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For Those Stressed Out By Covid-19, Hotel Spas Say They Have The Answer. Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.)



They are rolling out services that purport to cater to customers’ mental health and well-being. Anybody care for a Mindplace Manicure?

Will Campbell, 41, has battled anxiety since he was 7 years old. Now vice president of operations for a digital media company, he says he has found two effective ways to manage his mental health: He meditates regularly, and he carves out plenty of time for pampering and self-care.
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So when he heard about the Mindplace Manicure at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort last spring, he was intrigued.

“Any reason to get me to a spa, I’m in,” Mr. Campbell says. “When I read about this one, it sounded super intense, but also like something that was going to benefit me in my mind.”

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our mental health. More than 42% of people surveyed by the Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up 11% from 2019.

This has not gone unnoticed by the global hospitality sector, which sees the potential for dollars in all that distress. As travel restarts and Americans return to hotels and resorts, an increasing number of spas are rolling out new features and programs to attend to customers’ mental health and emotional well-being.

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What resort services do you find most relaxing while on vacation?Join the conversation below.

Miraval Resorts & Spas, which has properties in Arizona, Texas and Massachusetts, worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to produce videos for its patrons that use soundscapes and scenery to induce relaxation.

The Rose spa at the Joseph hotel in Nashville, Tenn., which opened in August 2020 at the height of the pandemic, offers something called the Kundalini back treatment—in which “ancient marma therapy and warm herbal poultices are massaged into the back of the body, while sound healing and chakra balancing lift away tension.”

Hong Kong-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, for its part, has a new wellness program at its U.S. properties dubbed “Journey to Resilience,” aimed at helping guests put the negative emotions of 2020 behind them for good.

“We’re all forever changed by our experience with Covid, and I think we will never again take our personal health for granted,” says Laura Coburn, director of serenity at the recently opened spa and healing center at the Inns of Aurora, in New York’s Finger Lakes region.

“It’s really hard for some people to give themselves permission to carve out time just for healing, or for feeling their emotions,” says Ms. Coburn, who adds that she is working with a certified mental-health counselor to create a program for guests.

A clinical psychologist helped Carmel Valley Ranch on California’s Monterey Peninsula develop a program using horses in which, the resort’s website promises, prospective guests will “learn methods for growing your awareness and improving your physical and emotional well-being.”

“The program was in some ways absolutely influenced and sped along by the impact of the pandemic,” says Robert G. Magnelli, developer of the Equine Experiences program.

“After the year we’ve all had, filled for many with anxiety, fearfulness, trauma and depression, the experience seems especially fitting for our guests.”

The spa at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, meanwhile, offers “sound healing,” a treatment it describes as helping guests “achieve a restorative, peaceful state.”

At the company’s New York Downtown property, resident healer and hypnotist Nicole Hernandez, who was hired in December, says guests have sought her guidance with issues ranging from lockdown-fueled marriage troubles to phobias with wearing masks.

Some resorts are offering mental-health help not just to their guests, but to their own employees.

Before it rolls out new packaged stays at its so-called Wellbeing Sanctuaries, Singapore-based Banyan Tree, which operates dozens of hotels and spas world-wide, this fall is offering the product to its employees.

“We said, ‘How are we going to deliver well-being for our guests if our associates are not well?’” says Woon Hoe Lee, executive director of well-being.

In addition to “ocean breath meditation,” sleep-enhancing rituals and customized dining menus, Sanctuary Stays offer a 64-point wellness assessment and treatment, heavily focusing on stress management and emotional resilience.

At the Marriott in Orlando, Mr. Campbell found his opportunity to book a Mindplace Manicure in late July. Once there, he says, he sat at a traditional manicure table, wearing sanitized headphones and virtual-reality goggles.

As the technician buffed his nails and trimmed his cuticles, trance-like music filled his ears and synchronized colored lights flashed before his eyes.

“I was fully immersed in the sound and the light. I shut off completely,” Mr. Campbell says. “It was exactly what I needed to step away from my computer, do this immersive experience and come back with a fresh, relaxed take on everything.”


Updated: 8-27-2021

Where Our Readers Went When Travel Opened Back Up—and What It Was Like

Readers say they felt new appreciation for the freedom to be out in the country and world, and to reconnect with friends and family.

After many months of pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, where did people choose to go when they were able to start traveling again? Who did they see? And what was it like to be out in the world again?

We asked Journal readers to tell us about their experiences. Here’s a sampling.

Our family of four adapted quite easily to Covid-19, despite 14 months of lockdown. Without the social distractions of school, our two teenage daughters thrived with remote Zoom learning, taking a heavy workload of college and high-school classes.

But Covid-19 spanned two “grueling” Minnesota winters. By the end of a Minnesota winter, every resident’s thoughts dwell on fleeing the state.

In May, we joined a stampede out of Minnesota, following a thunderous herd of friends to Las Vegas and Zion National Park. We rewarded our daughters for their hard work and impressive grades with their own penthouse-like room at the Four Seasons hotel. Every teenage girl wants to be spoiled. Las Vegas and the Four Seasons pampered them to ruin.

Like a spring thaw, the scenic drive to Zion dispelled every thought of harsh winter, leaving just joy. It turned into fairyland magic as we crossed into southern Utah, through meandering strata of rust-colored sandstone formations of the eroded Colorado Plateau.

The park seemed surreal even by Disney/Universal Studio standards. We returned home, happy and willing to endure Covid-19 and another Minnesota winter.

Thomas Fix, Stillwater, Minn.

I had been fully vaccinated since March and my mom was about to get her second Covid-19 shot in late April, so we decided to visit Holland, Mich., for the Tulip Time Festival in early May. We’d thought about visiting for years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our recent vaccinations while also keeping some control by driving.

We hit traffic in Illinois, which felt hilarious. Newly vaccinated, we felt like we were the first humans venturing out into the world again. Clearly, we were not.

We did feel a sense of freedom being able to route our trip as we pleased, stopping at Warren Dunes State Park, grabbing hot dogs and ice cream at a shop outside the entrance before heading in. We had reviewed hotels and Airbnb s and opted for a Holiday Inn Express outside of downtown.

The hotel asked guests to wear masks in common areas, the pool required reserved times, and the breakfast buffet was served to you from behind a counter.

We had done a bit of homework on how the hotel amenities were functioning in the age of Covid, so this all felt extremely normal. It was well-run, we never felt inconvenienced, and always felt very safe.

That feeling of normalcy shifted when we first reached downtown Holland for Tulip Time. As we took in the vast outdoor gardens, unmasked, among a throng of fellow tourists, I felt an overwhelming strangeness. A very typical occurrence just a year before was now an oddity.

However, that strangeness found itself paired with an overwhelming joy. We had made it. We were on the other side. We were safe, we were together, and now the only concern we had was should we eat a normal lunch or dine on ice cream and mochas like delinquents? I think everyone in the crowd felt the same simple contentedness that comes from being out with your community.

In the following days, we visited other parks along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore and moseyed home exactly when we felt like it. Shortly after we began driving, we spotted a roadside sign for a Big Boy restaurant, a chain I knew about, but had never been to.

