If you haven’t booked a vacation yet this summer, it’s not too late — and it doesn’t have to drain your wallet like it has in prior years or even months.
While airfare and hotel rates in Europe this summer are astronomically higher than travelers are used to, it’s a different tune closer to home. Deals are still out there for those looking to take a last-minute or late summer vacation in the U.S.
The latest inflationary data from the U.S. showed airfares declined 6.5% between May and June and were down nearly 19% from a year ago. U.S. hotel rates are up 5% from a year ago, but that’s way down from peak inflation.
“The big story of the summer is really Americans flocking to Europe for those that can afford it,” said Philip Ballard, chief communications officer at HotelPlanner.com. “Americans are showing how resilient they are. Come hell or high water, they want to travel or take that big trip.”
There are plenty of domestic opportunities for those who aren’t willing to fork over the money needed to take a summer trip to Europe. National parks, lake towns and even beachside hotels can be affordable options, especially as hotel owners realize they don’t have the same occupancy rates as they did over the last few summers, Ballard said.
It can be a win for travelers, especially since falling gas prices are making summer road trips easier on the wallet. Hitting the road also means avoiding summer travel nightmares at airports.
“It’s still going to be a chaotic year of flying in the U.S., whether it’s domestically or outbound,” Ballard said. “There are going to be more disruptions or delays, so what more Americans are doing are taking road trips.”
Hotel owners caution the deals are potentially short-lived, especially because a swelling optimism about the economy eclipsing recession fears has dominated the conversation heading into summer.
“We were historically getting people who booked in a much, much longer [advance] window, and going into summer, in about early May, we started to see that the bookings were not coming in. I think because of the noise of ‘there’s a recession coming,’ people were watching their money,” said Simon Mais, the CEO and chief operating officer at U.S. hotel management company EOS Hospitality.
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“We certainly put in promotions across a number of our hotels to reduce that shortfall, but I would say that people better hurry up and book because that opportunity for promotions right now? The last-minute push is on,” he added.
EOS’ portfolio includes properties like the Montauk Yacht Club (where weekday rates start at $400 this summer), Maine’s Kennebunkport Resort Collection (where weekday rates begin at $319) and the luxury Wequassett Resort and Golf Club on Cape Cod (where weekday rates begin at $800).
Some of those numbers may not seem particularly bargain-worthy. Remember, though, that it wasn’t unheard of to see Wequasset rates go for well above $1,000 a night as recently as last summer.
Resort and leisure destinations nationally are showing the greatest opportunity for hotel deals.
New Orleans and Miami began the month of July with some of the steepest hotel performance declines of the largest U.S. hotel markets: Hotel rates in New Orleans are down nearly 16%, according to STR. Miami hotels saw a rate dip of just over 5%. The Boston Globe reports vacation rental home occupancy rates are down 20% this year compared to 2022.
What gives? A variety of factors
Some argue that since most of the world has now ditched coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions, travelers are returning to places like Europe this summer after several years of sticking to places like South Florida.
Others say the dim outlook on the economy from earlier this year kept people from going ahead with leisure travel. There’s also the perpetual idea that inflation priced too many people out of heading to their go-to vacation spots.
Whatever that issue might be in each market, hotel owners are clearly trying to goose up demand.
There is even the return of promotional discounts to entice guests. The famous Fontainebleau Miami Beach is offering guests a $100 resort credit and up to 25% off stays of four nights or longer through the end of September, depending on availability and blackout dates.
Cape Cod is one of the most popular beach destinations in the Northeast, but travelers often face multinight stay minimums at hotels and weeklong requirements for vacation home bookings. That thinking is relaxing.
“To make it easier for people to customize their trips, hotels have lifted a lot of the ‘old-school’ length of stay restrictions so that people can travel how they want to travel and stay for how long makes sense for them and not have to backfill someone else’s plan,” said Nicholas Farina, EOS’ vice president of operations.
Length-of-stay requirements might be loosening, but bargains are likely fleeting.
In short: Book now or run the risk of paying more later.
“Some of those rate opportunities that may have existed are diminishing, so if anyone is thinking about traveling, I would highly recommend they really jump on the bandwagon pretty quick because everyone’s moving in that direction,” Farina said.