be 8% lower than July levels for an average airfare of $700 round-trip.
Travelers may not see deals as good as those in 2020 but cheap airfares can still be had until the winter holiday travel rush.
United Airlines showed just how low airfares can be with $113 round-trip fares between New York City and Los Angeles from late September to November, quickly matched by JetBlue Airways. Even more budget-minded passengers can also find round trips on Spirit Airlines on the same route for under $100.
United, American Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines are also selling round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Maui, Hawaii for as low as $168.
The cheap flights, however, signal just how bad the fall will be for airlines with fewer business customers. United’s New York-Los Angeles route will be served by a narrow-body Boeing 757 aircraft instead of the premium-configured Boeing 767 aircraft that kicked off the route in March, presumably because business class seats are harder to sell when corporations aren’t footing the bill.
Business travel bookings, however, have been trending upward through the summer and spiked in the week leading up to Labor Day Weekend, according to TripActions data, which the company calls “an encouraging start” to business travel’s recovery.
This fall will be the first since the start of the pandemic when domestic travelers will also not have to worry about regional travel restrictions. Vaccinated travelers have also been given a green light by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to travel within the US.
Unvaccinated travelers, however, are advised by the CDC to take additional measures including getting tested before and after traveling, as well as self-quarantining for seven to 10 days after traveling.