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Planes, Trains and Automobiles All More Expensive This Holiday Season

Labor shortages and gas prices are driving up costs, so plan ahead.

If you're hoping to visit your family during the holidays, be prepared to pay a little extra this year. Or perhaps, a lot extra. As with nearly everything else these days, travel prices have gone up this year.

The increase in gas prices has caused a corresponding increase in train and bus prices, as well as in the cost of renting a car. 

"Gas and car rentals are significantly higher than usual, since the national average of gas prices is 80 cents higher than in 2019," says Anthony Martin, CEO and founder of Choice Mutual

"Renting a car could be 31% higher than prices in 2019, making even domestic travel more expensive than it was pre-pandemic."

Part of the problem, Martin says, is that most car rental companies are still dealing with some shortage in supply due to selling off most of their fleet the previous year and lack of new supply.

"The high demand for holiday travel has drastically increased car rental prices," he says. "You might also consider alternative solutions since some car rental companies are already running out of supply, which could leave you without a car, even with a booking."

And then there's the matter of increased airfare. 

Earlier this year, airlines were offering discounts to get wary travelers to fly again, but now, CNBC reports that prices are starting to creep back up again to pre-pandemic levels. 

"Domestic fares will average $290 for a roundtrip around Thanksgiving, down 13% from 2019 and Christmas fares are set to average $390, on par with two years ago."

Martin says that "an increase in jet fuel prices has raised those flight prices, but lack of interested labor to fill in critical positions to match the growing travel demand isn’t helping prices be more affordable."  

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic-related labor shortage, Spirit, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have all had to cancel flights because of staffing shortages, and have begun offering incentives to keep flight attendants from calling out sick. 

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American Airlines, for instance, is offering flight attendants a minimum of 50% more pay for working holiday trips and triple pay if for perfect attendance through early January.

"Workers are demanding higher pay and seeking out higher paying jobs, and this is forcing some costs up," says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com

"In some cases, there aren’t enough flight attendants to staff flights, so because of that limited demand for seats, rooms, etc., the price of what is sellable goes up."

But even though it won't exactly be cheap to travel this holiday season, AAA expects this to be a busy year for the industry, as it anticipates 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, a total that is up 13% from 2020 and the highest single-year increase since 2005. 

Because so many of us weren't able to see our extended families during the holidays last year, there's a pent-up demand to make it this year. If that means it will cost more to get there, then people are willing to roll with it, in Martin's estimation.

"Seeing family they haven't seen in a while," he says, can help the consumer justify "paying more to spend more time with them. And people have more savings saved up from the pandemic, which could also contribute to people being willing to pay more."

So while high prices are here to stay for the foreseeable future, it helps to be flexible with your plans in order to save a bit, according to Will Hatton, CEO and Founder of the budget travel advice resource The Broke Backpacker.

"The cost of a round trip from Wichita to Atlanta on Thanksgiving will probably be between $600 and $1,000. More than two months out, tickets for Christmas trips start at less than 400 dollars," he says. 

"Travel experts say if you plan to travel during this time period make sure your ticket is bought as soon as possible. Being flexible with your holiday planning could be key to saving money. Play around with different departure and return dates to get the best deals."

Additionally, Miller says that most airlines now are offering no change fees on tickets.

"Zo book now and watch over time if the price drops," Miller says. "If it does, call to re-ticket and you’ll usually get a voucher for the difference."