We quickly steered to the off-ramp, our appetite for adventure still in peak form. At just 10:30 in the morning, we couldn’t help but to order milkshakes in celebration of our discovery. They tasted like hope.

Samantha Longshore, Milwaukee


We traveled from San Francisco to New York. I wanted to see friends in New York City, and I was traveling with people who were going to New York for the first time. But the primary reason was seeing my dad’s sister who is in her 90s and lives upstate.

I arrived too late for my flight to be worried about the airport, but I worried about Covid on the plane, especially when I had to take off my mask to eat or drink.

Once I arrived, it was really thrilling to walk the High Line and explore New York City since this was the first real vacation I had since going to Catalina Island with my girlfriend in March 2020 right before the pandemic. It was a combination of worry and excitement almost the whole trip—the Statue of Liberty and Times Square were great, but both those areas were also very crowded.

One of the highlights of the whole trip was kayaking in Lake George near Silver Bay. It was beautiful and serene and I was far enough away from my cousins in their separate boats that I was able to enjoy it without worrying about the coronavirus. I was content and relaxed.

It was quite a whirlwind trip, but it was great because of the adventures with my girlfriend and her boys and reconnecting with friends and relatives. I do, however, think it was a little risky because of the Delta variant.

John Robinson, Pinole, Calif.

I traveled to an organic mountain farm in Costa Rica near the beach town of Sámara and lived there for a month. I chose it because it was remote (still being safety-minded) and, after 16 months of fear and stress inside the four walls of my apartment, it felt like such a luxury to take joy in the magnificence of nature and fresh air.

The trip exceeded my expectations—apart from the sheer beauty, it was wonderful to be meeting people from around the world again.

My Airbnb hosts were so delightful and taught me so much about the region, and the eponymous owner of the bakery food truck in town, Sweeties by Celia, makes the best chocolate truffle cake! Not to mention I could have awakened to that view and the sounds of howler monkeys every day for the rest of my life.

Emma Baker, Chicago

In late June my youngest son and I took our first trip to Nashville to visit my oldest son and his wife. We flew from LaGuardia Airport. It was jumping and the security line was chaotic, but we navigated the chaos and boarded the plane, which was booked solid and left on time.

The passengers were excited, and you could feel the buzz on the plane. As Nashville now seems to be a party destination city, I could sense that most passengers were ready to “go.”

The majority seemed to be in their 20s and 30s and on their way to long-delayed reunions and of course—what Nashville is known for—bachelorette parties.

The city was clearly open for business, and coming from New York after a very long year, I got the impression that Covid was either officially over or it just never occurred in Nashville.

We attended two music venues and enjoyed the shows, which appeared to be sold out. On Sunday morning I attended Catholic Mass and I was impressed with the number of people in the congregation, not to mention the music, which was knockout! After all it was Nashville!

On our way back, the crowd on the plane was subdued, no doubt a result of the busiest weekend most passengers had experienced in a long time. A young man seated to my left called his dad right before takeoff. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation.

He thanked his dad for a fabulous weekend, he told him how much he enjoyed his company, how much he had missed him and, most important, how much he loved him.

He also told him how wonderful it was to see him again and how he couldn’t wait to get back together, possibly in New York City. I had those same exact feelings for my son and his wife whom we had just visited.

I sat in my seat and realized how disconnected we had all become over the past year and a half. Disconnected from loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, church, even sports teams. In today’s world we have the most advanced technology at our fingertips: FaceTime, direct messages, instant photos, you name it.

I asked myself, is there anything better than having the ability to board a plane, travel a thousand miles in 2½ hours and to be able to hug someone you haven’t seen in a year and a half or maybe longer? The answer was obvious to me—nope! It was fabulous to “hit the road” again, I knew it would be. Next stop?

Jerry Dolan, Brooklyn, N.Y.

We are just completing a 60-day Western states road trip including Joshua Tree, the Olympic Peninsula, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. It’s all been outdoor activities, mainly hiking.

Our trip has been fantastic. We skirted the heat and the fires. Bless Mother Nature! It made us feel joyful following our Covid quarantine.

The biggest surprise of getting out on the open road again was simply the potential of the unexpected. Most days something delightful popped up, totally unplanned.

From a parade down Main Street in the tiny town of Afton, Wyo., to the almost frightening geologic rock formations at Dinosaur National Monument, we were uplifted by the people and the beauty of our great nation. Every day thrilled us.

In the Covid era, you are chained to the news cycle. Your big plan each day is simply going out to do basic things. You worry about the smallest stuff.

Once we were traveling, the days were defined differently. Mornings are sunrises, fresh air, excitement about what will happen, suspense over whether we will find the trailhead, anticipation of the vista just over the next rise.

To experience this emotional range and physical hard work is to be unchained. In juxtaposition to the uncertainty and fear we felt from Covid, travel has freed us both mentally and physically.

Jim Hahn and Randy Stone, Scottsdale, Ariz.

We went to Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas in March. It was an amazing trip with my husband and two teenagers. As a physician, I was looking for a warm destination with low Covid numbers as I had been vaccinated but my family had not.

A beach and some private excursions were all we needed. The beaches were like none we had ever been to before—the sand was almost silky and the water was the clearest turquoise.

There isn’t much on the island, no fancy restaurants, but the local food on the beaches was delightful. We ate conch fritters daily. The grocery store had a limited selection of fruits and vegetables so you have to be creative.

We took a 15-minute water-taxi ride to Stocking Island to have lunch at Chat ’N’ Chill. The ceviche conch salad was delicious as were their frozen drinks. We rented a car to explore the island.

The Tropic of Cancer runs through Little Exuma. It is off the beaten path so there was literally no one on the beach. There is a little bar at the entrance with a line marking the Tropic, and it’s a cool photo op. The water was simply pristine and as clear as a swimming pool.

And of course, a visit to the Exumas wouldn’t be complete without swimming with the pigs. It was totally worth it!

Amanda Messina, Rye, N.Y.

Our family just came back from a week in Brazil, where we took our kids to visit their grandparents. Having not seen them in two years, and with one of their grandfathers turning 100 in a few months, we figured now was the best time.

We postponed this trip as much as we could, given the high number of cases in Brazil. But we knew if we did not travel now, then we’d most likely have to wait another year before everyone’s schedules aligned again.

It was a bit daunting, both the prospect of the trip and getting tested 72 hours before each flight. Covid testing in the U.S. went well, with results from a local pharmacy coming in on time, but in Brazil we used a self-administered test which required someone guiding us via video call.

We were in locations with poor internet and at times the wait to join a call was over an hour and a half. Luckily, we realized the option for a video call in Spanish was much faster, and we were quickly able to complete our individual tests.

It also surprised us that in Brazil people seemed to be taking the pandemic much more seriously than in the U.S. Everyone was masked, even outdoors while walking the dog. It seemed a bit excessive, but at least cases seemed to be declining while vaccinations were ramping up.

During the pandemic we could only talk to my dad on the phone. As he is hard of hearing, these conversations don’t last long and are never satisfying. It was just a great feeling to be able to be with him for a few days, to be able to hug, to touch him, and to better communicate without constraints.

It is one thing to tell him that the kids are growing, and another for him to see them personally. It was also fun for the whole family to play dominoes with him. He is very competitive and still has a very sharp mind for the game!

