If you’re planning to travel somewhere in 2024, you probably have lots of questions. Like, how much will it cost? Is it safe? Are there places I should avoid? Should I just stay home?
And chances are, you’ve probably heard a lot of answers in the last few days. It’s hard to miss the talking heads on TV who sound so sure of themselves. But the truth is, no one has any idea what will really happen for the most part.
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So what do we know? We have a pretty good idea of travel prices (they’ll be mixed, but generally affordable). We also know that some major new travel requirements have been delayed, but not for long. We know travel can be risky and that there are some places you should absolutely avoid in 2024.
The rest is pure conjecture – but oh boy, is it ever fun.
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What we know about travel in 2024
Forecasts that are based on hard data like advance bookings or future contracts are fairly reliable. So here’s what we know about travel prices in 2024:
◾ Domestic airfares will fall. Airfares will slide 16% this year compared to 2023 for U.S. flights, according to Kayak. The average round-trip ticket will cost $461. Internationally, fares will rise 10% from last year.
◾ Car rental rates will climb.American Express projects car rental prices will increase by 5% this year in the U.S. and Canada. But some destinations, such as Mexico and Chile, won’t see any change in prices.
◾ Fuel prices will drop. Gas prices will slide almost 5%, to an average of $3.36 in 2024, according to projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That should make spring break and summer driving trips more affordable.
◾ Hotel rates will rise. Lodging rates will increase almost 7% on average in 2024, according to research by BCD Travel. But it will vary by city and time of year.
Overall, travel should be affordable in 2024, barring any big surprises. But it depends on where you go and when you go.
If you’re traveling to Europe, you could spend $8 a gallon on gas. And don’t even think about getting an affordable hotel room in Paris this July. Average hotel rates during the Olympic Games are up from $187 a night to $764, according to the Paris Tourist Office.
Coming soon: new travel requirements
It looked like 2024 would be a big year for new travel requirements. But some of those have been postponed.
◾ No Europe travel authorization for U.S. travelers. Europe’s ETIAS travel authorization, a new entry requirement for visa-exempt people traveling Europe, was supposed to launch this year. Authorities have delayed it until 2025. Some observers say it won’t be in place until mid-2025.
◾ But mind Europe’s new Entry/Exit System (EES). The new system, which collects biometric information on travelers, could slow down your next airport transit. You’ll want to give yourself a little extra time when leaving from a European airport so you won’t miss your flight.
◾ You can still fly domestically with your old ID. The TSA’s requirement that your driver’s license or other state photo ID meet the new REAL ID standards has been extended to mid-2025. But this may be the year to get one of the new IDs.
Still, some countries are implementing new travel requirements in 2024, so make sure you check before you leave. For example, you’ll need a visa to enter Brazil after January 10. There’s an option for an e-visa for qualified applicants. Don’t wait until the last minute to make arrangements.
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Travel will be safer and cheaper – except here
The experts may want you to think that travel hasn’t been this safe and affordable since the pandemic. But they probably say that because they want you to book more travel in 2024.
If you’re traveling domestically, you’ll probably want to steer clear of the political conventions this summer in Milwaukee and Chicago. Paris in summer is also a no-go (wait until fall for prices to come back down). Plus, there are big holidays around the world, like Diwali, Eid and Christmas, which reliably translate into huge crowds and high rates.
And as for safety – sure, visiting your closest national park in 2024 will be a pretty safe bet. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas-Israel conflict show no sign of ending any time soon, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see another major conflict or two next year.
All the more reason to study those State Department advisories before you book – and to consider buying a comprehensive travel insurance policy from a reputable company.
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And here’s what could happen to travel in 2024
Now comes the fun part, which is making informed predictions about next year.
◾ Artificial intelligence will change the way you travel: I’m probably not the first person to say this, and I know I won’t be the last. However, most of the travel industry has been focused on AI as a travel planning tool. Here’s the space to watch: For years, travel companies have been using AI to squeeze the most money out of you using programs that predict demand and set prices. The latest AI promises to turn the tables on that equation. In 2024, travelers could use AI to help them find the lowest rates and the best times to book – and it could save them billions of dollars collectively.
◾ More airlines will merge: The merger between Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, announced late last year, took almost everyone by surprise. I don’t think we’re done. There’s still the pending merger between JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, which will be decided by a court in early 2024. Something tells me there will be more airline mergers in 2024, if not in the United States, then abroad. Buying a competitor, laying off employees and raising prices is just too tempting for the average airline CEO to resist. Passengers have two choices. Either complain to government regulators and ask them to stop these anticompetitive mergers, or accept the higher fares and reduced service.
◾ Travel fees will increase: Alaska Airlines has already raised its checked baggage fees from $30 to $35, effective Jan. 2. A second bag will cost $45, a $5 increase. Other domestic airlines are certain to follow. And it’s not just airlines. Hotels will quietly increase their mandatory “resort” fees this year unless the government adopts a new rule limiting these junk fees, which it is considering. Fees like these are found money for the hotel. The actual cost of providing the service is often close to zero. So it’s all just a clever way of raising prices.
This is shaping up to be one of the most interesting years to travel, but let’s not mince words. Despite the affordable prices, you’ll find more fees, new rules – and danger. Now more than ever, you’ll have to deploy the latest technology to stay safe and avoid rip-offs.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun. I’ll see you out there.
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected].
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