If you’re weary of winter, take heart.
Cancun, Miami, Myrtle Beach, Key West and Jacksonville are among nearly 20 popular nonstop routes restarting soon at Pittsburgh International Airport as spring break beckons.
Experts are predicting a busy spring break travel season as pent-up demand from travelers flush with savings is expected to surge. Mix in more nonstop options and the result could be passenger traffic approaching pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.
While high demand is pushing up costs and the pandemic remains a concern, that is unlikely to deter many from venturing to their favorite warm-weather destinations this spring, said Bijan Vasigh, an aviation consultant and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
Vasigh predicts spring break air travel nationwide could approach 80 to 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, coupled with returning flights this summer that double as leisure and business destinations, such as San Francisco, Austin and London.
“People have not traveled as much since the pandemic began,” he said. “They are upset, they have cash now and they will try to travel this year.”
Matthew Roberts, of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, was traveling through PIT on Monday en route to see a friend in New Orleans and to kick off Mardi Gras.
“I’m taking my first visit to New Orleans,” he said. “I’ve never done spring break, so I guess it’s my first.”
Travel industry professionals say the cost of journeying to such destinations, as well as staying there, can be expensive this year. Their advice? Book early.
Take Orlando, for example. The home of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World is the most popular spring break destination for travelers across the country, including Pittsburghers.
This year, those who did not book their Orlando flights far in advance should expect higher prices, according to Bob Thompson, a partner in Ambassador Travel Service.
Thompson, whose agency specializes in families with children, said that nonstop flights to Orlando are nearly sold out. That’s pushing prices higher than $500 for roundtrip tickets, at least for last-minute planners.
Compare that to last year. Steve Lange of Pittsburgh-based Travel Sharks told Blue Sky then that air fares to popular destinations such as Florida were going for as low as $59 each way for spring break trips.
Thompson said it’s a simple matter of supply and demand.
“The flights for ideal travel times were on sale for months and months, and now they’re mostly gone,” he said. “You can try (ultra-low cost carriers) such as Allegiant or Spirit, maybe try flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday when people don’t really want to fly. But if you’re looking for a bargain, it really doesn’t exist at this point.”
Once you get to Florida, Thompson said it’s less expensive to book a hotel in the Caribbean than it is in vacation destinations in the Sunshine State.
“With Florida beach hotels, there certainly are no bargains on the sand,” he said. “You’re looking at $400 to $500 per night.”
Not just Florida
Leisure destinations across the country are seeing similar demand. In terms of top spring break destinations for travelers nationwide, Orlando is followed by other warm-weather destinations, including Cancún, Mexico; Las Vegas; Miami; and Phoenix, according to an analysis by the booking app Hopper, the Washington Post reported last week.
Airfares are higher than they’ve been since before the pandemic. Domestic tickets for spring break 2022—defined as Feb. 15 through March 31—are 20 percent more expensive than last year, which was 5 percent higher than 2019.
Rates are higher for hotels, too. One night in a vacation rental in Central Florida will cost an average of $257 during spring break, up 22 percent from 2021, according to Hostaway, a vacation rental management platform. Marcus Rader, Hostaway’s chief executive, says by early November, the company’s Florida vacation rental inventory was already 81 percent booked, compared with just 72 percent in 2019, according to the Post.
Brett Horowitz, owner of Pittsburgh-based Olsen-O’Leary Travels Inc., said it can be less expensive to do spring break overseas than it is to travel domestically or to the Caribbean or Mexico.
“I could go skiing in Switzerland next month and the round-trip airfare would be around $500,” he said.