Inflation prompting Americans to rethink their holiday travel plans

Despite skyrocketing costs on everything from gas to hotel stays, experts predict this could be the busiest holiday travel season since 2019. It’ll just look a little bit different, according to Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman.

“People are really prioritizing experiences,” he told Scripps News. “They have actually cut back on a lot of spending on physical goods. But when it comes to travel and dining and concerts and sporting events, people are still really prioritizing those kinds of expenses.”

In a new report released Monday, Bankrate found inflation is forcing 77% of Americans to change their holiday travel plans, with 16% worried they might go into debt just to pay for it all.

Consumer prices in September rose nearly 3.7% from a year earlier. While still high, inflation is slowing, and Rossman points out that air travel is actually helping as ticket prices and cancellations fall. 

“Prices are still high, he said. “That’s sort of an unfortunate reality about the whole inflation situation, which is that even as inflation comes down, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re rolling back to 2019 prices. It just means they’re growing more slowly.”

That means Americans are shaking up traditional holiday travel, with 27% telling Bankrate they’re opting for a road trip instead of flying this year. About 1 in 4 said they plan to cut back on trips altogether.

Gen Z and and Americans earning under $50,000 annually are the most likely to change their plans due to squeezing inflation.  

Rossman said it’s also harder to cut corners around the holidays because there’s less flexibility compared to summer travel. But you can still save by traveling on non-peak days, taking advantage of airline and hotel points, or simply pulling out a credit card.

“A lot of credit cards have travel insurance built in at no additional costs — sometimes perks if your luggage is lost or delayed, or your flight is delayed or canceled,” Rossman added. “Maybe they can kick in for a replacement or at least some meals and accommodations while you’re stranded.”

The new report shows that while holidays and tradition go hand in hand, inflation will always be around to shake things up.