The days of flying to Europe for a long weekend are over for Diana Koziupa.
The Pennsylvania psychiatrist says she and her husband, Ken Swanson, flew to Europe three or four times a year but have stopped because of high airfares. They instead went to Oregon this summer on their first domestic vacation in years and are considering other trips stateside.
"Coach airfares for international flights are over the top," says the frequent traveler, who lives in Perkasie, Pa., about an hour's drive from Philadelphia. "Europe is totally out of the question for leisure and a remote possibility for business."
Travelers feel the pain of high domestic airfares, which rose this summer more than any year in the past quarter century. Meanwhile, many international tickets have risen to levels too steep for the budgets of many American vacationers and companies. That's translating into softer demand.
Growth of international passenger traffic worldwide slowed to a five-year low in July and dropped further in August, according to the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines. Passenger growth on North American airlines' international routes dropped to 4.2% in July and 5.2% in August, compared with 8.2% in May.
The cheapest round-trip coach ticket this fall — an off-peak travel time — costs more than $1,000 on 40% of the 50 most-traveled international routes and more than $900 on half the routes, according to a study by FareCompare.com at USA TODAY's request. The study included U.S. and foreign airlines.
Many travelers pay more than those fares, which require a Saturday-night stay abroad and are available for a limited number of seats. Without a Saturday-night stay, fares on more than a third of the most-traveled routes can be at least 50% more expensive.
For example, for a trip between Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany — leaving Sept. 29 and returning Oct. 6 — the cheapest round-trip coach ticket with a Saturday-night stay was $669 on Air India when FareCompare.com checked last month. Without a weekend stay, departing the same day and returning Oct. 3, the cheapest coach ticket was $2,021, or 202% more, on United, American and Lufthansa.
Fewer business trips
International business travelers often buy tickets without a weekend stay, and they're being hit hard by the high prices. For example, Don Jolly, vice president of sales for a California company, says he's taken three international business trips this year, but he would have taken six if fares were lower.
International fares for flights departing Sept. 29 and returning Oct. 6 were much higher than in the same 2007 period. The cheapest non-stop coach fare was at least 14% higher on more than half of the 50 most-traveled routes and at least 20% higher on 20 of the routes. On five routes — Chicago-Toronto, Miami-Caracas, Venezuela, New York-Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Houston-Mexico City and San Francisco-Tokyo — the cheapest coach fare was more than 40% higher.
For a family of four, or four employees, traveling round trip in late September and early October, the cheapest San Francisco-Tokyo tickets cost $1,500 more than they did last fall.
High international fares include escalating fuel surcharges that airlines have imposed to combat record jet-fuel prices. Fuel surcharges on some round-trip international tickets now exceed $500 — more than a 200% increase from last September.