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Inflation is affecting travel, but that doesn't mean it's slowing down

Sarah Griffith's flight to Columbus, Ohio, last summer had a dual purpose: she wanted to see her friends and watch the band Night Ranger play.

Griffith, 50, loved the rock group growing up, and has traveled around the country to see it. "(I) started going to see them and it kind of turned things around and it just kind of became my thing," she said.

But in the wake of the pandemic, she said expensive flight costs and elevated fees for concert tickets have limited her ability to see the band, which makes up a large part of her travel plans each year. She pointed to inflation as a big contributor.

In some cases, Griffith has chosen to attend shows within driving distance, or not go at all.

"It's frustrating," said Griffith, who lives in Manassas, Virginia, and works in the front office of a dental practice. "I mean, I work hard in order to be able to pay my bills, and I'm used to having money left over that I can afford to do stuff, and that money that’s left over now doesn't go as far."

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Experts say Griffith's experience is a good example of how travelers are adjusting their behaviors to account for inflation.

"Because prices are going up everywhere, people are also deliberately choosing their destination," Trivago CEO Axel Hefer told USA TODAY. "Some are choosing attractive but not as expensive destinations," like opting to stay in Pisa instead of Rome on a visit to Italy.

"These kinds of things at the margin are happening," he added.

What does inflation mean for travelers?

Prices in most segments of the economy are going up, and it's no different in the travel sector.

However, a recent study by Deloitte suggests that people aren't shying away from getting out there despite higher prices.

"We believe it’s still looking relatively positive. There’s certainly still some pressure that we’re seeing, inflation pressure or concerns," said Eileen Crowley, Deloitte's vice chair and U.S. transportation, hospitality and services attest leader. She added that people so far do not seem to be discouraged from taking trips, but the firm plans to continue tracking how higher prices affect demand throughout the year.

In the meantime, however, she said Deloitte's research suggests travelers are being more careful about what they're willing to splurge on.

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"From an airline perspective: what category of seats. Do I upgrade? Do I not upgrade?" she said. "From a lodging perspective, what type of class of lodging we’ll book ... I want lodging on the beach, but perhaps I go for a lower class of lodging that’s still on the beach rather than splurge on a place with more amenities."

For their part, on recent earnings calls, airline executives largely said that demand for tickets remains strong, and many pointed to the fact that they were reporting record profits despite flying less overall than they had in 2019 – a sure sign that ticket prices are up and the market could still bear even higher prices potentially.

Are travel deals still available this year?

According to Hefer from Trivago, prices are up pretty much everywhere, but not at the same rate in all places.

"You have to stay flexible. The more flexible you are in terms of date and destination and hotel property, the easier it is for you as a traveler to mitigate the effect," he said. "You still spend more, but you don’t spend as much more as you would have if you had booked the exact same trip.'

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As an example, Hefer noted that spring break prices in Cancun, Mexico, are up 10% on average compared to last year, while the same period in Miami is around 50% more expensive overall. So, he said, travelers who are willing to go to Cancun instead of Miami for spring break may be able to spend less than they would otherwise.

Other advice for travelers

Hefer and Crowley both emphasized that flexibility is the key to economizing on travel during inflation.

"If travelers are thinking about ways to save money, the mode of transportation to get to your trip is something they could pivot on," Crowley said. For example, taking a family road trip instead of flying somewhere.

Traveling at non-peak times, too, can help your trip have less of an impact on your wallet.

"You can get the same experience for a fraction of the money if you are very flexible on destination, a bit flexible on accommodation experience, but, in particular, the timing," Hefer said. "My advice to your readers is stay as flexible as you can and then you can have an awesome experience and you won’t have to pay the high prices you see everywhere."

Griffith, for her part, has not seen any improvement in flight prices – at least not yet.

"I'm hoping," she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Inflation affecting travel? Tourists adjust plans as prices increase