I am hoping the pandemic situation gets better and that we can go back to see him during spring break next year, when he turns 100.

Augusto Morais, College Station, Texas

Given the crowds at the airport and on planes, higher costs, and the uncertainties of arriving where and when scheduled, I opted for a 12-hour drive.

My destination was only special because I visited my husband in Iowa, and we hadn’t seen each other since October 2019. We’ve lived in two different states for years and, until Covid, have always been able to visit several times a year.

It was freeing to travel again, especially by car as it turned out. Leaving on my own schedule (4:30 a.m.), listening to whatever I wanted to (first two Harry Potter books read by Jim Dale), eating what I’d prepared at home, and taking whatever I wanted with me (including a TV set).

In a car you can see where you’re going and you have reserved seating, lots of leg room, and no chance of being bumped from the plane.

Sights along the interstate highways were educational and entertaining. It was fun to speculate that California cars were moving out of the state; that cars from more Eastern or Southern states were moving west.

There were RVs of all sizes—from single-person sleepers to house-size motor homes towing cars, motorcycles, bikes, ATVs. Trucks carrying all kinds of freight, like cattle, mail, food, siding, mysterious loads and my favorites—those shining white blades for industrial windmills that are over 100 feet long.

My car will now be my preferred method of travel, unless I’m going overseas.

Laura Andrews, Littleton, Colo.

We just returned from a week in Rome, traveling with my family and some friends, a group of eight, from age 19 to 52, all of us vaccinated. We found the city fully open with very light crowds.

We wore masks while shopping indoors. Other than that, there was not much talk about the virus. Delta did not seem to be impacting Rome.

Locals were ecstatic about seeing an American family enjoying the Eternal City. Travel was easy. I have been telling all my friends—right now is a great time to visit Italy.

The trip was originally planned for March of last year as a spring break trip for my son James and two friends. It was their senior year in high school. We kept the dream alive and rescheduled as soon as Italy opened up to visitors from the States. The pandemic affected our trip in a way we didn’t anticipate: We felt a stronger sense of common humanity. Traveling to Rome was an opportunity to see the pandemic as a shared experience around the world.

Patrick Cox, Branson, Mo.

My husband and I went to Maine in June. I chose it because Maine had high vaccination rates, and we could do most activities outdoors. It was a great trip! We felt safe with the rules enforced there. Places we visited had a good energy but weren’t too crowded. It felt so good to be back around people and the energy of a busy restaurant, for example, without being scared that they could make me or someone I love sick.

I understood the risks and didn’t feel so much pressure to have everything planned out. I found I could actually enjoy discovery and adventure again without fear.

The trip was exactly what we needed to “forget” about the pandemic and all the anxiety that goes with it. Now we’re back to it, though, with the concern about Delta breakthrough infections.

Carmen Pippenger, Indianapolis

I hadn’t seen my parents in almost two years because of the pandemic. My constant fear had been that I would be the one to transmit the disease to them. “I feel fine, but what if I am asymptomatic?” I would constantly think. So I waited for the promised vaccine, and waited some more until I finally felt safe enough to see them.

The trip was long, from the deserts of Nevada to the woods of Virginia. Here I was, finally fully immune, or so I thought. I should have felt confident, free to embrace them. But each new headline seemed to chirp about a new variant, each worse than the last, and how even the vaccinated could still spread the virus.

So here I was, on a trip where I thought I could finally feel safe and less paranoid, but it was not so. Instead of boarding the return flight with a sense of gratification, I left with fear, thinking I might have exposed them to the virus.

Matthew Horne, Mesquite, Nev.

In June, I took a beach getaway to Maine with my college friend. Our goal was sun, lobster and relaxation. We stayed in a beautiful cottage right on the water, and ate lobster every day! It was not too crowded as it was early in the season. The beach was perfect, and I woke every morning to capture the sunrise. Everyone we met went out of their way to make us welcome.

The trip brought so much pure joy. To be able to celebrate our (well-earned) retirements, finally, and at a favorite location of mine, reuniting and sharing till the wee hours of the morning.

It made me feel young again. The freedom of travel—to get in a car and go somewhere beautiful—is something that I will not take for granted ever again. I am so grateful to be vaccinated and healthy, and to be an American.

The only bad part of my trip was having to come home!

Lorraine Ziek, South Kortright, N.Y.

We took a family road trip during the third week of July 2021. We traveled to St Augustine, Fla., and spent the week visiting indoor and outdoor attractions as well as spending time on the beach.

Being fully vaccinated, we felt no stress over the crowds and enjoyed dining indoors at several establishments. The biggest disappointment was the continued lack of staffing in restaurants leading to long waits and often subpar service.

The trip was special because our son, David, 23, had recently graduated from Tennessee Tech University and our daughter, Hannah, 20, was able to join us as well while on summer break. She attends TTU also. As parents of adult kids, my wife, Karen, and I know that opportunities for the four of us to travel as a family will be harder to come by in the future. So, we made it an old-fashioned road trip.

We enjoyed local eateries like the Donut Experiment where you select the filling, topping and glaze for each doughnut. My daughter studies housing and design and enjoyed the architecture of St. Augustine, especially Flagler College’s rotunda and Tiffany stained-glass windows.

My son, who majored in marketing, is the beach bum of the family, and we enjoyed several afternoons on St. Augustine beach and watching sailboats on the Matanzas River.

In addition to eating a lot of great seafood, we also enjoyed a bunch of lighthearted tourist diversions like miniature golf, a visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, museums from serious to pirate-themed, and just hanging out in our rental cottage.

We were blessed to have the time to take a summer road trip this year. But we didn’t view it as a “break out from the pandemic.” We have worked in an office, traveled, shopped, worshiped, attended classes in person and online, and hosted family celebrations of birthdays, holidays and graduations throughout the pandemic.

We followed reasonable precautions including masks where required, hand sanitizer and staying out of strangers’ personal space, but otherwise we tried to continue with life. Like everyone else, we have lost friends to the pandemic. Maybe the pandemic made the days a little longer and the year a little shorter, but there was still plenty of opportunity for joy and family fun.

This trip was taken a couple of weeks before the Delta variant surge began. So, emotionally, the trip felt like a return to normal. We hoped it was the start of a time when we no longer worried about who we would offend by wearing a mask or not wearing a mask or any number of other triggers that pandemic stress has created.

As it turns out, we weren’t out of the woods yet. While that doesn’t change our perspective on the fun we had on our trip, it reminds us that we will need to continue to extend an extra measure of patience and grace as we work through the balance of the pandemic.

Traveling reminded us that some things don’t change: Twizzlers and Mountain Dew are the preferred road-trip vices, driving through Atlanta is still awful, and family time is the best time.

Adam Bernhardt, Cookeville, Tenn.

I was afraid of bringing Covid right to my mom’s door. We mutually decided it was worth the risk. I went alone and spent five days with her. Honestly, it was difficult. She struggles with COPD and emphysema.

I was really scared because the airlines were filling flights to capacity. Enforced masking in airports and for the entire flight was crucial to my decision to go. While waiting to disembark I noticed the man who sat in front of me was wearing his mask below his nose. I said something, loudly (but politely!), and he fixed it. A woman in a gorgeous burqa sitting across the aisle looked at me and said, “Good job!

