Vacation inflation: Going out of town will cost you this summer
‘Welcome back’ specials are history
Your summer getaway could be a budget buster.
With inflation not fully tamed and Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of summer, be warned that some vacation expenses are overheated.
It wasn't long ago that numerous businesses, particularly those that sell "fun," were greatly limited or even shuttered due to pandemic limitations. So, discounting was needed to lure customers until the business restrictions dissolved.
For summer 2023, those "welcome back" specials are history. Travel and hospitality businesses are jammed. And like many labor-intensive industries, there's a worker shortage for leisurely endeavors. That has trimmed the availability of services and raised an operator's costs.
To gauge price pain across the spectrum of vacation spending, my trusty spreadsheet looked at 10 slices of the Consumer Price Index tracking common traveler expenditures. This vacation inflation scorecard compared price averages for the first four months of this year vs. the same timeframe last year and in 2019 — way back when nobody knew what a coronavirus was.
The results suggest leaving town won't be "leisurely" for your wallet. Remember, even the cost to stay home has soared. Overall inflation averaged 6% annual gains in this year's first four months and is up 19% since 2019.
Be warned: some fun expenses have increased even more swiftly …
Airfares: 16% pricier this year and up 9% since 2019. Planes will be packed so don't expect airlines to be enticing folks to fly. And flight numbers are down due to staffing shortages. Jet fuel remains pricey.
Outdoor supplies: 11% costlier this year and up 28% since 2019. The supplychain woes are gone, so supplies are plentiful, but demand for the required outdoor gear grows.
Dining out: 8% pricier this year and up 24% in four years. Restaurants are full of diners and short of staff. And it's not just rising labor costs — costs of ingredients and other supplies remain elevated.
Hotels: 7% more expensive this year and up 16% since 2019. "No Vacancy" signs have become as common as pre-pandemic days. So there are few discounted room rates, and labor costs are surging, too — if staff can be found.
Entertainment: 7% costlier movies, theaters and concerts this year. Admission prices are up 17% since 2019 as folks no longer avoid crowds. The talent is more expensive, for both performers and workers who operate the venues.
Booze, beer, wine: 6% pricier for "alcohol away from home" this year — and up 16% since 2019. Bars had a rough time during the pandemic, as many locations could not do what eateries could — take-out and delivery meals.
Sports tickets: 3% costlier this year and up 1% since 2019. Athletic attendance hasn't rebounded as robustly as other entertainment options. But seeing a game can get costly once you're inside the stadium or arena.
Cruises: 2% cheaper this year and down 6% since 2019. It's not that demand hasn't returned, there's just oodles of competition for cruise-ship travel.
Car rentals: 5% less expensive this year but up 49% since 2019. Finding a rental car has gone from impossible to probable. Car rental companies have trimmed prices modestly.
Gasoline: 9% cheaper this year but up 38% in four years. Petroleum supplies are back in line with demand. Production interruptions are minimal. And there's relative geopolitical calm— always good for the wallets of drivers.
Location. Location. Location.
Don't forget geographic twists, so the hit to your wallet may vary depending where you're headed.
Ponder this slice of vacation-related spending, what's dubbed "recreation" costs. Nationwide, it's up 5% in a year and 12% over four years.
In Midwestern states, recreation is 6% costlier in the past year and 15% pricier over four years. It's up 6% in the West in a year, 13% over four. In the South, it's 5% recreation inflation this year and 12% since 2019.
So, where are the bargains, geographically? Northeast states are up just 2% since 2022, and 11% in four years.