Travel expert: Stimulus checks helped people book their 'bucket list destination'

Many pandemic-weary Americans used their stimulus checks for their dream vacation plans, according to one expert, with the extra support helping to soften the blow of rising travel costs.

“When the stimulus checks came out last March, we saw an increase in booking volume as well as search demand. The stimulus impact has definitely shown up on our end,” Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper, the travel deals app, recently told Yahoo Finance Live.“People are taking that money and going to a bucket list destination that they've always been dreaming of, especially as this pandemic turns a corner in the U.S.”

Read more: Top 4 travel destinations for summer 2021

But how far will a stimulus check take someone? It depends on where and how they choose to spend their money.

The domestic travel market has experienced the “most acute increases,” Damodaran said, nothing that "domestic airfare is already up 12% since April” and is forecasted to increase by another 4% through June.

The average round trip domestic flight fare will run about $293 this summer, or “pretty much on par” with summer 2019, Damodaran said.

Where travelers definitely won’t save money is on a rental car as “the demand for rental cars has been astronomical,” Damodaran said, noting that demand on Hopper reflects “about a 500%” spike since January with some cities’ inventory so low that cars aren’t available to book. The inventory constraint has also inflated prices beyond average pre-pandemic rates of $50 a day, doubling to $100 a day.

Read more: Summer travel 2021: Tips for getting a car rental

However, travelers will find discounts on hotel stays, which are averaging $141 a night, a rate well under 2019’s average rate of $180 per night, Damodaran pointed out.

According to Hopper data on bookings and search traffic, tourists are flocking to leisure-focused and tourist destinations like Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando this summer and Key West and Panama City Beach this fall.

“This summer is going to be a time where people are going to be exploring the United States,” Damodaran said. “[They will be] going to places they haven't been before and really exploring the markets close to home.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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