NEW YORK (MainStreet) — This summer is shaping up to be a bargain, with everything from airfare price drops to a strong U.S. dollar making it time to book that long-awaited vacation.
A report from Hopper, the makers of a data-driven app that tells consumers when to fly and buy tickets, predicts that peak summer prices will be 5.7% lower than last year.
That prediction is based in large part on lower airline ticket prices leading up to the busy summer travel season. In March of this year, for instance, prices were 9.4% cheaper when compared with the same month last year.
"We believe peak summer prices will be much cheaper this year due to how late and low prices bottomed out this winter relative to last year," says Patrick Surry, Hopper's chief data scientist.
There was a steep decrease in airline prices in February, Surrey explains, and prices remain well below last year. While prices will likely increase somewhat this spring, consumers have so far been enjoying better deals and can expect more of the same through the rest of the year.
Capturing as much of that savings as possible, however, depends on when you buy tickets. Hopper's report anticipates that prices will experience the largest monthly increase in May (7%) and peak prices will be in June. In other words, buy soon if you already know where you want to travel.
The report is part of the Hopper's new Consumer Airfare Index, which evaluates and forecasts domestic airfares for leisure travelers.
Surrey says other airfare indices tend to rely on measuring just the average fares, which skews results toward more-expensive tickets bought at the last minute and gives an unrealistic impression of the true cost of flying for leisure travelers.
Hopper's approach is to combine search data for every origin and destination in the United States, providing a near real-time estimate of overall airfare prices.
"Our Consumer Airfare Index should serve as a resource for leisure travelers to gauge how prices are currently trending, and perhaps more importantly, what to expect in the future," Surrey says.
Utah, home to stunning national parks, great hiking and camping, may top the list for inexpensive domestic airline fares this summer. Hopper says ticket prices to the state were down 21.3% when compared with last March.
Missouri is a close second, with airline prices to that destination down 20.9% this March. Rounding out the top three ticket bargains is Illinois, which was trending 17.49% cheaper.
Other domestic destinations that were significantly cheaper to fly to when compared with last March included Colorado, Louisiana and Nevada.
Other travel industry experts offer additional tips to capture even more savings this summer, including flying into smaller, less popular airports to get to your destination and waiting until just before you travel to book hotel rooms (if you're comfortable with such a gamble and don't have your heart set on a specific hotel).
"If you arrive at less popular airports you can find some pretty good deals," says Atle Skalleberg, CEO of StudentUniverse, a discount travel site exclusively for students and youth. "We looked at Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam and Milan. What's commonly done by users is they fly into one of these airports and then use Europe's extensive train system to get to their destination. The difference in price when you do this could be as much as 20%, so it absolutely pays off."
Milan, for instance, can often be much cheaper then Rome when flying into Italy, Skalleberg says. Visiting Spain? Flying into Barcelona is a cheaper alternative to Madrid.
When it comes to scoring a cheap hotel room, that gamble of booking a week or less before your travel date might pay off, says Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight. That's when hotels are motivated to fill rooms.
"Discounts get lower and lower the closer you get to the day of arrival," Shank says. "And after 3 p.m. on the day of arrival is a big opportunity to save."
Shank also noted there will be cheaper hotel prices this summer on the weekends before major holidays. The weekend before Memorial Day, hotel rooms are cheaper, as well as the weekend before the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
"There is a nice dip in prices," Shank says, "Because most people go away on the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, so the weekend before is ripe for discounts."
If you're a student there are even bigger discounts to be had, Skalleberg says. Data analyzed by StudentUniverse shows a few key destinations will be particular bargains for students flying this summer.
Flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, will likely be as low as $283 round trip, while tickets to Mexico City will drop to $312 and Central and South America just $350, Skalleberg says.
Even flying to Europe will be a bargain for the student traveler, who will be able to get there for as low as $590 round trip this year.
"That's pretty amazing if you think about it," Skalleberg says.
All of those examples are based on flying between May 15 and August 7.
Some of the factors contributing to this flurry of flight bargains include the substantial drop in the price of oil, competition among airlines and airlines making more profits in recent years, giving them the ability to lower fares confidently.
"Right now is good times for airlines," says Hopper's Surrey.
But when it comes to the extreme discounts to be found on StudentUniverse, there's an additional factor contributing to bargains, Skalleberg notes.
"We work with more than 70 airlines around world and we only sell to students, so we get better prices," Skalleberg says. "We do have some sales students can take advantage of, but we also have great [all-around] rates for students."
And finally, the strong U.S. dollar is working in favor of the American traveler this summer, at least for those headed abroad.
Destinations where the dollar is strongest now include Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada and Thailand, StudentUniverse says.
Scandinavian countries are also a great bargain, with the dollar jumping as much as 30% against local currencies, Skalleberg says.
"Particularly with some of the exchange rates, there are places around the world where you will spend a lot less when you get there. So between that and airfare prices it's a great time to travel," Skalleberg says.
— Written by Mia Taylor for MainStreet