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If ‘Revenge Travel’ is Over, That’s a Good Thing for Flight Deals

After three-plus years of see-sawing flight prices and occasional explosions in travel demand as countries around the world reopened to tourists, things in the travel world are … pretty much back to normal. That's troubling for many airlines, but it's a win for travelers on the hunt for bargains.

“I think we're entering the period of the new normal for travel,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Yahoo Finance last month. “I think the big revenge travel if that’s what you want to refer to it as, I wouldn’t say it’s behind us, but the big pop has kind of come and gone.”

“I think that demand is normalized,” United CEO Scott Kirby echoed last week in remarks to reporters, according to The Points Guy. “This is the new normal.”

There are winners and losers in that adjustment. While major U.S. airlines are largely back to churning out profits, low-cost carriers have been hemorrhaging money for months as their domestic flights went out emptier than expected. But as 2023 draws to a close, airline industry analysts and experts warn that airlines across the board might have added flights faster than they can find passengers to fill them.

The biggest winners, though, are everyday travelers like you and me … because that supply-and-demand imbalance keeps pushing flight prices down. We've seen it again and again this year:


Europe flight deal


Once unthinkable back when Americans were flush with COVID-19 relief cash and eager to blow it on a big trip, the steady stream of flight deals like these and more proves that airlines are struggling to adjust to business beyond “revenge travel.” Most importantly, that's made it easier for travelers to score a great deal than it has been in years.

“As you’re looking at pricing, as you’re looking at trends, we’re coming off of a peak last year where people just needed to go, and they didn't really care what they paid or where they went. They just needed to get out,” Bastian from Delta continued. “We're now back into a normalized pricing environment.”

That doesn't mean every single flight is cheaper than a year or two ago. Airfare is not a monolith: It's made up of tens of millions of fares between cities near and far. And pricing is changing by the second. Some go up, some go down – and some go way down.

The big numbers back up the trends, though. Monthly inflation reports from the federal government show average airfare has fallen fairly steadily since May 2023. In October, average flight prices were down roughly 5% compared to 2019 – and by more than 13% from just a year ago.



Airlines big and small would love nothing better than to charge you more for your tickets, especially now. Their costs are higher as fuel prices ticked back up throughout much of the year. Plus, many airlines have negotiated record-busting payouts for pilots.

But the two biggest forces that drive flight prices are supply and demand. They're pushing prices down, costs be damned. And it started right here on U.S. soil.


Domestic Airfare Took a Nosedive

It began over the spring and summer as budget airlines tried to recapture the magic of summer 2022 when travelers were desperate for a domestic getaway … and happy to pay a small fortune for it.

There was just one problem: American travelers had their eyes overseas this year, anxious and finally ready for that first big trip to Europe with both entry requirements to get in and mandatory COVID-19 testing to get home firmly in the rearview.


chart showing us airline growth
This chart from Airlines for America clearly shows just how much faster U.S. budget carriers have grown than the rest


Airlines went too far, flooding the market with more seats than they could fill. That forced carriers to slash prices, ultimately leading to some ugly financial losses from the likes of Spirit, Frontier, and even JetBlue, whose executives admitted to investors this fall that “industry capacity is outpacing domestic demand.”

“We believed this summer we would see some of the extra COVID pent-up demand play out for those customers who were limited in being able to fly last year because fares were higher and capacity was more limited,” JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty said over the summer. “Obviously, that hasn't played out quite as we expected.”

And the cheap domestic fares extended far beyond the already cheap ultra-low-cost carriers. With more seats across the market to fill while travelers turned their attention abroad, domestic flights on airlines like Delta, United, and American that cost $500 or more in summer 2022 fell to half the price this year – sometimes even less. Even last-minute airfare deals made a comeback.

In the summer of 2022, domestic flight deals like this were unthinkable. This past summer, they were routine.


Minneapolis to Charleston nonstop flight


“You’ve got fuel, capacity, and demand all headed in the wrong direction. We’re kind of the canary in the coal mine,” Frontier's CEO Barry Biffle warned investors in the early fall.


Europe Becomes a Flight Deal Haven

As Americans returned from their big trips to Europe, a similar story played out with flight prices to Europe this fall.

The big carriers like Delta, United, and American (plus their international partners) added a record number of additional routes across the Atlantic and brand-new destinations over the summer. With demand sky-high, airlines could still get away with charging $1,200 or more for tickets.

But as summer turned to fall and travelers were content at home after getting that big (and expensive) trip abroad out of their system, airlines continued flying those routes. Transatlantic flight prices began to bottom out, like this.


Naples italy


From $327 roundtrip flights to Dublin (DUB) to nonstop Delta fares to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Amsterdam (AMS) from Delta hubs to half-off prices to even off-the-beaten-path destinations like Istanbul (IST) and Athens (ATH), that shift fueled a steady stream of the cheapest European flight deals we've sent to Thrifty Traveler Premium members in years.

Pricing for transatlantic flights has since begun to tick back up. But not before thousands of savvy travelers seized on it, locking in trips to Europe for next spring and even late summer 2024 for a fraction of what airlines were charging earlier this year.


florence italy


The big airlines insist they're seeing no signs of Americans' appetite for international travel waning, but they won't repeat the same mistake that budget carriers made in the U.S., either. After flying a record number of planes across the Atlantic this past summer, several executives have said they're planning more modest additions for 2024 – if any.

“At United, we're going to be flat in transatlantic year-over-year,” United's CEO Kirby said recently, according to The Points Guy. “Our big growth push is in the Pacific as the Pacific is finally reopened.”


A New Goldmine of Award Availability

All the airline miles in the world don't guarantee you a deal flying business class seats on a long-haul international flight. Airlines need to release award availability to make it possible – and in normal times, they'd much rather sell those seats at hefty cash prices … or just let them go out empty.

These aren't normal times.

Right now, it's easier to book business and first class seats using points and miles than at any time in recent memory. The one-two-three punch of new routes across the globe, airlines adding additional capacity to their existing networks, and plateauing travel demand has opened the floodgates.


pillow at turkish business class seat


Now, that doesn't mean you'll find what you're looking to fly on each and every search – finding the award availability to book these seats with points still requires flexibility. But those searches are far more likely to turn up what you want than just a year ago.

There's a telltale example down in Australia and New Zealand – typically two of the hardest destinations to reach on a business class award ticket. Before the pandemic, you could search through an entire calendar without finding a single business class seat available to book with points and miles.

Not anymore. We've sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members a dozen award alerts in just the last few months to fly Air New Zealand, Qantas, American, and United Polaris business class this year or next.


air new zealand business class alert

Read more: Booking Lie-Flat Seats to Australia & New Zealand is Easier Than Ever

Same goes for a summer trip to Europe in a lie-flat business seat using points. In 2023 and years past, finding transatlantic business class awards was like hunting for a needle in haystack. Not so for summer 2024: Even business class seats on Lufthansa's brand-new route from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) or flying Air France to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in time for the summer games – for just 50,000 miles, to boot! – is within reach.


lax business class to paris


Delta is practically notorious for charging 300,000 SkyMiles or more for a one-way business class ticket to … well, pretty much anywhere. So you know the tide has turned when they decide to offload a ride to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) in Delta One Suites for as low as just 85,000 SkyMiles each way.


delta one deal msp to tokyo


Those are just three examples among a long (and growing) list.


Bottom Line

Is “revenge travel” really done? Are flight deals like these the “new normal” for real this time and not the last hundred-plus times we've all said it?

It may still be too soon to say for certain. But it's clear that travel has changed, and airlines are struggling to adjust.

They'll correct course – they have to. But until they do, it's a boon for travelers on a budget.


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