Ohioans going on vacation can expect a similar experience to 2019, before COVID led to canceled flights and forced would-be travelers to hold family reunions via Zoom.
That means busy airport terminals and congested highways are back. The only difference will be the price of the trip, which is expected to be much higher due to ongoing inflation.
AAA forecasts that 2.2 million Ohioans will travel at least 50 miles this Thanksgiving holiday, which is 96% of 2019 volume, the nonprofit travel association said in a news release. These Ohioans will face 10% higher travel expenses than last year, the press release said.
The travel association also predicts 216,000 Ohioans will fly over Thanksgiving weekend, up 9.1% year over year and exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 15,000 people.
The expected increases come despite higher travel costs. Across the country, airfares are up 43%, hotel rates are up 9%, and rental car rates are up 3.5% from 2021, according to analysis by personal finance firm NerdWallet.
And while Ohio gasoline prices have been falling steadily after topping $5 a gallon in September, the current statewide average price of $3.64 a gallon is nearly 40 cents higher than this time last year, according to the AAA.
Tony Meredith, dance director at Danceville USA ballroom dance school in the short north, travels frequently to experience dancing in different parts of the world.
“It seems like hotel prices have doubled,” he said.
As a frequent flyer, Meredith can offset some expenses by earning airline miles and hotel perks, but finding a good hotel deal requires booking his stay well in advance.
Meredith and his husband were planning a trip to London and Cairo around Christmas and are optimistic the frequently canceled and delayed flights that made headlines at the height of COVID are a thing of the past. But the Short North resident said he has learned to go with the flow when travel is disrupted.
“If there’s anything that teaches patience, it’s travel,” he said.
He’s far from the only traveler experiencing a spike in travel costs post-COVID.
“Holiday travel is always expensive, and this year’s inflation is compounding that,” said Sally French, a NerdWallet travel expert.
Ohioans planning a vacation trip have a few money-saving options.
“If possible, avoid peak travel days,” Kevin Heery, chief product officer of booking website Priceline, said in a statement. “Changing your travel dates or extending your trip can result in significant cost savings.”
Flights on Christmas Eve, when most travelers have already departed, are 11% cheaper than December 22, which Priceline predicts is expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year.
And if you book a return flight after January 2nd, you can save up to 20% on the fare.
More:Passenger traffic returns to John Glenn, Rickenbacker, in the wake of the pandemic
The Columbus Regional Airport Authority expects the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving to be the busiest days at the city’s two airports before Christmas, said Kari Hartwig, a digital media specialist at the airport authority. The agency operates John Glenn Columbus International Airport and Rickenbacker International Airport.
“We’re already ramping up passenger traffic,” she said. “It started on Wednesday this week.”
The agency generally recommends that passengers arrive at the airport 90 minutes before domestic flights and two hours before international flights to allow time for check-in and security screening.
“We’re pushing that (earlier) this year,” Hartwig said. “We anticipate that TSA lines will be longer once we are past the COVID phase. Many people are traveling for the first time since 2019.”
The airport authority also recommends checking lists of prohibited items, including snow globes with more than 3.5 ounces of liquid. These items are popular gifts around the holidays but could be confiscated at security checks, Hartwig said.
Anyone who wants to drive should make sure their cars have received all necessary maintenance, said Kimberly Schwind, director of public affairs at AAA Ohio.
“This year we’ve seen a lot more people holding on to their cars longer because it’s more expensive to buy,” she said.
If you’re one of those people, “it’s more important to make sure your car is ready for the trip and make sure you have the maintenance you need,” she said.