With Plane Fares Sky-high, Travelers Stay On The Ground

December 23, 1990|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

For many this year, it's off to grandmother's house for the holidays by car or train, but not plane, county travel agents say.

"Travel is definitely down because air fares are up," said Nina J.

Dennison, owner of Mid Maryland Travel Service in Mount Airy.

"People who used to fly are driving now, and others are saying, 'I'll have to stay home,' " she said.

Some travelers were able to get a good deal on plane tickets last month when airlines tried frantically to fill up planes after higher fuel prices caused prices to rise.

Airlines offered deals that allowed a companion to fly free or for a reduced price, but they cut off the special fares at the end of November, said David H. McCabe, co-owner of Travel Agents International in Cranberry Mall in Westminster.

"That really filled up the seats for the holiday season," he said.

The airlines were trying to attract the "discretionary" traveler, the person who doesn't absolutely have to travel, McCabe said.

Airlines probably will offer the same deal again, but he said he couldn't predict when.

For the holidays, county residents are hitting the highway for Florida or boarding the train to New England, Dennison said.

"You waste time, but you save money," she added.

Walt Disney World in Florida remains one of the most popular holiday travel spots for families, McCabe said.

For New Year's celebrations, people are traveling to Atlantic City and New York City for a long weekend, he said.

Yolanda Kirkpatrick, owner of World Travel Elite Inc. in Westminster, said people have been waiting to see what will hap pen to air fares before booking for January trips.

"They don't want to spend that money," she said.

Last year at this time, a traveler could buy a round-trip ticket to the West Coast for $290, Kirkpatrick said. This year, it will cost $450, up 55 percent.

In addition to higher fuel prices, a federal tax on airline tickets increased from 8 percent to 10 percent on Dec. 1, travel agents said.

Last year, Kirkpatrick said her agency sold more travel gift certificates during the holidays than it has this year. Spouses often buy the certificates for each other, she said.

Kirkpatrick predicted South America will be a popular vacation spot early next year. She said she's received a lot of inquiries about trips to Brazil and Argentina.

It probably would cost about $1,200 for plane fare and a hotel room for a week in South America, she said.

Australia and New Zealand also are popular destinations, Kirkpatrick said. It probably would cost $1,000 to $1,500 to fly to either place and stay for a week, she said.

Cruises remain popular winter trips, McCabe said. Families have booked trips for reunions and other family celebrations, McCabe said.

Ski trip packages are most in demand in January and February, he said, adding that it's possible to find packages to Switzerland cheaper than to Colorado.

Looking ahead to next Christmas, Suzanne McCullah, a travel agent at Cross Countries Travel Inc. in Westminster, said travelers will be able to book reservations for Caribbean trips beginning in February.

And if air fares decrease after people buy their tickets, the agency will refund the difference, she said.

"It's always an advantage to book early," McCullah said.

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