By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Gas prices and Covid cases are high as the US rolls into Memorial Day weekend and the busy summer travel season.
The tangled web of global restrictions is still in play, but most Americans are planning to be out and about this summer.
According to the US Travel Association, about six in 10 Americans are planning at least one summer trip.
Gas prices are definitely a factor. US Travel is reporting that 63% of American travelers say rising gas prices will impact their decision to travel in the next six months.
That’s certainly the case for Eric Stevens, a single dad in Los Angeles who has decided he won’t be going anywhere. He’s spending about $180 a week on gas for his day-to-day obligations.
Typically, he and his kids would choose a travel destination within about one tank of gas from their home in Encino.
“We’ve done Tahoe, we’ve done San Francisco, Carpenteria, Santa Barbara. There’s no way I can afford that this weekend,” Stevens said.
They wanted to visit Lake Havasu in Arizona this year, but necessities like daycare trump travel.
“Dad has canceled fun due to inflation,” Stevens wrote to CNN. He told CNN’s Pete Muntean that he feels like he’s depriving his younger kids of the kinds of travel experiences and memories his older kids had.
“This will likely be one of the most expensive Memorial Day travel periods we’ve ever seen,” Andrew Gross, a spokesperson for travel organization AAA, told Muntean.
Out of the more than 39 million people AAA expects to travel over the holiday weekend, nearly 35 million will drive.
The share of travelers planning to drive actually dipped — from 92.1% last year to 88.9% this year — “a slight indication that higher prices at the pump are having an impact on how people choose to travel this Memorial Day,” AAA said in its forecast.
For those who are planning to hit the road this summer, CNN Travel has rounded up 11 ways to soften the blow of high gas prices on your road trip.
High prices all around
It’s not just gas prices.
“My rent was raised. Gas prices soared. Groceries soared. Everything soared. So no Montana this year,” wrote CNN reader Sheri Brown, who’s been dreaming about a trip to Montana for years.
Hotel prices right now are up from pre-pandemic levels, according to figures from hospitality analytics firm STR.
The average daily rate for US hotels for the week ending on May 21 was up more than 13% over a comparable week in 2019, before the pandemic. Miami posted the highest rate bump over 2019, with a more than 42% increase in the average daily rate.
Despite high prices heading into the peak summer travel season, many travelers are forging ahead with ambitious plans.
Lisa Blades, an estate manager in Montecito, California, is going to Paris with her best friend of 55 years and their daughters, a trip they’ve talked about for decades.
“On y va!” she wrote, telling CNN they’re going for it, despite “multiple layers of adversity.”
“I’m talking Covid here, plus the outrageous cost of air travel, a war in Europe, and wrangling 3 college age schedules, let alone eking out my first vacation from work in 5 years.”
They’ve opted for a more cost-effective vacation rental property over hotel rooms and are going to Paris in August, even though much of the city will be on vacation.
Blades and her daughter are flying to Paris via Ireland because it’s cheaper than a nonstop flight. They’re departing from San Francisco, tacking on another $700 in airfare to the $4,196 transatlantic portion of their trip.
Flight prices are up “across the board,” says Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for FlightAware.
“If you see a cheap fare that appeals to you, book it! You’ve got 24 hours to change your mind, but in that same time period, the price could go up, or the seat could be gone,” she said.
Tips for smoother summer air travel
Travel experts are predicting a chaotic travel season, with air travelers likely to see a lot of disruptions as airlines scramble to meet demand amid a host of operational challenges.
Delta Air Lines on Thursday cited “weather and air traffic control, vendor staffing, increased Covid case rates contributing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups” as factors in its decision to cancel about 100 daily departures in July and early August.
AAA says 3 million people are expected to fly over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That figure is approaching 2019 levels and represents a 25% increase over last year.
Here are some more tips from FlightAware’s Kathleen Bangs for smoother flights this weekend and beyond:
• Book early morning flights. This ups your chances of getting on a later flight in the event of major delays or cancellations.
• Book with two hours minimum between connecting flights. Tight connections could leave you stranded.
• Check your departure airport’s website and Twitter feed. They often share useful information about construction projects impacting operations and long security lines.
• Check your airline’s website for travel waivers. Sometimes you can easily change your flight when delays and cancellations are likely. Case in point: Delta issued a waiver on Thursday for Memorial Day weekend.
• Check your credit card’s travel coverage. Premium card holders often have insurance that could cover expenses such as meals and accommodation in the event of a delay or cancellation.
Bangs also noted that some airlines have lowered their baggage weight limits, so it’s a good idea to check on those and weigh your bag at home.
And packing a mask makes sense.
Bangs pointed to an unfortunate set of circumstances for passengers flying into Washington’s Reagan National Airport last weekend that kept them on planes for an extra five hours.
With Covid cases up in many areas, spending a long time in an enclosed space carries an added risk.
And while masks are not currently required in US airports and on US airlines, the CDC still recommends them for public transportation. Some international airlines and destinations still require them.
Everyone’s ready for some much-needed rest and relaxation this summer. A little advance planning can help smooth the way for what could be a bumpy ride.
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Top image: Travelers pass through the concourse at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the eve of Memorial Day weekend in 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)