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As prices rise, Americans’ travel plans are coming back to Earth

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Travelers with luggage walk through an airport.

Travelers at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Saturday. Fourth of July air travel is nearing pre-pandemic levels. Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

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Almost 48 million people traveled 50 miles or more this Independence Day weekend, according to AAA. That’s roughly 1 in 7 Americans. The numbers have been ticking up at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, and they’re getting pretty close to pre-pandemic levels.

But the cost of travel is — in a word — soaring. AAA also found that airfares are about 14% higher than they were last year. And you probably don’t need a reminder of just how high the price of gasoline is right now.

All of which is to say that this summer might not turn out to be the boom time many people in the leisure and hospitality industry were hoping for.

American consumers are less worried about getting COVID-19 and more willing to climb onto crowded trains, buses and airplanes. They’ve been returning to travel with a vengeance.  

“People have been calling this revenge travel — get back out there and do things they haven’t had the opportunity or they haven’t felt comfortable doing,” said Lindsey Roeschke, who tracks consumer behavior at Morning Consult.  

But she said travel’s getting more expensive. So, Morning Consult found that consumers are planning to drive less and take fewer trips than last summer.

“With all the frustrations with air travel, it’s not like gas prices are cheap. So it’s kind of hard to trade off and do a road trip instead,” Roeschke said.

As summer wears on and sticker shock sinks in, travel will wane, according to Dana Peterson at The Conference Board.  

“Prices for everything are rising. So it’s not just gasoline, but also restaurants, hotels, entertainment like going to your favorite sporting event or going to the movies.”

If you are going to travel, be ready for disruptions, said retail analyst Marshal Cohen at the NPD Group. He was recently scheduled to fly from New York to Florida to visit a client.

“The flight got canceled. They were saying, ‘Well, I guess we’ll have to resched.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll be there tomorrow,'” he said. “In the car I got. Sixteen hours later, there I was.”

But most people can’t shift gears on a dime and drive to their vacation destination if their flight’s canceled. So, they just might end up with a staycation instead.

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