Dubai: Up to a 600-day waiting period for new B1/B2 tourist visas.
Flight ticket rates that continue to soar even before the peak travel season sets in over the next few weeks.
Despite all that, UAE residents are not letting go of any opportunity to head to the US of A this Summer. It could be for a holiday, a business trip or putting the kid into a college. Whatever the reason, UAE-US sector is buzzing.
Non-stop Economy cabin fares on Emirates and the recently launched United Airways’ Dubai to destinations such as New York (Dh5,635), Chicago (Dh5,825) and San Francisco (Dh6,255) are steep for travel from June 30 to July 23.
To shave off some of that required spending, many leisure travellers are choosing transit flights via European, UK and Turkish hubs, which would ease some 20-25 per cent on ticket costs.
Qatar Airways is also offering UAE travellers competitive prices. Connecting flights to New York (via Frankfurt) are at Dh 3,965, and fares to Chicago (via Amsterdam and Detroit) are Dh4,125. Similarly, San Francisco airfares (via Toronto) come to Dh5,005.
“Connecting offers via Doha, Istanbul, or Europe is competitive, and airlines are aggressive in their offerings via various distribution channels,” said V.K. Balaji, Director and Chief Strategy Officer at TBO.COM.
Leisure travel preference lean towards cost prioritisation.
While this does considerably reduce the fares, it increases travel time to over 20 or 24 hours, depending on the final destination in the US.
Long wait times on new visas
In comparison to 2022 rates, UAE-US tickets have shot up by over 30 per cent this year, said travel agents. Fares during June-July 2022 travel averaged Dh3,975-Dh4,015 to US West Coast destinations and Dh3,815-Dh4,365 to East Coast airports.
This year, prices remain consistently high until mid-September, where for a brief period, direct airfares fell under Dh4,000. Following this, direct Economy fares to various American destinations remain well over Dh6,000 until December 2023.
Moreover, visa waiting periods continue to be a pain point in US travel, according to travel agents. The US Department of State says the estimated wait time for a new non-immigrant B1/B2 visit visa interview appointment at the US Consulate in Dubai has gone up from 500 days to 606.
At the Embassy in Abu Dhabi, it is 490 days. For first-time travellers, planning a year or two in advance seems to be the only option.
Will fares drop?
In March, US carrier United Airlines launched its daily operations from Newark to Dubai, paving the way for an increased flow of leisure and business travellers to Dubai. “This showcases ongoing opportunities for growth,” said Balaji.
“Of course, we will always have the element of unpredictability in the form of economic conditions impact, geopolitical events.”
Ahmed M. Soliman, CEO of TCA Group, said, “It is challenging to predict if a drop in fares can be expected soon as UAE carriers increasing its operations to North America. However, an increase in flight frequency could potentially lead to more competitive pricing as airlines try attracting passengers to fill their planes.”
Also since many airlines now offer direct flights from the GCC region to US cities, destinations like Florida, LA, New York and Las Vegas have seen an increase in demand from GCC tourists. Additionally, a lot of five-star hotels and resorts have been making accommodations for visitors from the GCC by providing halal food, prayer spaces, and other comforts.
Since India’s flag carrier Air India has announced plans to expand its US network, price-conscious passengers could consider Mumbai or Delhi as a travel hub for US destinations. OAG data shows Air India will offer 11 India-North America routes during the northern winter 2022-23 season and approximately 685,698 two-way seats.
This compares with six routes and 475,520 seats in the 2019-20 winter season.
“There could be a possibility where demand could shift towards Indian carriers,” said Balaji. “But this will be subject to convenient flight options, competitive fare offerings, consistent fleet, product offers, service quality, loyalty, ancillary offerings, ease of airport transfer, lounge, duty-free, etc..”
High occupancy hotels
Hotel operators also report high occupancy levels (upward of 30-40 per cent) from UAE travellers, with robust forward booking for the summer. Leisure travel demand to the East Coast of the US still reigns supreme, with UAE residents lapping up packages to Orlando, Florida, and New York, according to hoteliers.
Victoria Batten, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing, North America, Langham Hospitality Group, said: “Between 2022-23, we have seen the booking window for our US hotels from the UAE getting slightly longer – from 19 days to 22 days – and the average length of stay decreased – from five days down to four.
The peak travel months in 2022 were June and July to coincide with school summer holidays and November, to coincide with the start of the US festive season.
Three-star hotels in New York charge Dh1,388 for a two-night stay during the summer break, and hotels in San Francisco go up to Dh790 (July 1-3).
Scott Burger, General Manager of L’ermitage Beverly Hills, said, “We have seen an increase in early interest in Middle East bookings. While the stays have historically been confirmed within a short-term booking window, the earlier inquiries have become confirmations closer to the desired stay date.”