Why a Successful COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout May Mean Higher Airfares

Travel app Hopper shares its forecast on airfare rates and destinations for 2021

Female traveller standing in front of Flight display schedule in the International airport
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It’s hard to predict anything in the times of COVID-19—especially travel. (Just ask our team of writers and editors.) However, popular travel app Hopper has just released its Travel Recovery Index on airfare pricing, giving us a small glimpse into what's to come in 2021. Spoiler alert: Prices on domestic and international flights will slowly rebound from the historic lows, but that’s all dependent on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

Though more Americans have opted for domestic travel due to avoiding long flights or closed borders, the first quarter of airline prices will remain pretty low. Hopper predicts a 20 percent decrease compared to the same time in 2019. That number will slightly increase, to 12 percent, in the second quarter. 

Hopper’s "Good Deal" price is what the average leisure traveler pays for airfare, and they predict an average increase of around six percent following March. For example, March's good deal price of $240 should see a 5.3 percent increase opposed to February's good deal price of $228, and April ($258) to May ($274) should see a 6.2 percent increase. 

It’s not just the slightly warmer weather in spring that will have folks jet setting, but the wider distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna is expected to produce 1 billion vaccine doses in 2021, with 100 million by the end of March. Hopper predicts as the accessibility to the vaccine increases, so will confidence in traveling. But another factor in those rising airfare costs is jet fuel, which has been on the rise, at $1.35 per gallon, since the end of 2020.

Hopper Travel Recovery Index


International airfare will also see changes, but in different ways and for different reasons. While domestic increases are already slowly happening for the first quarter, international fares are primed to increase around May or June. Also, with many Americans choosing Mexico or the Caribbean to vacay, these tickets are naturally lower than a flight to Europe.

As the vaccine (possibly?) rolls out further in late spring and early summer, greater demand for long-haul flights will likely prompt prices to increase further. The average "Good Deal" price for an international flight in May will be $813 and $856 in June, a 5.3 percent increase, according to Hopper.

Of course, all of these predictions are just that and heavily rely on improved access to the vaccine—and the assumption that the vaccination means more open borders.

For travelers who feel comfortable hopping on a flight and want the best domestic deal, Hopper suggests finalizing plans by the end of February for spring travel, and summer travel should be secured by May 15. International travel is still a bit tricky and, as stated, won’t see much of an uptick until late spring, but the sweet spot to find a deal is between April 30 and May 15. 

Whether these prices fall, skyrocket, or stay somewhere in the middle, who knows. But Hopper has also monitored the destinations people are merely searching for. On the top of the bucket list: Dallas, Atlanta, and Austin, within the U.S., while Tokyo, London (33 percent increase from last year!), and Cancun round out the app's international searches.

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  1. Airlines.org. "Airlines for America. Daily Jet Fuel Spot Prices." Retrieved Jan. 29, 2021.