That made my day! Between Covid fear and worrying about my mom, some things were made clear to me about the rest of my life and how I want it to go.

Meredith Phillips, East Hartford, Conn.

My group of eight college friends decided to rent an Airbnb for the entire month of December 2020. We decided on Charleston, S.C., because it was not a popular holiday destination and it had warm beaches.

We found a large house to rent to work from home during the first half of the month, visiting local attractions and coffee shops. Most of us took days off during the second half and went on mini-trips from Charleston and relaxed together.

It ended up being one of the best vacations. Covid made me realize that this type of extended, lazy trip is much more fun than the usually hurried vacations where you try to cram in as much as possible in the limited days off you have.

If there’s one thing I’d like to keep post-pandemic, it would be the option to work from home for an extended time during the holiday season and spend quality time with loved ones.

Aravind Anantha, Raleigh, N.C.


‘Forever Changed’: CEOs Are Dooming Business Travel — Maybe For Good

A Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.

Business travel as we’ve known it is a thing of the past. From Pfizer Inc., Michelin and LG Electronics Inc. to HSBC Holdings Plc, Hershey Co., Invesco Ltd. and Deutsche Bank AG, businesses around the world are signaling that innovative new communications tools are making many pre-pandemic-era trips history.

Take Akzo Nobel NV, Europe’s biggest paint maker, for instance. At its Amsterdam headquarters, Chief Executive Officer Thierry Vanlancker has spent the past year watching his manufacturing head, David Prinselaar, flap his arms, madly gesticulate and seemingly talk to himself while “visiting” 124 plants by directing staff with high-definition augmented-reality headgear on factory floors.

A task that meant crisscrossing the globe in a plane before is now done in a fraction of the time — and with no jet lag. For Vanlancker, there’s no going back.

“Trips to drum up business could drop by a third, and internal meetings by even more,” he said in an interview. “It’s a good thing for our wallets and helps our sustainability targets. Our customers have had a year of training, so it’s not a social no-no anymore to just reach out by video… There’s an enormous efficiency element.”

A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. A majority of the respondents cutting travel budgets see reductions of between 20% and 40%, with about two in three slashing both internal and external in-person meetings.

The ease and efficiency of virtual software, cost savings and lower carbon emissions were the primary reasons cited for the cutbacks. According to the Global Business Travel Association, spending on corporate trips could slide to as low as $1.24 trillion by 2024 from a pre-pandemic peak in 2019 of $1.43 trillion.

Ultimate Travel Resource Covering (Covid-19, Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.)

Business travel has “forever changed,” Greg Hayes, CEO of jet-engine maker Raytheon Technologies Corp., said in a Bloomberg Radio interview in July. About 30% of normal commercial air traffic is corporate-related but only half of that is likely mandatory, he said. While the market may eventually recover, sophisticated communication technologies have “really changed our thinking in terms of productivity,” Hayes said.

Having saved billions from slashed travel budgets during the pandemic with only a marginal impact on operations, companies, banks, consulting firms and government offices will be hard pressed to explain why they’d return to their old ways.

Kit Kat chocolate-bar maker Hershey said the pandemic showed that online meetings were a more efficient use of time and financial resources. Companies like Pfizer are grappling with questions about what one accomplishes with a trip that can’t be done virtually, Tina Quattlebaum, its director of global travel operations, said at the GBTA Mid-Year Virtual Summit in July.

“We don’t think business travel will ever return to 2019 levels,” said Will Hawkley, the global head of travel and leisure at KPMG LLP. “Corporates are looking at their bottom-line, their environmental commitments, the demand from employees for more flexible working and thinking: Why do I have to bring that back?”

That’s a blow to the airline and hospitality industries — already among the biggest casualties of the pandemic. Business travelers, who buy premium-class or more-expensive refundable tickets, rang in as much as three-quarters of airlines’ pre-pandemic profits while accounting for only 12% of seats, according to PwC.

The hotels sector, which draws about two-thirds of its revenue from business travelers, could see a dip of as much as 18% by 2022 as virtual meetings replace 27% of corporate travel volumes, a Morgan Stanley study shows.

The world’s biggest airlines collectively lost a whopping $126 billion in 2020 and are set to lose another $48 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association, their lobby.

As they wrestle with those losses and the huge debts racked up after coronavirus punctured a decades-long boom in travel, the last thing airlines need is corporate customers cutting back. Carriers like Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, with thousands of staff and overhead to support, depend on business travelers returning.

“The effect of this structural decrease in business travel will be enormous for the industry, and especially for the airlines that are the most exposed to this category of traveler,” said Pascal Fabre, managing director in Paris for AlixPartners, a consulting firm.

Airlines are trying to stay optimistic. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said about 80% of the carrier’s large corporate clients have indicated that as much as 90% of their pre-Covid business travel will eventually return.

“I don’t expect we’re going to see a degradation in the aggregate of business demand over time,” he said in an interview. “The more people are connected in person, the more opportunities are created. I don’t see this being a significant body-blow to the industry as prognosticated by some.”

Traveling thousands of miles to meet with customers to discuss key issues across a table or over a meal made business sense before the pandemic and that hasn’t changed, said Warren East, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, which makes aircraft engines.

“Covid-19 has definitely taught people that some of the mad regular dashes across the Atlantic hither and thither aren’t necessary,” he said, speaking at a net-zero event on June 17. “But when you peel back beyond that superficial analysis, you realize people were doing it because they thought it delivered real benefit to them.”

There may also be competitive pressures to keep flying, Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith said in an interview. “I hear many of our corporate customers saying that the day they lose an account because they weren’t somewhere face-to-face will immediately bring them back to the way operations were before.”

Airlines are banking on a recovery sparked by pent-up demand after about 18 months when executives couldn’t visit customers — hopes that are being dented by the spread of the delta variant. Even if there is an initial burst of activity, it will start to stabilize and the structural change to business travel will become evident by around 2024, according to Fabre.

“In the past, it was seen as a good thing to go to the other side of the world to shake someone’s hand, but not anymore,” Augustin de Romanet, the CEO of Aeroports de Paris, which operates dozens of airports around the world, said in an interview. “Many things that have been done by conference call during the pandemic will stay that way, especially when it comes to far-flung countries. This will be for costs and the environment as well as people’s wellbeing.”

Company executives travel for many reasons — from business development and customer support to trade shows, conferences and meetings with local staff. Trips for intra-company activities will likely bear the brunt of the cuts “because client relationships aren’t at stake,” said AlixPartners’ Fabre.

“We have learned how to work, develop products, sign contracts without traveling,” he said.

Deutsche Bank’s global head of Investment Banking Coverage and Advisory, Drew Goldman, said that while the bank’s client-related business travel will return to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels, trips for internal meetings will probably be a shadow of what they were before — at 25% to 30%.

“We will probably review our travel budget,” Societe Generale SA CEO Frederic Oudea said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “People will be very happy to shake hands again, but probably for really the important situations.”

Volkswagen AG is making employees jump through hoops before they can fly. Internal booking software steers them toward alternatives to flying, the most carbon-intensive form of travel.

