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What if summer travel isn’t as hectic as expected? Why last-minute plans could work out.

  • April 21, 2023

Forget everything you think you know about travel this summer. All that talk about this being the busiest and most expensive summer ever and how you ought to book now – well, that’s just talk.

The conventional wisdom about summer travel has been turned on its head in recent days. Knowing about this could save you a little money and a lot of trouble.

What’s everyone expecting? A survey released last week by the American Society of Travel Advisors suggests a lot of people want to travel next month. Almost half of Americans ranked a vacation as their number-one discretionary spend, and one-third plan to travel abroad this summer. Americans are on track to spend a record $200 billion, according to data shared by Allianz Partners.

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“Travel is experiencing an unquestionable resurgence,” said Laurel Greatrix, a spokeswoman for Viator. The company’s research, released last month, predicts travel will return to pre-pandemic levels and that Americans are looking for an adventure. Airlines are seeing record demand for summer travel.

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No reservations

You’ve probably heard the drumbeat of experts claiming this will be a sold-out summer. But Shelley Hunter, an innkeeper from Quincy, California, has been watching the reservations for this June, July and August, and she said that’s nonsense. 

“People are not making advanced summer plans,” she said. “I predict tourist travel to our destination will be a last-minute decision.”

Yep, just like the summer of 2021, when travelers were on the fence until the very last minute. And that was a pandemic recovery year, with plenty of deals to be had.

She’s not the only one. I’ve talked with numerous people in the tourism industry who say their customers are still on the fence about taking a summer vacation.

Travel fatigue?

It’s not just the uncertain economy that’s leading to weaker demand for travel this summer. People are just tired of the make-up trips they did in 2021 and 2022, so they need a break. At least that’s what Christopher Falvey, co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours in New Orleans, told me. 

“I think we can expect a temporary crash because there are no more people looking to travel,” he said. “They spent their allotted time and money.” 

How much of a crash? “I expect this summer to be as dead as it’s been in a long time,” Falvey said. 

Pay upfront

Travel companies, and especially hotels, went soft on us after the pandemic. They refunded nonrefundable rooms and waived fees to get you back in the door. Not anymore, experts said. 

Travel advisor Heather Herbert said more hotels will require prepaid, nonrefundable reservations. “We are already seeing this,” she said. 

No one tracks refund rules in the travel industry, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that airlines, hotels and vacation rental hosts are tightening their refund policies to require you to pay upfront and lose everything if you cancel.

Watch out for disruptions

If you expect smooth sailing this summer, think again. Nearly half of travelers (47%) who took a trip in the past three months experienced some type of disruption, according to a survey of 1,500 adults by Tripit.

More snafus are in store, and not just the usual weather delays, but technology problems like Southwest’s ground delay earlier this week, experts said.

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Customer service is circling the drain

Here’s something else almost no one is discussing. Customer service is circling the drain in the travel industry, and especially for airlines (77,656 airline complaints in 2022, up 55% from the year before). It took the Department of Transportation more than three months to release the number of airline grievances, which set a post-pandemic record.

The customer service problems extend to the hotel industry, which is still struggling to recover from the Great Resignation. Julie Ann Hartgett, a travel advisor and frequent traveler, said she’s shocked by the lack of service, which she predicts will worsen this summer.

“I think the general public is under the impression that service and quality have gone back to normal,” she says. “This is not the case.”

Just last week, she stayed at a resort that had two luggage carts for more than 300 rooms. She carried her own luggage to her room. She said no one answered when she called the front desk.

“It was pointless,” she said.

What will really happen this summer?

Does anyone really know what will happen this summer? Of course not. 

For all we know, the early projections could be correct. It could turn into a free-for-all with wall-to-wall crowds and record-high prices. Then again, we might be looking at a last-minute pivot to a calmer and less expensive vacation season.

I’m hoping for less drama. We had so much craziness last summer, with airlines forgetting how to take care of their customers and hotels raising their rates through the roof. I think we’re entitled to just one sane summer.

Elliott’s summer travel tips

I’ve been on the road every summer since I can remember, and I suspect this summer will be like no other. Here’s how I’m handling it:

  • Don’t plan too far ahead. Only a few days ago, the conventional wisdom was to book now or lose any chance of a summer vacation. But it looks like demand could weaken during the summer, especially if the economy cools. Good things may come to those who wait.
  • Look for early sales. If people stay home, there will be sales. Usually, we see fare sales in the middle of summer as bookings slow down. This year, if the current trends hold, the sales could start sooner than usual and could be more aggressive. Be patient.
  • Avoid the hotspots. Unless the economy takes a significant turn for the worse, all the places that are normally crowded will be even more crowded this summer. Domestically, Orlando, Las Vegas, and New York will be sold out; internationally, it’s Paris, London and Rome. Visit these places during the early fall when the crowds dissipate.

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

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