Travel Weekly Consumer Trends 2016

Air travel: More travelers fly, yet take fewer trips


Lower airfares appear to be winning out over headline-grabbing security lines and many other hassles associated with airports and air travel, the 2016 Consumer Trends Survey found.

The data shows that the percentage of leisure travelers who booked an airline flight in the past 12 months reached 51%, up from 43% in the 2015 survey.

Peter Vlitas, senior vice president for airline relations at Travel Leaders Group, said the boost is the result of a combination of factors.

"First, it's the level of fares and value," he said. "This is the best it's ever going to be, and going forward the value won't be the same. Prices will go up."

Flight prices are down 12% from last year, more than 20% from two years ago and are currently at lower seasonal levels than they've been since 2009, according to airfare prediction site and app developer Hopper.

Vlitas said the airlines deserve the lion's share of credit for the improved performance "Look at Delta, where there's been phenomenal results," he said. "It's rebranding and promoting its premium economy. United has successfully repositioned itself. American, too. There are more options and fare types for consumers to choose from."

However, while the percentage of travelers booking air tickets in the past 12 months shows improvement, the actual number of trips that include an air component is down. In fact, the Travel Weekly survey found it has fallen to an all-time low of 27%, a decrease from 30% last year.

The two findings might seem difficult to reconcile, but Vlitas suggested that the low cost of gas could mean a spike in driving vacations within the U.S. and to Canada. He also suggested that frequent flyers who use miles to pay for air tickets might not consider that buying airfare.

"And if I book a cruise that includes free air, where does that fall in?" he said. "The complexity of trips has changed. A lot of people buy a land package one place and air someplace else. Perhaps they aren't seeing the combination of both as a trip with an air ticket."

Vlitas also said that airport hassles continue to put off some travelers, which might also prompt more driving getaways. "People worry whether the plane will show up, and there are often tight connections," he said. "So you ask, 'How much of a hassle do I want to put up with?'"

The DOT reported that in 2015 it received 20,170 complaints, up from 15,539 in 2014,  a nearly 30% spike.

The Travel Weekly findings also showed that international trips are holding steady this year at 19% of all trips, the same as in 2015. Between 2012 and 2014, that percentage had been 16%. And while American travelers aren't afraid to complain to the DOT about frustrations related to air travel, neither are they afraid to visit countries that have experienced terror attacks.

France is the No. 1 destination for vacationers who have upcoming plans to visit Europe, according to a Travel Leaders survey published in May.

"Unfortunately these terror events are becoming a fact of life nowadays," said Vlitas. "But Americans are very resilient."

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