They’re also asked to justify why they can’t conduct the business online. At French defense and tech giant Thales, “trips will be for longer and probably less frequent in order to optimize costs, environmental impact and wellbeing,” said CEO Patrice Caine.

In Singapore, United Overseas Bank Ltd., Southeast Asia’s third-biggest bank, plans to cut its travel budget by as much as 50%, and will limit trips to cases “where face-to-face interaction is essential,” said Dean Tong, head of group human resources.

On New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos.’s second-quarter earnings call, CEO Dan Glaser said, “companies, not just Marsh McLennan, will travel with more purpose and will be more thoughtful about traveling.”

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Sophisticated technologies are enabling companies to do things they never imagined doing remotely. At French tire maker Michelin, new tools are already eclipsing the automatic reflex to make a trip, CEO Florent Menegaux said in an interview. The company recently used a drone for a virtual visit of its Campo Grande plant in Brazil by the top manufacturing brass in France.

“We start machines remotely, have used drones to visit factories and train people from home,” Menegaux said. “We will continue to travel because human bonds are absolutely necessary to our activity, but we will most certainly have an overall reduction of about 20% to 30% in our travel costs.”

Royal Dutch Shell Plc has created online control rooms with interactive 3D simulations of oil platforms and plants, giving engineers virtual access from home. In Troy, Michigan, Kevin Clark, the CEO of Aptiv Plc, a former car parts unit of General Motors Co., is using drones and Oculus augmented-reality headsets to show customers the performance and manufacturing run rates of plants in Mexico, Hungary, or China.

“We won’t travel as much,” Clark said. “I think it’ll be more when we have to travel people will travel, versus, it’s nice to travel.”

For most companies, cost savings will be the primary driver to scale back, but carbon-footprint worries and employee wellbeing are not far behind, Fabre said.

Businesses globally are under pressure from investors and regulators to shrink their CO2 emissions. The European Commission rolled out an ambitious climate plan in July to force all industries to shift away from fossil fuels.

Aviation has long been a target even though it accounts for only about 2.4% of global human-induced CO2 emissions. That’s because the sector was growing rapidly before the pandemic and has other negative effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“Companies have acknowledged that reducing the level of flights is one way of reducing climate change,” said Andrew Murphy, aviation director at advocacy group Transport & Environment. “For the next 10 years, the best way to reduce emissions from aviation is to fly less.”

Airlines are providing companies tools to blunt the impact of CO2 emissions with carbon offsets and refreshing fleets with newer, more efficient planes. But with the tons of carbon dioxide they spew, airlines can’t do much to show that flying is a sustainable way to get around. Hydrogen-fueled planes and electric commercial jetliners are decades away, and alternative aviation fuel isn’t widely available and jacks up ticket prices.

Carriers may have to modify aircraft configurations to cut business class seats and add more premium economy places. Premium economy costs less to operate than business class and takes up less space.

Air France, for instance, is developing its so-called leisure-business category for passengers who buy premium-class tickets for holiday travel, according to Steven Zaat, the group’s CFO. Thirty-two Air France 777s are fitted with “quick change” systems that allow the airline to reduce the size of its business-class cabin.

The airline is still confident about a rebound in business travel, but “we can always reconfigure our planes if necessary,” Zaat said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

While airlines grapple with the possibility of fewer business customers, some of those clients are happy not to be zipping around the world all the time.

“A nice side effect of fewer long-haul business trips is less stress for the people who fly,” Hans-Ingo Biehl, the head of VDR, the German Business Travel Association, said in an interview. A study by the Baylor College of Medicine found frequent fliers have the same cancer risk as obese people. Also, companies have found that jet lag hurts productivity.

“There are a lot of myths and fantasy about travel, but it’s really very tiring,” said Michelin CEO Menegaux. “We should do it only when it’s absolutely necessary. I travel a lot and I can tell you it’s physically grueling and takes a heavy toll.”

Updated: 9-1-2021

Travel Agencies Are Having A Moment Amid Covid-19 Chaos

A business that lost ground to do-it-yourself online travel booking is back with the added complications of cancellations, border restrictions and testing requirements.

Zoom, ring lights, stationary bikes and food delivery. To the list of products and services that found new life because of the pandemic, you can add travel advisers.

Travel has grown difficult thanks to virus-related complexity, uncertainty, cancellations, delays, border restrictions and testing requirements. As a result, many travelers booking a beach getaway or other trips are turning to professionals to help them with plans. Travel advisers—don’t call them travel agents anymore—are cool again.

“With the pandemic, our credibility and our necessity have gone off the charts, and I think we’re now advocates,” says Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, a New York-based leisure and corporate travel agency that is a unit of Frosch International Travel. “Travel is possible. It’s just difficult.”

Do-it-yourself booking and declining commissions paid by airlines shrank travel agencies beginning in the 1990s. Survivors mostly booked cruises and elaborate trips for clients interested in luxury accommodations, plus the big business of corporate travel managers.

The industry has proven resilient, and now it’s hot. Travelers are itching to go somewhere after many sat grounded for a year or more. And they have myriad questions about what you have to do to travel internationally and how you can protect yourself against disappointment, delay and financial loss. More of them have turned to travel advisers.

A survey of leisure travelers conducted for the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals resorts this spring found roughly 17% of travelers are likely to use a travel adviser for the first time when the pandemic is over.

In the online survey of 410 travelers, 44% said they’re more likely to use a travel adviser. About 27% already did use advisers, so the difference is the first-time opportunity for advisers. (The survey’s margin of error was 4.8%.)

Avi Gilburt, a stock-market technical analyst and adviser in Maryland, had started looking for a travel adviser before the pandemic, but the crisis pushed him into the first-timer category. He and his wife were traveling more, and all the planning was becoming too much for him to handle.

“Covid was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he says.

Mr. Gilburt and his wife have continued to travel through the pandemic. That’s required a lot of changes and adjustments—Handled By Travel Adviser Angela Musso of Valerie Wilson Travel.

Using a travel adviser means you probably aren’t going to get the cheapest prices, Mr. Gilburt says, but the reduced hassle has justified the added cost.

And in some ways, advisers can save money. One cancellation involved a $10,000 nonrefundable booking at a five-star Caribbean hotel. Ms. Musso used her connections to get Mr. Gilburt a refund.

Travel advisers say their job has become more complex. They must track constantly changing border restrictions. They must sort through Covid-19 restrictions on insurance policies. They must have a Plan B for elaborate events like destination weddings or family reunions if Plan A becomes impractical because of a viral outbreak somewhere. Plan C may be necessary, too.

Just last week the governor of Hawaii tried to wave off vacationers and curtail nonessential trips because the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus was making enough people sick to approach the islands’ limited hospital capacity.

“Here we go again,” says Nancy Scorby of Scorby Travel & Cruise in St. Charles, Ill. Hawaii was one destination she had been successfully selling. Now it likely means a new wave of cancellations and rebookings.

Like many businesses, travel agencies suffered mightily during the pandemic. Advisers worked first to get customers who were stranded abroad home in the chaos of the shutdown in March 2020. Then they took up the fight for clients to get refunds and usable credits for canceled trips. Vacations got rebooked and rebooked again.

