Spring has gotten off to a shaky start, what with April floods and May snowstorms, but travel experts say it's time to put away the snow shovel and start getting serious about summer vacation planning.
Summer travel season is just weeks away and despite the lure of possible last-minute travel deals, the best airfares are going to take some advance planning.
Expect to pay a bit more for air travel this summer, Priceline.com says. Based on a 30-day sampling of published-price summer airline tickets booked through the website, the average domestic airfare for June travel is $375, up 1.4 percent from a year ago. August's average domestic airfare is $377, or 1.5 percent more than last year. July flyers will pay about the same as last year, with an average domestic airfare of $388.
While June and August will be the most affordable months for domestic air travel, U.S. travelers heading overseas will find their best fares in August, with an average airfare of $883, up 1.8 percent from last year. The average international airfare for July is $929, or 3.9 percent above last year.
The average international airfare for June is $971, up 4.3 percent from last year.
"The fact that there hasn't been much upward movement in domestic airfares for this summer is good news for travelers," Priceline's Brian Ek said in a release. "Internationally, tourists can keep costs in check by traveling in August, but they'll have lots of company, as that's when Europeans traditionally take summer holiday."
The travel website says travelers can save some money by booking early morning or late evening flight times that tend to be less expensive.
Also, flying out on one airline and back on another can result in a less expensive fare than flying round-trip on a single airline.
Pack lightly to save on baggage costs and consider bundling the cost of a rental car into the airfare.
Travelocity says airfares are down slightly for people traveling for Memorial Day. Domestic airfare is down 2 percent year-over-year, with the average cost at $341, $6 less than 2012. International flights are down 1 percent.
"While a 2 percent decrease in domestic airfare may not seem like much, in recent years we have seen average airfare prices steadily rise year-over-year during the holidays," Courtney Scott, senior travel editor at Travelocity, said in a release. "A drop in price year-over-year is a welcome sign for travelers on the hunt for a deal this Memorial Day."
The trade-off is that hotel prices are up 7 percent from last year. Travelocity said the average daily rate for a Memorial Day hotel booking is $157.
Out of Travelocity's top 10 Memorial Day destinations, airfares to Washington and Chicago have seen the biggest decrease in cost, down 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively. New York City remains the most popular destination spot and Denver jumped from the ninth most popular last year to the fifth most popular this year.
A survey conducted in March by hospitality management company Destination Hotels & Resorts found more than half of travelers are planning at least one trip without the kids this summer. Those who do travel with the whole family are opting for group activities rather than arranging babysitters or day camps.
Travelers who've enjoyed the post-recession boom of flash-sales and last-minute deals are being encouraged to start planning ahead.
"The travel industry is finally addressing the impact of training consumers to wait for the last second to get the best possible deal on travel," said Jamie Sabatier, president and chief operating officer of Destination Hotels & Resorts, in a statement.
Sabatier said the company is encouraging guests to book by offering savings, upgrades, and added-value on travel packages.
The survey of 1,200 former guests of Destination properties found 76 percent of travelers plan to take as many short trips as possible, compared to only 22 percent eyeing a more traditional, week-or-longer summer escape. Forty-five percent of people taking shorter trips said they wanted to "embark on a great adventure," while 30 percent want to "learn something new" and 23 percent want to "cross items off their bucket list," the survey said.
Among travelers planning a traditional week-long vacation, 66 percent said they wanted to relax on a beach.
Social media is changing the way people plan vacations, the survey found. The majority of people (80 percent) who responded to the survey said they browse online reviews when researching and planning a vacation.
While TripAdvisor and Yelp led the list of websites visited, Pinterest, Foursquare and Instagram were also cited as useful tools for gathering insider tips while on the road.
"More than 40 percent of our online reviews come through TripAdvisor," said Sabatier. "This accounts for roughly 5 percent of our referral traffic and we anticipate that number to continue to grow."
Travelers say they want good coffee on vacation, with 55 percent ranking gourmet in-room coffee set-ups as a hot trend in 2013.
Sixty percent of respondents to the survey said they plan to take at least one romantic trip with a significant other. Those who say they plan to travel with children say they're seeking accommodations and destinations that offer new experiences for the entire family, with a focus on outdoor options.
Travel website Tingo.com, a TripAdvisor Inc. company, says travelers can save a few dollars by being smart about hotel fees. Resort fees, parking fees and newspaper fees can be an unneeded drain on the vacation budget.
Tingo suggests calling ahead to see if the hotel charges a resort fee for amenities you might not need, such as free yoga classes. Avoid parking fees that cost upwards of $25-$35 a day by researching nearby parking garages in advance. Newspaper fees of $1 a day sometimes are tacked onto bills.
"Upon arrival, decline this service and ask that the fee doesn't get tacked onto your bill," the travel website said. "If you want to keep up with what's going on in the world during your stay, download a free news app."