Fewer travelers report fears of contracting (or spreading) COVID-19. Most border restrictions have been lifted. But there’s still one reason people might not be traveling in 2023: They can’t afford to.
The number one barrier to travel for Americans in 2023 is “lack of money,” according to the annual State of Travel report from Going, a flight deal alert website. Going surveyed thousands of its members by email, and of the 3,274 people who responded, 27% cited lack of money as the main reason for not traveling.
Here’s the full breakdown of responses from the survey around top barriers to travel in 2023:
- Lack of money: 27%.
- Lack of time off from work or school: 26%.
- Family and other commitments: 13%.
- I traveled as much as I wanted: 12%.
- Concerns about COVID-19: 8%.
- COVID-19 travel restrictions: 7%.
To complicate matters, travel prices are especially high. A combination of surging travel demand, industry staff shortages and general inflation led both U.S. hotel room rates and airfares to steadily rise in 2022, marking record highs by May 2022. While average prices for these travel costs have since eased, they’re still higher than pre-pandemic prices.
According to a NerdWallet analysis of data from the consumer price index issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, airfares in January 2023 are up 25.6% versus the same month in 2021, and up 3.7% versus the same month in 2019. January 2023 hotel prices are up 16.3% versus January 2020.
And perhaps most stark is the surge in rental car prices. High rental car prices became one of the biggest stories of pandemic-era travel as folks opted for road trips over air travel (and the concurrent semiconductor shortage didn’t help). The average car rental price in January 2023 was an incredible 36.7% higher than the same month in 2020.
Despite costs, some destinations are seeing record tourism
While over a quarter of those surveyed view lack of funds as the primary barrier to travel, there are plenty of other travelers who are not deterred by cost. Some destinations have either already reported record numbers of tourists or anticipate setting records in 2023.
Not-for-profit marketing organization Discover Puerto Rico reported a record $8.9 billion in revenue generated by Puerto Rico travel and tourism in 2022, a 39% increase over the previous high in 2019. Approximately 5.1 million passengers arrived at the island’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in 2022, and employment in the country’s leisure and hospitality sector has increased by 12.8% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The number of tourists visiting Hawaii from other U.S. states was up nearly 11% in November 2022 versus the same month in 2019, according to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
And the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, a tourism board for the Bahamas, said via an email to journalists that air arrivals through December 2022 reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels. And it expects to set a record this year, especially as more airlines add nonstop service to the island’s Lynden Pindling International Airport.
How travelers are saving money in 2023
General tips for saving money on travel tend to hold true no matter what year or season you travel. Be flexible about your date and destination whenever possible. Get creative with free or cheap activities. Book reservations using points and miles, which can be earned not just through travel, but also through spending on travel credit cards.
Don’t overlook other cost-saving benefits from premium travel credit cards, which sometimes include free hotel night certificates and checked bags.
There are some standout ways that travelers have indicated they’re adjusting their money-saving strategies, particularly for 2023 bookings. One strategy could make for a lot more headaches: opting for less convenient travel itineraries in the interest of saving money.
The number of travelers who said they’re leaning toward the cheapest flight itineraries (instead of the most convenient) climbed from 21% in October 2022 to 35% in November 2022, according to Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker, which is based on an online survey of 1,000 adults.
That likely means layovers instead of direct flights. It could also mean opting for a basic economy ticket rather than one that includes perks like seat selection, flexible change policies or carry-on bags.
Travelers might also be saving by planning shorter trips. In the early years of the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon to see folks take multi-week getaways, largely to take advantage of generous work-from-home policies. But that trend may be waning.
Key Data, a platform that analyzes vacation rental data, examined U.S. reservations on Airbnb and Vrbo during the first three weeks of January 2023. It found that reservations were up 27% versus the same period in 2022, but despite the increased frequency of reservations, the number of nights booked overall declined by 4%.
“The drop in length of stay may be due to the impact of recession, with consumers still traveling but cutting trips short in order to meet their budget,” Melanie Brown, executive director of data insights at Key Data, said via email.
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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.