With little new revenue coming in and even some refunded fees going out, Marc Casto, president of leisure in the Americas for Flight Centre Travel Group, says he had to make significant layoffs. Now, he’s aggressively rehiring. Earlier this year, vaccination led to a surge of travel bookings.

“April was off-the-charts busy,” says Mr. Casto, based in Montvale, N.J., and also board chairman of ASTA. Many were new customers worried about all the risks and unknowns. In addition, there’s uncertainty about what’s actually open at various destinations for restaurants, museums, events and attractions, plus how to safely navigate ground transportation.

“Whenever there is complexity, whenever there is uncertainty, whenever there is mystery of rules, there is even more benefit from service,” Mr. Casto says.

ASTA held its annual convention in Chicago a week ago and attracted 550 travel advisers, more than the 470 who showed up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2019. At each gathering, the number of representatives from airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour companies, rental car agencies and travel insurance providers outnumbered the actual agents.

The mood, participants say, was euphoric—not only excitement about reconnecting in person, but also energized by the industry’s sudden renaissance. There was even an education session for new travel advisers—people who joined the profession during the pandemic when few were traveling.

“I think the appreciation for the job has changed,” says Zane Kerby, ASTA’s chief executive.

One big question facing travel advisers: What do they now need to charge clients to earn profits when each trip requires more time to design, book and track?

Some agencies charged fees to clients; others relied solely on commissions. Now more training is required for agents. And if trips must be rebooked, advisers may end up spending hours and hours on hold with airlines, property-rental firms and others.

“For a $40 service fee, that’s not great math,” Mr. Kerby says.

Kareem George, who runs a three-person agency called Culture Traveler in Franklin, Mich., now offers an annual retainer or $2,500 in addition to a fee structure ranging from $100 to $500 per trip. He says more than 40% of his current clients are new to travel advisers as a result of the pandemic.

Services perhaps offered only to the best clients now may be mandatory, like restaurant reservations or local transportation arrangements.

“Consumers really get it more than ever,” he says. “Now is really an opportunity for those not charging fees previously to introduce fees.”

Intel For Travel In 2021

Travel Advisers Say They’ve Added New Strategies And Procedures To Planning Trips. Here Are Some Suggestions:

1) Stay in one country. No more touring across regions in multiple countries. You need to minimize border crossings and the testing requirements that come with that.

2) Know where and when you’ll go for your required Covid-19 test to re-enter the U.S. The test must meet certain requirements. Know how you’ll get to the test site, if you have to go somewhere, and how long the results will take.

3) Pay more attention to on-the-ground issues. Will you need dinner reservations? What are local mask requirements? What’s open and what’s restricted? How will you get around if you are worried about buses and subways?

4) Walk into an airport interview office if you need to renew your Global Entry but can’t get an appointment with Customs and Border Protection. Often officers can fit you in because of no-shows and schedule mix-ups.

Updated: 9-7-2021

Covid Travel Is Still A Disaster. It Doesn’t Need To Be

Draconian restrictions on international movement are failing to deliver benefits that warrant the costs.

The surreal nature of international travel in the Covid era was beamed live around the world last weekend. In the opening minutes of a soccer match in Sao Paolo between Brazil and Argentina, play ground to a halt when public-health officials walked onto the field to remove several Argentine athletes over an apparent breach of a 14-day quarantine (mandatory for travel via the U.K.). The game never resumed.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, travel restrictions are still tripping up regular families and firms, not just footballers. A U.S. ban on most travelers from two dozen European countries, instituted by Donald Trump in March of last year, remains in place despite a change of president and the fact that a higher proportion of people in the European Union and U.K. are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents returning home from places including the U.S. and France must spend 21 days in hotel quarantine even if they’re vaccinated, and the city bars entry to most other people. Australia’s borders are closed, with most international travel banned.

Obviously, caution is warranted around the delta variant. But the lack of pragmatism around international travel is striking. Although many governments have eased restrictions on movement at home, since recognizing the evidence that vaccines protect against severe forms of Covid, travel curbs appear to be preserved in cement.

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A July report by the World Tourism Organization found that there had been no “significant” changes in curbs since Nov. 2020. For every bit of good news — Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates recently eased travel restrictions — there’s a snap-back, such as the EU’s re-imposition of curbs on American travelers after a summer reprieve.

This merits urgent attention. There are emotional and economic costs to restricting travel. Most visible is the tourism industry, which suffered its worst year on record in 2020 — losses may hit $2.4 trillion this year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Less visible are all the lives and careers that have been put on hold until travel resumes, from full-time workers and seasonal staff to international students with big future potential. One chief executive officer recently quit his post after tiring of transatlantic travel restrictions.

The benefits, meanwhile, are hard to spot. Consider the treatment of travelers from France, who are not allowed into the U.S. and who had to be quarantined upon arrival in the U.K. until recently, even if they were vaccinated. Today they still have to book a Covid test two days after arrival.

All this to what end? The U.S. and U.K. are currently reporting around 500 new daily cases per million people, about twice that of France. Paris is deemed the most open city out of 40 destinations tracked by Bloomberg. Even New Zealand, with its high border control and location thousands of miles from anywhere, concedes that, even with vaccines, infections will rise when its borders reopen due to variants like delta.

One alternative to travel bans and ineffectual rules would be to better differentiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. As of June, only 17% of all travel destinations worldwide specifically mentioned vaccinated passengers in their travel policy, according to the World Tourism Organization. Research from airline lobby group IATA also finds that two-fifths of EU states aren’t allowing in vaccinated travelers from countries deemed safe outside the bloc.

For all the caveats on transmission and waning vaccine effectiveness, there should be more openness to the vaccinated. Of course, this would mean that rich countries need to push harder to expand supply and production of vaccines in the developing world. Otherwise those without access will be unfairly punished.

The World Health Organization should also harmonize competing definitions of “full vaccination” to reduce confusion as countries roll out booster shots and third doses. More broadly, politicians need to start talking about travel as an opportunity, not just a risk. Wanting to avoid giving privileged holidaymakers license to spread disease is perhaps justified; denying vaccinated families, students and workers a chance at normality isn’t.

No relaxation of curbs is risk-free. But this has to be balanced against the progress we’ve made so far in managing Covid — and the reward of improving mobility. At this stage of the pandemic, with the tools at our disposal, a shift looks worth it.

Updated: 9-10-2021

Cruises Are Back: Here’s What You Need To Know About Safety Before You Climb Aboard

Major cruise lines are setting sail once more and trying to make a squeaky-clean break from the past. We offer the latest guidance from health experts and look at the big changes onboard and onshore.

AFTER ALMOST 18 dormant months in the age of Covid 19, cruise lines are increasingly beginning to sail again. American Cruise Line launched from Florida in March. Crystal Cruises resumed operations, with two vessels sailing in the Bahamas, in July. The Norwegian Jade is cruising the Greek Isles, with many Americans on board.

At the end of August, Oceania Cruises’ Marina set sail from Copenhagen, and its sister ship, the Riviera, is scheduled to travel from Istanbul to Trieste in October. The 2022 itineraries on Viking Ocean Cruises are almost fully booked. Clearly there is demand, and passengers are willing to climb aboard. The question is: Is it safe to cruise now?

