To kick off what I think (hope) will be a big year for travel, here are my predictions for what will happen in the world of cheap flights.
Alongside each prediction I’ve noted my level of confidence and a brief rationale. In 12 months, we’ll follow up with how good (or terrible) my predictions were.
Want more? You can also check out our full deep-dive report on the State of Cheap Flights in 2022.
Japan will reopen for vaccinated Americans no later than Aug 31. (60% confidence)
I am among the thousands of you who hold tickets to Japan in 2022, so skin in the game here. Pre-omicron, my best guess was Japan would open very early 2022. Post-omicron, I think summer 2022 is much more likely.
On June 1, no more than one European country will have a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated American travelers. (80% confidence)
Despite misleading headlines about the EU “banning” American travelers, only a few EU countries imposed a mandatory quarantine on vaccinated American travelers in the second half of 2021. By this summer, I expect virtually the entire continent will be open and welcoming vaccinated Americans.
On June 1, fewer than 15 countries worldwide will outright ban (or have a mandatory 24-hour+ quarantine) vaccinated American travelers. (70% confidence)
Except for much of the Asia-Pacific region, vaccinated Americans are currently able to vacation in much of the world. By summer, I expect that the number of countries barring vaccinated Americans will dwindle significantly.
>> Read our list of 22 places to visit in 2022
Average airfare in 2022 will rise at least 10%. (60% confidence)
Through the first 11 months of 2021, the consumer price index for airfare was 218, virtually on par with 2020 levels. In 2022, the average index will rise to at least 240. Why? Because in 2021 the rebound in travel demand was actually outpaced by the rebound in flight volume; travel demand has more room to grow in 2022, bumping up average fares as a result. (Note: rising average airfare bears little relation to what you can expect to pay for your next flight, especially if you continue prioritizing cheap Going flights.)
No US airline will reinstate change fees on main economy (or higher) tickets. (90% confidence)
In 2020, most US airlines (American, Delta, United, Alaska, jetBlue, and Hawaiian) joined Southwest in getting rid of flight change penalties for all tickets aside from basic economy. Though many analysts doubted airline claims that this move was permanent, I’m expecting no airline will go back on their word this year.
There will be fewer cheap flights to Hawaii in 2022 than 2021. (70% confidence)
In 2021, Going's Flight Experts uncovered 928 different cheap flights from mainland US to Honolulu. (Note: A Delta sale from both LAX and SEA to HNL counts as two cheap flights, even if we compile them in one email.) In 2022, I expect international travel demand to rebound significantly, as many families that may have previously considered Hawaii take a summer vacation to Europe instead.
>> Read our guide to finding cheap flights to Hawaii
There will be fewer cheap flights to Cancún in 2022 than 2021. (80% confidence)
In 2021, Going's Flight Experts uncovered 591 different cheap flights from the US to Cancún. Mexico was the only country to see more American tourists in 2021 than pre-pandemic, but 2022 will bring a reversion to the mean as airlines reduce flight volume to Cancún and add volume to more profitable international routes.
There will be more cheap flights to Paris in 2022 than 2021. (70% confidence)
Though Europe has been largely open for vaccinated Americans since summer 2021, this upcoming summer is when I’d expect travel-hungry Americans to return in droves. In 2021 our flight experts found 1,107 different cheap flights from the US to Paris—2022 will bring more than that.
There will be more cheap flights to Tokyo in 2022 than 2021. (60% confidence)
Going's Flight Experts found 277 cheap flights from the US to Tokyo in 2021 (primarily for 2022 travel dates). Though Japan’s reopening continues to get pushed back, once it’s announced I’d expect airlines will flood the schedule with new flights. That fierce competition—especially with a new low-cost carrier Zipair taking on US-Tokyo routes this year—will lead to more cheap flights to Japan.
After rising 4 straight years, flights to Asia will get cheaper. (70% confidence)
Unlike other regions, the cheapest fares to Asia have risen every year. The average Going deal to Asia in 2018 was $516, followed by $543 in 2019, $568 in 2020, and $590 in 2021. I’m optimistic that the average Asia deal we send in 2022 will be cheaper than $590, assuming much of the region is able to reopen for tourism.
We’ll find more Mistake Fares in 2022 than in 2021. (60% confidence)
We uncovered nine different Mistake Fares for members in 2021. As airlines race to meet booming travel demand in 2022, I think we’ll hit double-digits this year. (Note: I count it as one Mistake Fare even if there are numerous mispriced routes as a result. And for these purposes I include all Mistake Fares in the tally, whether or not the airline ultimately honors the deal. Most times they do.)
>> Read about our best flight deals of 2021.
More Americans will fly in summer 2022 than summer 2019. (60% confidence)
In 2019, 230.4 million passengers boarded a flight in the US between June 1 and August 31. Though that number was down at just 177.4 million in 2021, I think there’s a decent chance we see higher-than-pre-pandemic numbers in summer 2022.
>> Read our guide to summer travel
From March 1 onward, domestic flights will never drop below 75% full (80% confidence)
Even with fewer travelers, planes were full for much of 2021 due to fewer flights. With lucrative business travelers still not returning en masse, airlines will need even more leisure travelers on each flight to make the math work. As a result, I expect that weekly average domestic US load factor will never drop below 75%.
No major US airline will enter bankruptcy in 2022. (90% confidence)
Thanks to pandemic cash from Congress and a rapid rebound in leisure travel, airlines which had been facing an existential threat in March 2020 are now all on relatively solid footing. None of the biggest US airlines (American, Delta, United, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, or Frontier) will enter bankruptcy this year.
At least one major international airline will enter bankruptcy in 2022. (80% confidence)
US airlines benefit from a robust domestic market; most international airlines do not. As a result, many international airlines are in a much more precarious financial position, and I expect at least one major international airline to enter bankruptcy this year. (Major = a member of one of the three big airline alliances: Skyteam, Oneworld, or Star Alliance. And remember, bankruptcy is not the same as going out of business!)
The domestic in-flight mask requirement will expire or be repealed no later than June 30. (60% confidence)
The in-flight mask requirement won’t last forever. If the pandemic situation improves markedly in the spring as many epidemiologists predict, I suspect government officials will want to ease a number of the regulations that were new in the pandemic. And if the situation has improved enough to remove the federal mandate, I’d be surprised if any US airline imposes their own mask mandate (as they all had done prior to the current federal mandate).
The recent negative covid test requirement to fly to the US will be repealed no later than September 30. (60% confidence)
My only hedge with this prediction is there’s a decent chance that—if they don’t scrap the negative test requirement for flying to the US altogether—it’ll be scrapped for just vaccinated travelers.