Where to fly on a budget this summer

Where to fly on a budget this summer

This summer is shaping up to be another scorcher, and the demand for summer travel is piping hot, too. If early 2024 trends are any indication of what’s to come, “it’s looking to be busier than 2023,” said Katy Nastro, spokesperson for the flight booking site Going. Recent airport passenger volume numbers have regularly exceeded last year and pre-pandemic levels.

Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, says airline capacity has rebounded from pandemic complications, but strong travel demand means summer flight prices can be high, depending on when you’re hoping to go. Flying in June, July or early August will be more expensive than later in the season, according to the company’s summer forecast.

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“And it’s not just the airfare,” Klee said in an email. “Expensive hotel rates and crowds everywhere make Western Europe tricky for the summer.”

Despite the price tag, “people are going to go,” said Melanie Fish, the head of global public relations for all Expedia Brands, including Vrbo, Expedia and Hotels.com. “When we look at searches for destinations, they are definitely up year over year.”

For popular destinations like Europe, Klee and Fish say to push trips later into August, September or even October. Not only will prices soften, but you’ll alleviate some of the strain of overtourism.

“My number one tip is go ahead and take that summer vacation, but maybe hold on to take that big, big trip in September,” Fish said.

According to Expedia’s summer 2024 travel outlook, we’re currently in the sweet spot for shopping for early summer flights at the best rates, as Fish says lower fares tend to pop up 21 to 60 days out. It doesn’t hurt to start your search even earlier, setting up price alerts to flag when airfare drops. If you can swing it, look to fly on a Monday for international trips or a Tuesday for domestic trips to save up to 15 percent on fares, Fish added.

It’s not impossible to find good deals on airfare, whether you’re looking for a tropical beach trip, a mountain adventure or a vibrant city. Here are places that are trending cheaper - and the destinations you’ll want to avoid.

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Go to Mexico

Sun, surf, culture, chilaquiles - Mexico is always a good idea, but particularly so this summer. With the opening of the new airport in Tulum, U.S. airlines have been adding gobs of new flights to Mexico, particularly to beach regions. “We’ve seen a healthy amount of deals down to Mexico resort areas like Cancún,” Nastro said.

Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert at Skyscanner, says three Mexican cities - Cancún, San José del Cabo and Puerto Vallarta - are among the top 10 destinations offering travelers the best bang for their buck in 2024.

To escape the summer heat, Phyllis Stoller, president of the Women’s Travel Group, recommends high-altitude destinations like Mexico City or Ixtapan de la Sal, a town near Mexico City with thermal springs.

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Avoid European port cities

If you’re considering a visit to a popular European city that’s also a cruise hub, beware. Not only will you be battling the usual summer crowds, you’ll be joined by thousands of day-trippers flooding into the ports - meaning Barcelona, Venice, Athens and Santorini.

Sandra Weinacht, who co-owns the tour company Inside Europe Travel Experiences, says you can avoid some of the madness in these hot spots by staying in neighborhoods away from the typical tourist zones. You can also visit top sites in the late afternoon or evening, after cruise travelers have returned to their ships.

Better yet, wait to visit until the shoulder season

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Go to Colorado

Epic hiking, breathtaking nature and more craft beer than you could ever try in a lifetime: The Centennial State is a domestic gem. Ashlee Collins of Inspirato, a luxury travel and lifestyle subscription service, says Vail is popular among members this summer. Not only is the ski resort beautiful sans snow, it’s drivable for many, cutting a significant cost for travelers.

Airfare to Colorado is looking more reasonable than other domestic vacation hubs. Nastro recently spotted a Miami-to-Denver, round-trip fare over the July Fourth holiday for just $199. She says an average round trip from major U.S. cities is running between $173 and $250, but those prices are expected to climb upward of $350 the closer we get to summer.

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Avoid places at risk for wildfires

Wildfires have become an unfortunate fixture of summers in the Northern Hemisphere. Last year’s fires in Europe - including those in Cyprus and Greece - were among the worst so far this century, the European Commission reported.

Stoller says fire risk has been a factor in her summer travel planning; she nixed a New England cruise after remembering how bad smoke was last year because of the fires in Canada. “None of us can predict everything, but that would be something I would be aware of,” she said.

Extreme heat is also an issue. Last July, Southern Europe experienced excessively high temperatures from a “heat dome.”

“There’s a concern about heat,” Stoller said. “Last summer was really painful.”

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Go to the Caribbean

The Caribbean has its peak tourist season during the winter, when Americans flock to warmer waters. That means summer trips to the region tend to be quieter and cheaper.

“You can go under $300 to pretty much all of the islands: Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Aruba, Dominican Republic,” said Lindsay Schwimer, a consumer travel expert at Hopper. She’s seen similar price point flights to Colombia.

Lindsay of Skyscanner also said Puerto Rico and the Bahamas offer some of the most affordable flights from the United States this summer.

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Avoid Paris

Unless you’re going for the Olympics, skip the French capital this summer.

“Paris is always a top destination in the summer, but this summer … it’s going to be on another level,” said Madison Pietrowski, head of U.S. brands at GetYourGuide.

Not only are hotel prices high, “we’re seeing that some of the top attractions like the Louvre have raised their ticket prices,” Pietrowski said.

Nastro says the crowds are going to be “bananas” during the Games, and not just in Paris. Olympic travelers are likely to add on other French destinations to their trip, like Nice - which will host soccer games - or the Côte d’Azur, which already gets popular in the summertime.

Even if you try to get ahead of the rush by visiting before the July 26 start date, you may still have some Olympics-related headaches in the French capital. As the city races to finish prep, “you might find that there’s going to be eyesores and scaffolding and loud noises early in the morning,” Nastro said.

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Go to rural Europe

Interest in Western Europe has not slowed down, and Americans are expected to surge back en masse this summer. If you’d like to avoid them, put rural European destinations on your radar.

Weinacht is bullish on Spain’s Rioja region, the Basque countryside and the central Italian region of Umbria, which borders Tuscany but does not see the same levels of tourism. She’s also a fan of Carinthia, the least-populated state of Austria. “It is castle- and lake-dotted, doesn’t get too hot, and oh, the food and stories the cities and villages can tell,” Weinacht said in an email.

Weinacht says she’s been getting more requests from Americans for trips to her homeland, Germany. The country is easy to navigate with its high-speed trains, and offers a mix of small and big cities spread across powerhouse wine regions, UNESCO World Heritage sites and many food festivals. According to Skyscanner, airlines in the United States have been increasing their flights to Germany - namely, Frankfurt, an international business hub - meaning you may be able to find more deals.

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Avoid Sicily and Amalfi

If your dream Italian destination has been featured on TV lately, that’s a red flag. The last season of “The White Lotus” spurred an interest in already popular Sicily; the same is happening to the Amalfi Coast thanks to the new Netflix miniseries “Ripley.”

“They’re really going to be the most expensive and they’re going to be pretty crowded for the summer,” Schwimer said.

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