Will airfare rise or fall in 2023? Will any US airlines go bankrupt? Going Co-Founder and Chief Flight Expert Scott Keyes has some predictions on this, and more, for travel in 2023.
I went 12 for 17 on my inaugural 2022 predictions. Some may call that a gentleman’s C, but predictions are hard, especially about the future, and none were gimmes. I feel good!
Here are my predictions for travel in 2023, along with my level of confidence and a brief rationale. We’ll follow up in 12 months to see how I did.
1. Airfare will fall at least 5% compared to 2022. (70% confidence)
Average fares are currently 36% higher than they were 12 months ago. (Adjusting for inflation, airfare is up 24%.) In 2023, I expect that to reverse and year-over-year fares to fall.
2. Flights to Asia will get cheaper. (90% confidence)
With China—the last major country with covid travel restrictions—poised to reopen on January 8, I’m anticipating a huge uptick in transpacific flights (which are currently down 50% compared to 2019). More competition = cheaper fares. The average cheap flight to Asia soared to $775 in 2022; it’ll fall this year.
3. More Mistake Fares in 2023 than 2022. (60% confidence)
In 2022, we found 7 Mistake Fares for members. These included Iceland for $100 roundtrip, London/Amsterdam for $174 roundtrip, and Tokyo for $316 roundtrip. I’m predicting at least 8 this year.
4. More cheap flights to Tokyo. (80% confidence)
We found just 82 cheap flights to Tokyo in 2022. But with Japan now fully reopened for American travelers and transpacific flight volume poised to rebound, I’m expecting far more cheap Tokyo fares this year.
5. Flights will be less full in 2023 than 2022. (70% confidence)
Flights were more full throughout much of 2022 than they were pre-pandemic. I think we’ll see a reversion to the mean—with pent-up demand dissipating and flight volume increasing—and more empty seats as a result.
6. Flight volume will stay below 2019 levels. (80% confidence)
In 2019, US airlines averaged more than 26,000 flights per day, compared to just 22,300 in 2022. That 14% gap will shrink significantly, but we won’t reach 2019 levels this year.
7. Seat volume will exceed 2019 levels. (60% confidence)
In the past decade, the airline industry has shifted away from regional planes and towards larger jets, and that’s been accelerated by the ongoing pilot shortage. In 2022, the number of daily seats was down 7% (2.93 million vs. 3.16 million in 2019); I’m optimistic that we’ll top pre-pandemic levels this year.
8. The federal government will move to block the Spirit/JetBlue merger. (60% confidence)
Competition between airlines is the single biggest factor that drives cheap flights, and JetBlue’s proposed purchase of Spirit would result in one fewer competitor. I predict that federal regulators will try to block the merger because of its adverse impact on airfares and choice for travelers.
9. No bankruptcy among major US airlines. (90% confidence)
Though two major airlines worldwide declared bankruptcy (SAS and Garuda Indonesia) in 2022, US airlines had a quite profitable year. I think the good times continue and we don’t see any of the major US airlines (American, Delta, United, Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, or Frontier) enter bankruptcy in 2023.
10. At least 3 more countries will announce plans to lift airport liquid restrictions. (70% confidence)
The United Kingdom has announced that by June 2024, air travelers will once again be allowed to bring liquids through security. I predict at least 3 more countries this year will join the UK in announcing plans to permit liquids at airports.
11. The Department of Transportation proposes its final rule on flight refunds. (60% confidence)
This past summer, the DOT proposed a landmark regulation that would strengthen travelers’ rights to a refund in case of long delays or pandemic restrictions. (Short overview here.) While the federal regulatory process rarely sets speed records, I’m hopeful the DOT will propose a final rule similar to the initial proposal this calendar year.
12. One of the big 6 US airlines will buy out a smaller carrier. (60% confidence)
Sticking my neck out here, but I think there’s a decent chance one of the six largest US airlines (American, Delta, United, Alaska, JetBlue, or Southwest) will try to purchase a smaller carrier. (Not counting the proposed JetBlue-Spirit merger, of course.) Alaska buying Hawaiian? Frontier and Allegiant combining? As a cheap flight lover I hope we don’t see any more mergers, but hey it’s fun to speculate!
13. There will be fewer flight cancellations than 2022. (70% confidence)
Of the 5.27 million flights through September 30, 2022 (when the most recent official data is available), 147,533 were canceled, a rate of 2.8%. Both the rate and overall number will decrease during the first 9 months of 2023.