Domestic Flight Searches Have Increased 58% from Jan. 1 to March 1 Signaling Rise in Travel Demand

We examine exactly what domestic travel demand looks like right now.

Adit Damodaran - Mar. 3, 2021

On Tuesday, President Biden announced that the US expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated. With this news, experts are predicting a busy summer season, as more people get vaccinated in the spring and pent up demand begins to burst.

In recent weeks, the TSA has reported it has seen an uptick in travel across the U.S. While travel is still significantly down year over year, according to the latest TSA checkpoint data, for the past three Fridays, the TSA has seen more than 1 million people travel. In February, there were seven days with more than 1 million people traveling. In comparison, January only saw three days above a million and those were the busy travel days after the holiday and New Year. 

The latest TSA data prompted the research team at travel app, Hopper, to examine exactly what domestic travel demand looks like right now. The team analyzed Hopper’s database of over 30 billion daily airfare price quotes from flight searches happening all across the web. Below are the team's findings:

Search demand for domestic flights increased 58% from Jan. 1 to March 1, 2021

Domestic Demand

Search demand for international flights has increased 21% from Jan. 1 to March 1, 2021

International Demand

International travel searches have increased 21% since January, signaling travelers may be optimistic about future travel abroad. 

As travelers become more accustomed to new testing requirements and the announcement of travel passports, like the app being rolled out by IATA, travelers are hopeful this will open doors for international travel. In just the past week alone, international flight searches saw a 15% increase (between February 22-March 1).

Shifts in Travel Demand

  • Increased interest in domestic travel: Americans are eager to get back out there when they can. In the past week alone (between February 22-March 1), there has been a 22% increase in searches for domestic flights.

  • Summer travel searches are trending up: Based on the latest search demand data, searches for summer 2021 are clustering for mid-summer travel (July 15th to August 15th). In fact, Hopper saw nearly a 50% increase in domestic searches for flights departing sometime between Jun. 1 - Aug 31 in the past two weeks.

Summer Searches
  • Outdoor-focused destinations are rising in popularity - Many Americans may be seeking more “outdoorsy” trips than before. Destinations in Colorado, Montana, South Carolina are trending up, as well as nearby warm-weather vacation spots like Hawaii.

Which U.S Destinations Are Expected to Recover the Fastest?

Top 10 Domestic Destinations Trending in Search Demand 

Ranking

What does this mean for airfare prices?

Prices for domestic travel are expected to rise in mid-to-late March and gradually return to 2019 levels over the course of the year, with the strongest increase in late spring/summer, once the vaccine is more widespread.

Current domestic airfare prices average at $215 round-trip. Based on our forecast, we expect prices to begin to slowly rise by 4-5% later this month for domestic airfare to $225. However, prices could surge as much as 8% to $232, especially if we see demand ramp up as new vaccines (i.e Johnson & Johnson) get added into the mix. 

For summer, average domestic prices for those booking summer travel now are $261 round-trip and are expected to climb an average of 6% each month before leveling off in June. Average international prices for those booking summer travel now are $786 round-trip, and are expected to climb an average of 4% each month before peaking in July.

Methodology

The data utilized for this study comes from Hopper's real-time "shadow traffic" containing the results of consumer airfare searches. Hopper collects, from several Global Distribution System partners, 25 to 30 billion airfare price quotes every day from searches happening all across the web. The prices reflected in this analysis are Hopper’s “good deal price” which represents what a typical leisure traveler should expect to pay for a round-trip, measured using a “tenth percentile.”

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