“If you’re thinking about taking a summer trip, now is the time to book it.”
That’s the key takeaway from Scott Keyes, the man behind the very popular travel resource Scott’s Cheap Flights. SCF just released its third annual State of Cheap Flights report, a deep-dive analysis and survey of its readers into the landscape of air travel right now, from pricing trends to trending places to how the ongoing pandemic is affecting travelers’ choices in 2022. Notably, this research is coming out just after the site released its 2022 travel predictions and its 22 Cheap Destinations to Visit, as well as a day before National Plan for Vacation Day.
When we last spoke to Keyes in early 2020 — the before times — we were “living the Golden Age of cheap flights,” as he told us then. Basic Economy was our biggest worry, and Scott’s had begun a shift to focusing more on international rather than domestic travel.
The good news now, two years into a pandemic that’s upended the travel industry, is that prices still aren’t a big issue if you’re flying. And we can start thinking about traveling overseas again, but we need to start booking those flights now … even if the country we’re headed to hasn’t lifted their restrictions yet.
“If you wait until April or May or when a country announces its opening, it’ll be virtually impossible to grab a last-minute deal,” says Keyes. “Summer travel numbers are probably going to be higher in 2022 than in 2019, so you’ll be paying an arm and a leg. if you book now, while no one else is thinking about and during the peak of Omicron, you’ll have a better shot at a deal and something to look forward to.”
Below, a few more 2022 travel takeaways from our talk with Keyes.
Continued airline flexibility makes this a great year to travel
Basically, since the beginning of Covid-19, airlines have shown a lot more leniency if you’re booking in main economy seats or higher. “Now you automatically get flexibility after you book, whereas before that cost a lot in penalties,” says Keyes. “You can push back your flights, whereas you used to be locked in. And having that flexibility gives folks permission to book flights now, even if they don’t know what the travel landscape [will look] like.”
And that flexibility should give you enough reasons to book a dream vacation amidst all the current uncertainty. “We underestimate how exciting and fun it is to have a trip to look forward to,” says Keyes. “Most research shows we get the most joy leading up to the trip than they do on the trip itself. I like having trips booked to have something to look forward to.”
When airlines revert to normal, it’s not all going to be bad
“My prediction is that both the mask mandate and the negative test to re-enter the U.S. will disappear in 2022,” says Keyes, predicting summer for the former and late September for the latter requirement. “But we’ll still see people wearing masks on board. There are times I’ll still be inclined to, even after the mandate disappears.”
We’re all headed back overseas
According to the SOCF 2022 report, 75 percent of respondents are planning more international trips for this year, 63 percent are planning to take longer international trips than in 2021 and 84 percent are planning to spend more on international travel this year than they did in 2021. “During the pandemic, travel shifted to places like Florida, Montana and Hawaii,” says Keyes. “It’s going to reverse in 2022, even places that haven’t fully reopened yet.”
Conversely, this means you probably won’t find as many cheap flights to Florida or Hawaii, but flying internationally might be cheaper than ever. As well, while Scott’s Cheap Flights actually added a dedicated section to last-minute international flights in 2021, those are going to be harder to find. “Before the pandemic, airlines knew last-minute flights were all business travelers, so they’d actually raise prices as much as possible,” explains Keyes. “In the last year, last-minute flights have all been leisure travelers. It’s going to be harder to get deals now at the last minute, but it’ll be easier than it was in 2019.”
And this is where we’re going
Keyes has already booked a flight to Japan for summer. “My prediction is that it’ll be open by June 30,” he says. Otherwise, U.S. travelers are looking toward Vietnam (“great food, beautiful beaches, your dollar goes further and the U.S. now has non-stop flights there from a new airline called Bamboo”), Venice (“folks will be excited to go there without the same throngs of tourists as before”) and Puerto Rico (“heavily vaccinated, beautiful beaches, and you don’t need to bring a passport”).
And finally, every survey has a weird outlier
The seating preferences for Scott’s members are 56 percent window, 43 percent aisle and, somehow, 1 percent middle seat. “That was the most surprising part of the 2022 survey,” admits Keyes. “I assume that 1% of people want to watch the world burn.”
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