Oil's escalating prices---climbing at double the rate most industry-watchers had predicted, thanks to the current turmoil in the Middle East--are going to drive massive increases in the cost of food, heating, and many of the other necessities of life. Could the energy problem thwart our climb out of this recession? Seems more than likely.
The cost of a barrel is also, not surprisingly, going to have a huge impact on how North Americans travel this year. Already we're seeing airline fares heading skyward. Over the weekend, all of the major carriers added $10 to their base prices. On Monday, American raised its rates by $20 to $60 on last- minute and premium tickets; a number of its competitors followed suit. Fuel surcharges, a hidden cost, are back for many long-distance routes.
And though its early to start talking about summer road trips, a number of local newspapers are printing stories about residents jettisoning plans for the summer already (here's a good one).
So what can you do if you want to travel despite the upticks in cost. Some suggestions:
- Before your road trip, consult such sites as FuelCostCalculator.com. Created by AAA, it allows car owners to accurately predict how much they'll spend on gas. Users input their itinerary plus the make and model of their car. The site then spits out an estimated gas tally for the trip. With that figure in hand its easier to figure out how much you'll have left over to spend on the other necessities of the trip.
- When on the road, use GasBuddy.com (its also available as an app). This volunteer-run service allows drivers to find the cheapest gas stations in the areas they're visiting. Often the differences, from one gas station to the next, can be significant.
- Book now if you're flying: I think I need to throw out the advice I usually give about never booking more than four months in advance. With the persistent upward creep of fares, it seems the better part of wisdom to book all flights as early as possible this year. The advice to book midweek still holds, however, as most consumers do their shopping on weekends, so the airlines post their highest rates then.
- Look at air/hotel packages: This holds especially true in such lodgings-saturated areas as Cancun, Las Vegas and Orlando. Hoteliers who sometimes don't want to reveal the real cost of their lodgings often charge a better rate when they can hide it within the context of an air/hotel package.