Are Cruise Ships Safe?

Public perception that the answer is yes significantly increased in recent months according to a July survey by the travel marketing firm MMGY Global. And grim images of giant virus-riddled boats marooned off shore had been fading—at least until August when coronavirus infections were identified aboard the Carnival Vista cruise ship sailing out of Galveston, Texas. (A 77-year-old passenger, treated onboard and then evacuated to an Oklahoma hospital, later died. The ship was able to prevent further spread of the virus.)

“The cruise model does give you a chance to control the environment more than other sectors of hospitality,” said Rubén Rodríguez, president of MSC Cruises USA, who notes the low incidence of Covid since sailings resumed.

According to Bermello Ajamil & Partners, an architecture firm with a maritime focus, only 27 positive Covid-19 cases have been identified among the estimated 1.6 million passengers who have sailed in 2021. (The firm compiles its data from cruise line press releases and industry news outlets, among other sources.)

Covid-19 cases among crew members are harder to track, but Mark Ittel, senior vice president of ports and maritime at Bermello Ajamil & Partners, said that the cruise lines’ new safety protocols appear to be working.

After Covid outbreaks were reported on dozens of cruise ships in February 2020 and March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no-sail” order, banning most passenger vessels from sailing in U.S. waters. The order was lifted in October, replaced with a set of rules that ships had to comply with before they were allowed to resume their voyages.

Even with these precautions in place, CDC officials say cruising is not a zero-risk activity and that non-vaccinated people should avoid all cruises, including river cruises, world-wide. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people should get tested before boarding and that anyone with a serious illness or an increased risk of serious illness should not cruise at all.

The agency has also established a color-coding system that tracks ships sailing in U.S. waters, operating under health and safety protocols that align with the agency’s standards.

“There are clear risks involved in cruising,” said Dr. Lucy E. Wilson, senior adviser to the University for Public Health and Pandemic Response at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “The risk is stratified by vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. The unvaccinated are clearly at higher risk of contracting and then spreading the virus.

That’s true in general and it’s true on a cruise ship.” Dr. Wilson—who noted that what we know today can change tomorrow—also pointed out that with the Delta variant being the predominant strain circulating in the U.S., even vaccinated people remain at risk for contracting and spreading the virus, though they’re generally less likely to become seriously ill.

“It’s risk-benefit tolerance,” said Kelly Gebo, MD MPH and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “For some people, going to the gym is important for their mental health. So they are willing to take the risk.” Consider your own circumstances (age, general health, doctor’s advice, vaccination status, etc.) and weigh those against what you’ll gain from, say, four days and five nights of floating around turquoise waters.

Even in the before times, cruise ships were subject to biannual CDC inspections. Now, under strict pandemic scrutiny from the CDC, the industry is even more highly regulated—from below-deck waste management systems to guest-facing food service protocols—and required to make regular health and safety reports.

It’s had time to identify vulnerabilities, overhaul internal weaknesses, retrain staff, arm itself against new eventualities and form advisory boards (such as Healthy Sail Panel, a group organized by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings that includes a former Secretary of Health and Human Services and a former commissioner of the FDA). Some cruise lines undertook all-volunteer test cruises to put all the upgrades and protocols through their paces.

“Since this very difficult time, we’ve had an opportunity to demonstrate that ships are extremely safe,” said Roberto Martinoli, president and chief executive officer of Silversea Cruises. “We have hospitals on board, very well trained personnel, and we need to produce reports of anything that happens on board [which] helps to make it efficient.

The virus exists. We cannot deny it. Because of the nature of the virus, it might happen that someone [infected] might arrive at the ship. But it will not get out of control. We can stop it at the beginning.”

For those ready to book a stateroom, here are some of the changes to cruise life and the health-and-safety measures to expect, from gangway to shining sea.

How Crowded Are The Ships?

As they gradually resume sailing, most cruises are operating at reduced capacity to give people more room in common spaces like bars and theaters on board and to work within local guidelines in port. For now, MSC Cruises has capped ships pursuing European itineraries at 70% capacity and those sailing the Americas at 50%, which means a maximum of 2,250 passengers aboard MSC Meraviglia, the 4,500-passenger vessel that started sailing from Miami last month.

And Metropolitan Touring, which operates small expedition journeys in the Galápagos Islands sold through luxury companies like Tauck and Abercrombie & Kent, reduced capacity on its ships by 25% to allow dining room distancing and to better manage guest-to-guide ratio.

Taking into account vaccination rates among passengers and mask-wearing protocols, density matters more than the size of the boat, according to Dr. Gebo of Johns Hopkins University. And consider the nature of activities. “Outside is generally fine,” she said. But you’re facing higher risks in a gym with lots of people. And “a three-day party at sea with gambling, dancing and drinking is different than going whale-watching.”

Do I Need to Be Vaccinated?

Some cruise lines—including Silversea and Viking, which is operating its full fleet of six ocean ships and 45 of its 78 river boats—require all passengers to be fully vaccinated, as do some countries, such as the Bahamas. “We made the decision early on,” said Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen. “I don’t want to make it a political issue,” he added, saying the issue is “the safety of our staff and passengers.”

Others suggest full vaccination and put restrictions on unvaccinated passengers. MSC, for example, has vaccinated-only pools, and Atlas Ocean Voyages, a new deluxe adult-only line, warns that, depending on the regulations of the countries visited, unvaccinated guests may be subject to additional testing and restricted from independent shoreside activities.

Most companies have implemented a battery of safeguards (and so much print and digital paperwork that it can be worth engaging a travel adviser to help): pre-screening; PCR testing before, during and after the cruise (some boats now have their own labs onboard); face masks during embarkation and disembarkation and when indoors (except in your cabin, or seated in a bar or restaurant); and tracking and tracing measures just in case.

How Well Ventilated are the Ships?

An open bar, state-of-the-art water toys, and a Fancy Chef Steakhouse are all well and good. But now onboard amenities also include hospital-grade disinfectants, new fresh-air ventilation systems and robots that clean at night using UV light.

Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Princess and Virgin Voyages are using AtmosAir’s bipolar ionization technology for their HVAC systems, which, according to the manufacturer, generates positively and negatively charged ions to reduce contaminants and pollutants in the air. A video on the AtmosAir website claims that the system “restores inside air to what you find on a mountain top.”

Silversea has installed medical grade air filters (MERV 13 or HPA) to supply fresh air to all areas every hour. Across the cruise lines, sales of interior cabins are down, and some lines, such as MSC, use them as isolation rooms, if needed; Viking has none, and all its ocean ship staterooms have a balcony.

What Other Onboard Changes Should I Expect?

Recent cruisers recommend packing your patience along with your sunscreen. “I felt better and safer on board than at the airport, on the airplane or in the hotel,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content officer at Cruise Media, a publishing and consulting company, who sailed with Viking and with Silversea this past summer.

“There is more space, more al fresco dining, new protocols like spit tests [a Covid-19 saliva test] and I had no concern about ventilation. But you have to be flexible.”

Some things, like getting aboard, might take a little longer. You may not be able to enter the dining room without washing your hands. Food service generally no longer features passed hors d’oeuvres or self-serve buffets, and you’ll see Plexi-glass popping up here and there. You might have to reserve spa or gym time in advance. And when it comes to the pool, expect crowd control.

