October 1, 2010 / 2:17 PM / 8 years ago

Americans select city lights for autumn getaways

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The economy may be still spinning its wheels, but more Americans are managing, or determined, to jumpstart an autumn getaway.

The Chicago skyline is subdued in this photo made May 29, 2001, as more than a dozen of downtown buildings, including 311 S. Wacker Dr. (far left) and the John Hancock Tower (far right) dim their lights in accordance with an environmental plan to keep birds from flying into downtown roofs. REUTERS/Sue Ogrocki

And many are headed for big U.S. cities, travel industry experts say.

Overall bookings for domestic cities in the United States are up 19 percent over last autumn, according to the latest consumer data from American Express Travel.

“Travel to New York City is up 18 percent from last year. That’s a great statistic,” said Audrey Hendley of American Express.

Other top destinations are Las Vegas, Orlando, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“It’s nice to see domestic vacations being so popular,” Hendley added.

Data also showed consumers booking their trips further in advance. Sixty-plus and 90-plus day windows registered a 25 percent increase over last year.

“I think customers are feeling a little more confident in the economy,” Hendley said. “They’re spending a little more and booking a little earlier.”

Internationally, American Express figures show travelers’ spending in France up 8.1 percent, and Hendley said travel to South Africa has gotten a ‘bump’ from the World Cup.

Value still rules, according to Hendley, who said more travelers are using travel points to finance all or part of their trip.

“People are still looking for deals, special perks and amenities,” she explained.

At Tripology, John Peters said the average number of days between trip request date and travel date is up slightly but not enough to conclude that consumer confidence is growing.

“I happen to think people have had enough with the economy, so they’re going ahead and just booking a well deserved trip,” Peters said.

“People are shopping for sure,” he said, “but according to some indicators, it appears they’re starting to understand that cheaper isn’t always better.”

He said some 43 percent of Tripology’s requests are for domestic cities.

Genevieve Brown, of Travelocity, agrees that people who are traveling are willing to pay more.

“Prices in 2009 were rock bottom,” she said. “Then airlines cut back on capacity. Airlines gained back their pricing power and people have to pay up,” Brown said.

She added that the average air fare for domestic flights is up nine percent and internationally the rise is 17 percent.

“With more people and fewer seats, booking in advance just makes more sense,” she said.

An end-of-August poll of more than 2000 travelers at Trip Advisor found 86 percent of travelers planning leisure trips, up from 76 percent last autumn. A full 78 percent said the economy would not affect their travel plans.

“Americans don’t have a lot of vacation time, three weeks or less, so giving up on a vacation is a last resort,” said Trip Advisor’s Brooke Ferencsik.

“Fall is when savvy travelers take advantage of fewer crowds, nice weather and great deals.”

Ferencsik said vacation rentals have enjoyed a huge increase in traffic and inquiries at Trip Advisor.

“It’s going to be a hot area. It’s a great option for families or large groups to save a lot of money.”

Whatever form your getaway takes, most experts agree that research and timing are the keys to snaring the sweetest of deals.

“Once you see that great price, you’ve got to jump on it,” Ferencsik said. “What’s there today is gone tomorrow.”

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