The window to book that next great travel deal is getting smaller. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout ramps up, travel experts say rising demand is sending airfares and hotel rates higher, though most are still below pre-pandemic levels.
“Don't expect it to be empty planes and $30 airfares like we were seeing a year ago. But you can still get deals if you hunt for them,” said “The Points Guy” founder and CEO Brian Kelly.
He told Yahoo Finance Live that inventory is becoming tighter with each passing week and predicts modest price increases throughout the rest of 2021.
According to the booking site Hopper, airfares are still down about 20% from a year ago, but they’re already trending higher.
Kelly said Icelandair is offering round-trip flights from the U.S. to Iceland for as little as $339. He said the airline is also discounting flights to other European destinations, and you can add in a free Iceland stopover on any itinerary.
“This gives you a great way to see two cities for the price of one once international travel starts to reopen,” he said. "People are not comfortable yet traveling far distances internationally, especially now with new lockdowns just announced in France and Italy.”
Kelly said if you're flying to Europe, things probably won't start looking normal until this winter, and he doesn't expect things to rebound for flights to Asia until at least early 2022.
Those willing to travel appear to be sticking to domestic trips. Many locations close to metro areas, such as the New Jersey shore, are booked for the summer, and holiday rentals are hard to find.
Kelly said travel to Florida has nearly bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. “I was in Miami Beach last week. Absolutely packed— you would never even know that there was a pandemic there,” he said. Florida is among about a dozen states to lift mask-wearing mandates and reopen businesses despite warnings from the Biden administration.
Alaska is another state with recently relaxed COVID restrictions and Kelly said it's quickly becoming a travel hot spot. “There's tons of new flights to Alaska this summer. Unfortunately, there are no Alaskan cruises due to the Canadian government pretty much ruling that out for this summer.”
Kelly said Mexico and the Caribbean are also getting a lot of attention and “definitely Puerto Rico, because you don’t have to get tested to come back into the country since it’s a U.S. territory.”
Hawaii is another popular destination. “We're seeing every airline add flights to Hawaii. Even those nice international jets with lie-flat seats are going to Hawaii more than ever.” And there still are deals to be had, with some round-trip flights to Hawaii going for as low as $198 from some West coast locations.
Kelly also recommends putting your frequent flier miles to good use. “One of the positives of this pandemic has been that airlines now allow you to use your frequent flyer miles and cancel for any reason and get all of your miles and points back. So, if you're sitting on a bunch of miles, look to see where you want to go. Plan for Greece in August. And guess what? If it doesn't end up happening, you get all your miles and points back.”
In another sign that travel is coming back, United Airlines became the first large U.S. carrier to start re-hiring its pilots. United will start with hiring about 300 pilots who had conditional job offers or training scheduled last year before the pandemic put a freeze on hiring.
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is only expected to fuel the growing demand to travel. On Friday, the CDC said people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel without putting themselves at serious risk — as long as they wear masks and take other precautions.
“I do believe it's good for your mental health to have something on the books,” said Kelly. “So use those miles and smile at a future vacation.”
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.