A deep-dive analysis into the landscape of air travel right now, from pricing trends to trending places to how the ongoing pandemic is affecting travelers’ choices in 2022.
When we surveyed travelers for our 2021 State of Cheap Flights report at the end of 2020, the majority (84%) of respondents said they were planning to travel internationally in 2021 and even more (93%) planned to travel domestically.
More than half (61%) said they were feeling hopeful about travel, with 83% of respondents planning to take at least two domestic trips and 44% planning two or more international journeys in 2021.
By May and June, we were filled with vaccines and optimism, as several countries that were previously closed to Americans reopened just in time for peak summer travel season. But by August, some of that excitement diminished when the Delta variant became a bigger concern, and as the year came to a close, an even newer variant called Omicron was making headlines as several countries reinstated travel restrictions.
In this, our third annual Report on the State of Cheap Flights (here's 2021 and 2020), we’ll look at where we are now as we enter year three of the coronavirus pandemic—how consumers are spending on travel, how they choose flights, where they’re going, how much they’re spending to get there, and how the ongoing pandemic continues to impact their travel plans.
Many travelers (36%) actually took more trips in 2021 than they initially expected to, though almost as many (33%) took fewer trips than they expected.
The better news: Only 9% of travelers reported not taking any trips last year. Given that at the start of 2021, most countries were still firmly closed to foreigners and even domestic travel was dicey, we’ll call that a win.
Those who did travel had mostly good things to say about it, like one respondent who said:
“I loved traveling in 2021. Having assurances of deep cleaning of spaces and fresh air in the cabin of the airplane in addition to requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for flights...gave an extreme level of comfort while traveling. Let's not go back to how we traveled. Let's do it better and safer with what we've learned during the pandemic.”
About two-thirds (66%) of travelers cited Covid-related concerns as their number one barrier to travel in 2021. Only 9% cited money as their primary reason for not traveling more.
With more countries now open in 2022 and many countries having a very high percentage of their population vaccinated, hopefully we’ll see Covid becoming less of a barrier to traveling (we’re Scott’s Cheap Flights after all, so we can help with the cost, but other things are out of our control).
If expectation meets reality in 2022, we can expect a travel boom. More than half of travelers plan to take at least two international trips and at least two domestic trips, with most travelers planning to travel for 7-10 days for each international trip and 2-6 days for each domestic trip.
For the majority of travelers this will mean traveling more in 2022 than they did in 2021.
And, after a year when a lot of travelers stuck to domestic travel, many are planning to go big on international trips. 75% are planning more international trips for this year, 63% are planning to take longer international trips than in 2021, and 84% are planning to spend more on international travel this year than they did in 2021.
Compared to 2021, fewer people expect Covid to impact their ability to travel in 2022 (66% in 2021 vs 38% in 2022). Other common barriers for the coming year include lack of funds (25%) and lack of time off (18%).
We saw several comments from people eager to take their kids on trips now that the younger set is eligible for vaccinations, like this respondent:
“I've been waiting to travel internationally or fly with my family until my daughter, age 8, could be vaccinated. She just received her first shot, so we're planning to travel to Spain in 2022.”
Covid red tape also isn’t deterring visitors, with the vast majority willing to visit a country that requires a test or proof of vaccination. 48% of people even say requiring proof of vaccination makes them more likely to visit a place (45% say it makes no difference) and 64% look at vaccination rates when deciding which countries to visit.
Covid has slightly changed the way people travel, though. The most common changes being increased interest in visiting family and friends or in visiting less-populated spots, and an increase in how far out they are booking trips. Other people also reported that they are paying much more attention to cancellation policies.
Members elaborated on other ways that Covid has changed their approach in the comments.
“I am now willing to spend more to have the option to change or cancel a reservation. I always bought the cheapest option available before.”
“I’m less likely to visit a country now if it doesn’t have reliable medical resources. I also feel less inclined to travel without my husband and baby now, because I wouldn’t want to risk being stranded from them.”
And although 30% of people said as a result of Covid they are booking trips farther in advance, only 30% (perhaps those same folks) have already booked flights for a domestic trip in 2022, and only 42% have booked flights for an international trip.
For 2022, most people plan to book their international trips 3-6 months out (64%) and their domestic trips 1-4 months out (76%), which means for peak summer months, most travelers will begin booking their international trips after January and their domestic trips after March.
We recommend booking 2-8 months in advance for international trips and 1-3 months in advance for domestic trips, as this tends to be when we see the best deals.
About one-third (34%) of people say travel is even more important to them now than it was prior to the Covid pandemic. 5% say it’s less and the majority (61%) say its importance hasn’t changed. It’s still critical or highly important to 86% of respondents’ happiness.
