Flight booking data from Expedia has revealed how the COVID pandemic saw booking windows shorten amid concern about international travel.
The global OTA has issued data which revealed a jump in tickets bought within four weeks of travelling during the traditionally busy summer period.
However, as confidence is returning in international travel, the latest trends indicate travellers shopping in September were looking to book further out.
September 2021 searches with a longer search window for travel at the end of this year or the beginning of next are currently up by 15% year-on-year.
Expedia said demand for short-term trips increased by around a quarter in July and August compared with pre-pandemic levels.
According to Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), around half (52%) of all international flight bookings from the UK were purchased in a four-week window during July and August, compared to just over 40% of bookings over the same period in 2018 and 2019.
ARC data shows the average price paid for a flight by British travellers over the two key summer months this year (July and August) was up by almost a third (29%) on the same two months the year before, but still 17% lower than the average paid pre-pandemic.
Economy fares seem to have rebounded better at only 3% below 2018 and 2019, whereas prices for 7 premium fares continue to lag by around 20%
On average, over the same period Expedia Group saw a year-on-year increase in search volume for all flights, domestic and international.
Compared to 2020, the highest growth increase was seen for departures up to 2 weeks away which saw more than 70% growth.
This contrasted with the trend at the start of the year, which Expedia says demonstrated the “unpredictable nature of demand that airlines have been grappling with throughout the year”.
“It is likely that optimism over travel opening up led to a surge in longer term bookings: 71% of flights booked in March this year were for travel three months in advance, compared to 40% for the same month in 2019 and 41% in 2018.
“Uncertainty around travel restrictions led to domestic destinations dominating flight searches for UK travellers this summer, despite the cautious return of international travel,” the OTA said.
Julie Kyse, vice president global air partnerships at Expedia Group, said: “The past 18 months have been very uncertain for airlines, with all the usual trend data providing very little insight for planning.
“Just this year we have seen surges in long-term bookings early in the year quickly followed by a rush of last-minute bookings.
“With prices still not recovering to pre-pandemic levels, airlines are having to react and be nimble in order to capitalise on the fluctuating demand for flights.
“Thankfully we are seeing an increase in longer-term planning for travel next year which is encouraging. Airlines who succeed will be the ones who use data smartly to capture the expected surge in travellers looking for last minute getaways.”
The most searched destination by UK travellers on Expedia Group sites during the summer was London (35%), followed by Manchester (10%) and Edinburgh (10%).
While London was also the top destination in 2020, it was followed by New York and Paris a year ago.
The longer the lead in time, the greater the popularity of international destinations, said Expedia, with New York being the top international destination consistently, except for booking windows of over 180 days where Orlando takes the first place.