"Airfares into and out of Orlando are up sharply this summer"
Airfares into and out of Orlando are up sharply this summer
By: Sara K. Clarke
Summer vacation is almost within sight. For many families, that means planning a plane trip to see Mickey Mouse and have some fun in the sun. And this year, that could also mean some sticker shock.
Airfares into and out of Orlando are up sharply compared with a year ago, and the added cost can be significant when an entire family is flying both ways.
For example, the lowest round-trip airfare from New York to Orlando for travel on June 22 was $214 a person as of Thursday, excluding some taxes and fees; last year, that same ticket was $174, according to BestFares.com.
From Dallas, the price for travel that day has more than doubled in the past 12 months to $358 a person, up from $144 a year ago.
"I can't find one city out of Orlando that's cheaper than it was last year. Not one," said Tom Parsons, chief executive of the website, which tracks airline prices. "We're not talking a $10 fare hike here."
Gone are the days when a cross-country flight could be had for $200, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. Airline mergers — such as the recent consolidations of Southwest and AirTran, and Continental and United — have reduced the number of "irrational fare sales," Hobica said.
"It's probably time to reconsider what a low airfare is," he added.
Lisa Pardo, a Colorado resident whose husband is from Florida, says the higher ticket prices this summer had her family rethinking their travel plans. For an August trip from Denver to Orlando, she had expected to pay between $325 to $350 a person round trip, including taxes and fees, but the best she could come up with was about $450 a head.
For the same trip around Thanksgiving Day, the cost rose to $750 a person, she said.
"It seems like there're fewer flights. There's less competition," Pardo said. "It's hard on families."
Airlines have been pushing fares up gradually for months nationwide, citing higher fuel costs. Southwest Airlines, the busiest carrier at Orlando International, has imposed several recent fare hikes and yet it still expects to lose money during the first quarter because of higher-than-anticipated prices for aviation fuel.
Experts warn, however, against purchasing summer tickets too early. According to Fly.com, for example, prices are higher the further out you are from a departure date because the airlines assume early bookers have their heart set on a specific destination.
While many people will persevere with their summer vacations this year, despite the pricier tickets, they could offset the added expense by making other changes in their plans, such as cutting back on entertainment, dining and souvenirs, a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Association found.
And that could stunt the rebound in tourism that has been leading the economic recovery in big travel destinations such as Orlando, the group said.
Fewer than one-fourth of Orlando's domestic vacationers come by plane; the overwhelming majority drive here. And Visit Orlando, the area's convention-and-visitors bureau, said recent statistics don't indicate a slowdown in the number of summer travelers headed this way. Instead, advance demand for hotel rooms in June, July and August is running ahead of last year's pace by double-digit percentages, it said.
Walt Disney World, by far and away the single-largest tourist destination in Central Florida, said it is not hearing from prospective guests this spring about airfare issues. And airfares haven't been a major topic of conversation during its parent company's recent conference calls with industry analysts to discuss quarterly earnings and, among other things, its theme parks' performance.
SeaWorld Orlando is hoping that recently introduced travel packages will help this summer. A spokeswoman said the theme park recognizes that, if consumers are paying significantly more to travel to a vacation destination, they will be looking for ways to cut back elsewhere.
"Either way you look at it, we do need to acknowledge for Orlando tourism that the mindset has shifted," said Toni Caracciolo, vice president of marketing for SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica. Thecompany's vacation packages feature "official" hotels that offer guests added value, including complimentary transportation, early entry to the parks and short waits in line, Caracciolo said.
"Right now, we're seeing every indicator that these values are working," she said.
Universal Orlando is betting new features that debut soon, including a Universal Cinematic Spectacular nighttime show and the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction, will give vacationers a compelling reason to visit the resort.
"We are always watching key indicators like airfares, but we're optimistic about this summer," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said.