labor day weekend travel volumes may rebound to pre-pandemic levels

NEW YORK — The number of people traveling for the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels and possibly set new records in some cases, according to several travel companies.

U.S. travel demand remains elevated for the final holiday weekend of summer as people are choosing to squeeze in one more trip despite higher airfares and rates, ongoing disruptions to flights and the squeeze on household budgets due to inflation, the travel companies said.

“People are not deciding to stay home, they are still going, they are still finding a way to travel,” said Paula Twidale, AAA senior vice president of travel.

The weekend of Labor Day, which always falls on the first Monday in September, may be tied with Memorial Day weekend as the busiest travel weekend of the summer with flight bookings set to match those of the May holiday, according to travel booking app Hopper. That would allow it to surpass travel volumes of the Fourth of July weekend.

Labor Day holiday travel spending is up 17% compared with 2019 levels, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures data across travel, leisure and hospitality sites.

Domestic flight prices are expected to be 20% higher than the holiday weekend in 2019 and 2021, according to Hopper.

United Airlines Holdings Inc anticipates 2.6 million people will travel with the airline from Thursday through Tuesday. The airline carrier said this would nearly match its Labor Day weekend volume of 2019.

Hopper predicts 12.6 million travelers will fly from Thursday to Monday this weekend. That would be about 22% higher than passenger volumes in 2019 as reflected in U.S. Transportation Security Administration checkpoint figures.

The total number of nights booked on short-term rental platforms like Airbnb Inc and Vrbo are up over 16% this Labor Day weekend compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to short-term rental analytics firm AirDNA.

Approximately 1.76 million nights have already been booked across the holiday weekend, a record number of nights for short- term rentals during Labor Day weekend, according to Jamie Lane, AirDNA vice president of research.

“People are being a little bit more resistant to the higher prices and they’re booking different types of accommodations as opposed to hotels,” said Patrick Scholes, Truist equity analyst.

The average price for a domestic hotel this weekend is up 32% compared with 2019 and up 6% compared with 2021 levels, according travel search engine KAYAK.

Even international travel, which has been slow to recover to pre-pandemic levels due to COVID-19 restrictions, is set to surpass 2019 levels this weekend.

International flight bookings this weekend are up 14% compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to scheduled flight ticketing database ForwardKeys. AAA said international bookings across travel segments will more than double last year’s total.

Flight cancellations are down compared with Labor Day weekend in 2021 while delays are up.

Since Aug. 17, more than 4,900 U.S. flights, or about 1.8% of the scheduled total, have been canceled and another 56,700 have been delayed, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Ongoing structural airline delays and staffing woes across the industry may present obstacles and disruptions to vacations this weekend, said Robert Cole, an analyst with Phocuswright, a global travel market research firm.

“The big question at the end of the weekend is going to be, was it worth it?” he added.

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