This sentiment was echoed in comments like this:
“Planning an international trip for 2022 is a bit tricky considering travel restrictions and safety; however, the pandemic has shown me that I value quality highly over quantity. If it takes an extensive amount of planning, we will do what we can at the best moment to experience international travel again.”
People were also willing to make sacrifices in order to keep traveling, like giving up pizza, Netflix, or social media. Only 2% said they’d rather give up traveling than any of those other things.
91% of respondents with full-time jobs will have the same or more vacation time in 2022 as they did in 2021 (only 9% will have less). Almost three-quarters (73%) get at least 16 days and almost half (47%) get at least 21 days. And we’re happy to hear that 76% of people plan to use all of their vacation time.
Of those with full-time jobs, 64% of people can work remotely and of those who are able to work remotely, half (52%) plan to do so while they travel in 2022.
In our 2020 report, we declared that we are—and have been for a few years—in a Golden Age of Cheap Flights. For example, in 1948, a roundtrip ticket from NYC to Rome cost $848—the equivalent of about $9,000 today. But Scott’s Cheap Flights regularly finds our members flights (on full-service airlines) from NYC to Rome for under $300 roundtrip.
The average price of all our deals has fluctuated over the years. This year, for example, the average price of flights to Oceania was higher because there were very few deals on flights to Australia, which remains closed. But in general, we’re still seeing prices in the same range we did in 2018 and 2019, and, perhaps most importantly, we’ve actually seen some “lowest price ever” fares on several routes, including our cheapest fares ever to Portugal, the Maldives, and South Korea.
In “normal” years, last-minute flights tend to be more expensive—it’s the airlines’ way of price-gouging business travelers that they know will pay more to be flexible. But in 2021, with business travel largely on pause and airlines scrambling to fill planes, we saw a lot more last-minute deals than usual.
In fact, we saw so many of these price drops that we launched a new product to deliver them to members. Every week, Premium and Elite members now get a Weekend Getaways digest full of domestic and short-haul international deals for the coming month.
Since launching this about halfway through 2021, we’ve already found more than 13,000 last-minute weekend getaway deals.
With fewer suits taking to the skies in business class and first class, airlines have been slashing fares on the big seats up front—in many cases lowering them into the range of what most people pay for economy class.
We’re talking Chicago to Stockholm nonstop for $604 in premium economy, Boston to Amsterdam for $986 in business class, or Los Angeles to Oaxaca for $486 in business class.
Even when prices aren’t as low as full-priced economy fares, we’re still seeing an average savings of $2,000 per international trip in business class.
Note: Premium economy is not generally offered on most routes within North America and the Caribbean. Crossed out fares represent the typical prices for those routes.
Once again, the West Coast tops travelers' lists of which US regions they want to visit. California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, New York, Florida, Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Utah, Arizona, and Montana are among the states people are most interested in visiting.
Sorry to North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, which were all among those at the bottom of the list (we still love you!).
*Note: Percentages total more than 100 because respondents could select multiple places.
When it comes to countries and regions, Europe and Asia once again top the list of most-coveted destinations, along with the US and Mexico.
*Note: Percentages total more than 100 because respondents could select multiple places.
Within those destinations, people are still gravitating towards the major cities, but also to small towns and beaches. In the US, national parks are also popular spots.
Outside of Covid considerations, price is still the main factor that influences traveler’s decisions on where to go, with 64% of people saying they choose destinations because they found a good deal and 55% choosing based on a recommendation from a friend or family member.
*Note: Percentages total more than 100 because respondents could select multiple answers.
2021 was a rollercoaster on the path to normalcy. We’re not there yet, but for many, the year wasn’t a total loss. 91% of people took at least one trip in 2021 and the majority plan to travel more in 2022.
There’s so much hope for 2022, with people planning to travel more, spend more, and take longer trips (thanks to remote work for some). People are especially planning to go big on international trips this year.
Covid is beginning to be less of a barrier to travel, and most people are willing to navigate Covid tests and vaccination proof to travel. However, Covid is still impacting how people travel and it's factoring into where they go.
Finally, we’re still in the Golden Age of Cheap Flights. At Scott’s Cheap Flights, we’re still finding dozens of amazing deals every single day, and this year we even saw some record low fares. We also have seen a huge increase in the number of last-minute deals, prompting our new Weekend Getaways roundups, and we’re finding a ton of fantastic fares in premium economy, business, and first class for our Elite members.
Since 2015, Scott's Cheap Flights has helped members make their travel dreams come true. Our Flight Experts search thousands of flights every day to discover flight deals and Mistake Fares and email them to our 2+ million members, saving them $550 per ticket on average.