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More Americans staying in the U.S. this summer, study suggests

Higher summer airfares to Europe are prompting U.S. travelers to plan more domestic trips from Memorial Day to Labor Day, an analysis by travel website Kayak.com shows.

April 02, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • According to a survey of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by Hotwire.com and conducted by Harris Interactive, 65% of American adults have yet to visit the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. Above, Grand Canyon hikers in 2010.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by Hotwire.com… (Carson Walker, Associated…)

With airfares to Europe on the rise, it looks like Americans are planning to rediscover the good ol' U.S.A. this summer.

As a result, perhaps more Americans will use the opportunity to visit some of the country's landmarks such as the Alamo and the Grand Canyon that sometimes get overlooked.

Summer airfares to Europe have climbed about 11% compared with last summer, according to travel website Kayak, which attributes the jump to airlines trying to cash in on travelers visiting the London Olympics starting in July.

Data from online searches on Kayak show that U.S. travelers are planning more domestic trips this summer than in the past.

For example, Kayak found that searches in January for flights to Los Angeles this summer jumped 22% compared with January 2011, while searches for Las Vegas rose 20%. Searches for flights to Hawaii and San Francisco also increased by double-digit percentages.

In contrast, January searches on Kayak for summer flights to Rome plummeted 65% compared with the same period last year, while searches for flights to London dropped 40%, according to Kayak.

The growth in domestic travel may address a surprising national condition: Most American adults have not visited some of the nation's best-known landmarks.

For example, 72% of U.S. adults have never visited the Alamo, the site of a pivotal battle in the Texas revolution against Mexico, according to a survey of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by the website Hotwire and conducted by Harris Interactive.

According to the survey, 65% of American adults have yet to visit the Grand Canyon, 62% have not checked out the Statue of Liberty and 61% have never been to the Golden Gate Bridge. Just over half (57%) of U.S. adults have never visited the White House, the survey said.

Why?

"Often when folks plan a vacation, they are attracted to the lure of an island, beach or big city, leaving many of America's historical sites and natural wonders unseen," said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. "Overall, I think we just take for granted the diversity, richness and memorable experiences our country offers."

Delta offers a bare-bones ticket

Although the recent trend among most airlines is to introduce higher-fare seats with extra legroom and no baggage fees, Delta Air Lines is moving in the other direction.

The nation's largest carrier announced the addition of "basic economy" seating, the airline's lowest-fare offer.

The ultra-low-cost seats started in mid-March and are offered only on select routes, primarily Detroit to the Florida cities of Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.

The basic economy seats are about $12 to $20 cheaper than regular economy seats, but the tickets are nonrefundable and no cancellations or changes will be allowed once the tickets are purchased.

Also, passengers do not get advance seat selection with basic economy. The seats are automatically assigned by computers. Still, passengers who buy the low-fare tickets can earn frequent flier reward points and the seats qualify for complimentary upgrades for elite-status passengers.

Delta officials declined to say if or when the new ticket option would be expanded. "We are testing it in markets that we think are a good fit for this product," said Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec.

Long wait times for calls to United

United Airlines passengers are still waiting a long time to talk to reservation agents on the phone, nearly a month after the airline consolidated its reservation system as part of its merger with Continental Airlines.

Under the merger to create what will be the nation's largest airline, United moved its reservation data to the system previously used by Continental. Initially, glitches plagued the system, leading to delays in getting passengers on their flights.

United representatives said most of the technical problems have been resolved, but a few remaining snags have prompted hundreds of passengers to phone the airline's call centers, increasing the wait time to an average of about 10 minutes.

The last remaining problem is that under certain circumstances it has taken longer than normal to credit passengers for the rewards miles they acquire to purchase tickets or upgrades, and that has led to lots of upset callers, said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson. "We are still working on some things, but call waiting times are coming down."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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