No more cheap flights: Domestic travel prices up over 20% from pre-pandemic levels, report says

U.S. consumers spent $8.8 billion on domestic flight bookings in March, surpassing pre-pandemic spending on bookings, according to Adobe. 

Total consumer spending on domestic bookings in March grew 28% compared to the same time in 2019, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, which measures direct consumer transactions from six of the top 10 U.S. airlines. 

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In the first three months of the year alone, consumers already doled out a total of $21 billion in domestic flights online. Comparatively, consumers spent a total of $56 billion on domestic flights in all of 2021, according to the data. 

Travelers pack a United Airlines check-in area ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday at Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., November 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Mike Segar / Reuters)

The data showed that as demand picked back up, so did the price of tickets. The cost for plane tickets increased 20% in March compared to 2019 levels, according to Adobe. In February, prices were 5% higher than 2019 levels. In January, though, prices were 3% lower than 2019 levels, according to the data. 

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“Inflation in ticket prices is now having a greater impact on consumer purchasing power,” according to Adobe’s report. 

For instance, although online spending in March was up 28% compared with 2019, actual bookings were up just 12%. 

A family looks at flight information at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021. ((Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images) / Getty Images)

“Consumers have seen online prices for physical goods rise now for 22 consecutive months, per the Adobe Digital Price Index, and inflation is becoming more prominent for services as well,” said Adobe Digital Insights lead analyst Vivek Pandya.

Pandya said that “pent-up demand has been a major driving factor, as the desire for air travel is coming back more aggressively than anticipated.”

Meanwhile, domestic bookings from June to August are picking up as well. Online spending for that time frame is already up 8% compared with the comparable period in 2019 and bookings are up by 3%, according to Adobe.