Escaping the Polar Vortex: Impact on travel from Minnesota and Chicago

Patrick Surry - Jan. 31, 2016

Summary

  • Daily flight search volume from Minneapolis to the top 10 destinations increased by an average of 40% between the last two weeks of December and the first week of January (when news of the polar vortex broke); significantly higher than the average over all origins of 29%

  • The largest increases in flight searches were to Cancun, Las Vegas, Phoenix and various Florida destinations

  • Prices were largely steady, with some Florida destinations showing a slight uptrend.

  • For Chicago, flight search volumes increased a little less than average, at 19%, because traffic for several popular destinations such as New York and Los Angeles was far below average, however, searches from Chicago to Cancun spiked 52% during Polar Vortex.

  • Prices have been fairly steady with warm weather destinations on a slow upward trend.

  • The favorite destinations in 2014 are largely unchanged from the same period last year, but there are some good warm weather prices as compared to January 2013.  For example, Minneapolis to Florida and Los Angeles, as well as, Chicago to Cancun, Mexico City and San Juan all saw great prices this year.

Analysis

As the polar vortex causes weather to drop across the US, Minneapolis and Chicago have been particularly hard hit, see Figure 1.  The cold front has caused many airline cancellations and delays, and Hopper Research wanted to investigate if flight search patterns for flights from both cities have also changed.

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Figure 1: Maximum and Minimum recorded temperatures for January 6, 2014 (source: NOAA NCEP Daily Weather Map; http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/dailywxmap/)

Figure 2 shows all the destinations from Minneapolis that appeared in the top 10 most popular destinations in early January 2013, late December 2013, and early January 2014 respectively.  There are 12 total destinations on the map illustrating the significant overlap in results between the 3 time frames.  With the exception of New York, all destinations on the map are warm weather locations.

Figure 2: Destinations included in top 10 most popular flight searches from Minneapolis in January 2013, December 2013, and January 2014.

Figure 3 shows the 10 most popular destinations from Minneapolis during the first week of January 2013 (a year ago), during the last two weeks of December 2013 (a few weeks ago), and during the first week of January 2014 (last week).  Prices and ranking of the top 10 cities can be compared across all 3 dates, while (due to data changes) search volumes can only be compared between December 2013 and January 2014.  It can be seen that Las Vegas was the top destination from Minneapolis in January 2013, but slipped to second place in December 2013 and January 2014 and was overtaken by Cancun.  The top 7 destinations stayed constant between the 3 times frames and Tampa appeared in the bottom 3 for all time frames.

The search volume increased between the last week of December 2013 and the first week of January 2013.  Cancun and Las Vegas both saw increases of over 45%, which is well above the national average of 29% increase.  The remaining repeated destinations, with the exception of Tampa, all saw increases in search volume above the national average with numbers ranging from 32% to 41%.

Prices did not significantly vary between December 2013 and January 2014, though some Florida destinations saw a very slight increase.  Minneapolis to Florida and Los Angeles saw great prices in January 2014 as compared to the same time last year.

Figure 3: Estimated daily search volumes and prices for the top 10 destinations from Minneapolis.  Search volumes in Jan 2013 are not comparable to the two later periods due to underlying data changes. These results exclude business-oriented trips (without a Saturday-night stay) as well as  long-haul international destinations.

Figure 4 shows all the destinations from Chicago that appeared in the top 10 most popular destinations in January 2013, December 2013, and January 2014.  There are 11 total destinations on the map illustrating the significant overlap in results between the 3 time frames.  With the exception of New York, all destinations on the map are warm weather locations.

Figure 4: Destinations included in top 10 results for travel from Chicago in January 2013, December 2013, and January 2014.

Figure 5 shows the top 10 most popular destinations from Chicago during the first week of January 2013 (a year ago), during the last week of December 2013 (a few weeks ago), and during the first week of January 2014 (last week).  The order of the top 10 cities can be compared across all 3 dates, while (due to data changes)  search volumes can only be compared between December 2013 and January 2014.

It can be seen that Cancun was the top destinations from Minneapolis in January 2013 and 2014, but slipped to second place in December 2013 when it was overtaken by Las Vegas.  Montego Bay appeared in the top 10 list in January 2013, but was replaced by Guadalajara in December 2013 and January 2014.

The search volume to Cancun increased significantly, by 52%,  between the last week of December 2013 and the first week of January 2013.  Los Angeles saw a very small ~1% decrease in searches and all other destinations increased by 2 to 22%, all below the national average of 29%.

Prices did not significantly vary between December 2013 and January 2014, though warm weather destinations have been seeing a slow increase.  However, Cancun, Mexico City and San Juan all saw great prices as compared to this time last year.

Figure 5: Estimated daily search volumes and prices for the top 10 destinations from Chicago.  Note different vertical scales (both axes) compared to Figure 3.

Data and Methodology

The data presented in this analysis comes from Hopper’s combined feed of Global Distribution System (GDS) data sources which includes about 10 million queries and 1 billion trips per day.  Demand is represented as the number of queries not actual ticket purchases, and is calibrated across all GDS sources for each market.  Lowest fare is represented by the 10th percentile prices.  For example if the 10th percentile price is $800 dollars it means that only 10% of trips are priced at or below this price.

The data presented in this analysis includes only searches that included a Saturday night stay, which focuses the analysis on the behavior of consumer (not business) travel.  Long haul destinations were also excluded from the analysis.  Hopper’s data feed changed during 2013, so that search volumes measured in January 2013 are not comparable with volumes measured more recently.

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