What About Shore Excursions?

Cruise lines can exert a high degree of control aboard ship, but passengers face a lot of variables in port and on land. Ecuador, for example, requires masks to be worn at all times while visiting the blue-footed boobies on their uninhabited rocks in the Pacific.

MSC Cruises sells what the company calls “Social Bubble Shore Excursions” to isolate its passengers and protect local environments. (On MSC’s first Covid-era cruise in August 2020, a family left the group in Capri and were not allowed back onboard. Other guests cheered.)

Before the pandemic, several companies including Disney, MSC and Holland America began buying up private islands in the Caribbean to use for their exclusive shore excursions, which in the Covid age let the lines extend the bubble they can create on board. Otherwise, it’s important to know where you’re going. “When going from a largely vaccinated vessel to a general public area,” said Dr. Wilson, “there are widely variant virus levels and controls.

You’re getting off, the crew is getting off, exposure is elevated. Covid-19 has showed us it is a moving target.”

Biden’s Sweeping Vaccine Mandate Stops Short of Domestic Flyers

Among the major measures President Joe Biden announced this week to get more Americans vaccinated, one high-profile move was missing: requiring vaccines or negative tests to get on an airplane.

Countries including France, Italy and Canada have imposed requirements, or will, for domestic travel as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus and its emerging variants. Vaccine and testing requirements have taken hold widely for international flights, and the U.S. is weighing further restrictions on visitors, including a vaccine requirement for all foreign nationals.

But, at home, the U.S. still only requires a mask for domestic flights, despite calls from some health experts to raise the bar and require proof of vaccines or a negative test. Biden stopped short of tightening the rules when he unveiled a new series of vaccine mandates on Thursday that will affect millions of federal and health care workers, as well as a vaccine-or-testing requirement for any business with 100 or more staff.

Instead, the administration doubled fines for people who refuse to wear masks on planes. Biden has walked a fine line to avoid triggering more backlash at home, where public health measures and restrictions have become political lightning rods. A top aide signaled Friday that the administration isn’t interested in mandates aimed at consumers.

“Workplaces are a very efficient and effective way to ensure that people get vaccinated,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday, when asked if they’ve ruled out a flight requirement. But, he added, “We’re not taking any measures off the table.”

Air travel into the U.S. from some countries remains restricted — including a ban on entry of most non-Americans who have visited parts of Europe recently. All travelers into the U.S. need to show a recent negative test, regardless of vaccination status.

But other countries restrict domestic travel, too. Italy and France require proof of vaccine, a recent negative test or recovery from a virus for domestic flights and long-distance trains, while Canada has said it will require vaccinations for all air travel by the end of October.

‘Low-Hanging Fruit’

In the U.S., however, there’s been little appetite for vaccine requirements for Americans arriving internationally, or any traveler domestically, and airline chief executives have warned of headaches — though carriers regularly handle vaccine screening for international travel.

Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, has urged the administration to require vaccinations for domestic air and train travel, instead of just requiring masks. “A travel requirement is low-hanging fruit,” she said in an email. “If you want the privilege of traveling, you need to get vaccinated.”

Airlines have pushed against any such measure, which could sap consumer demand — or act as an incentive for people who’ve held off until now. United Airlines Holdings Inc. CEO Scott Kirby told MSNBC last month that it would be “logistically impractical to do domestically,” but said it would be up to government to direct it.

Cumbersome For Airlines

“Even if we decided that was something we wanted to do, that would be incredibly cumbersome to do inside the United States,” American Airlines Group Inc. CEO Doug Parker told the New York Times. International flights have sufficient layover times and checkpoints to administer the measure, but “it wouldn’t be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system,” he said.

He said he doubted whether airline safety would be enhanced by a vaccine requirement. “Requiring vaccinations to travel and not requiring vaccinations to do anything else around the country isn’t something we’re looking to do,” Parker said.

Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Ed Bastian told WNYW-TV in New York in August that “the logistical challenge of getting vaccination paperwork and understanding exemptions, and who could travel and who wouldn’t, I think would cause a massive crimp on the operations.”

Airlines for America, an industry group, said in a statement that carriers have implemented several safety measures already, and that rising vaccination rates overall are another layer of protection. Its statement declined to specifically say if it supported or opposed a vaccine mandate.

Choice of Airlines

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said transmission on airplanes is rare — though risks persist, including in airports — but that it’s important for airlines to go as far as possible. He’s started flying United more because they have announced they will require employee vaccinations.

“I think I would also favor airlines in which all passengers were vaccinated or tested,” he said in an email.

EU Travel Recommendations: What U.S. Travelers Need To Know

Many countries are in no hurry to close to U.S. travelers just yet.

The European Union’s new recommendation to halt nonessential travel from the U.S. due to the rise of Covid-19 cases stateside could create fresh virus-related travel uncertainty.

The Aug. 30 announcement suggested that vaccinated travelers would still be permitted into EU member countries, though it is up to each nation to set its own restrictions. Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., said on Twitter that the recommendation means only essential travelers and vaccinated people from the U.S. would be allowed into the bloc.

Many European countries appear to be in no hurry to close the door to American tourists, with major tourist destinations Spain and Greece saying on Aug. 31 that they would stay open for American visitors for the coming weeks at least.

Other countries, including France, said they have no immediate plans to change their rules for travel from the U.S. Italy and the Netherlands, however, have recently changed entry requirements for U.S. travelers.

The EU travel list is reviewed every two weeks and isn’t binding for member states, though it has generally set the pattern for who can visit the 27-country bloc. The EU had previously decided in June to add the U.S. to its “safe list.”

Should countries tighten entry rules, the European recommendation could thwart some Americans’ fall and winter trip plans, adding more challenges to an already complex year for international travel—one marked by passport delays, changing vaccination and testing requirements and myriad rules for booking at various destinations.

Here’s what we know so far about what the EU recommendation means for travelers.

Is The EU Open To U.S. citizens?

Citing the spread of Covid-19 cases stateside, EU countries voted to remove the U.S. from a “safe list” of countries for nonessential travel, meaning vacations and recreational trips. The EU reviews its travel list every two weeks.

Pressure to remove the U.S. from the travel list has also risen because Washington has maintained a ban on Europeans’ nonessential travel to the U.S.

Under EU rules, the bloc is supposed to consider removing from the safe list any country with more than 75 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous 14 days.

The authority can take other factors into account when making its decision, including whether the third country has opened up to EU citizens.

The U.S. infection rate rose above 75 per 100,000 earlier in the summer, but EU member states agreed not to respond immediately.

Member states have become frustrated in recent weeks over the U.S.’s refusal to drop restrictions on EU travelers.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the EU wouldn’t allow the lack of reciprocity to “drag on for weeks.”

The European Union said it has hit its target of fully vaccinating 70% of adults against Covid-19 by the end of summer, though rates among countries vary.

The World Health Organization has warned that the pace of vaccinations in the continent appears to be faltering, and that less vaccinated parts of Europe are at risk of fresh outbreaks and new restrictions to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus.

Does This Mean I Can’t Travel To Europe?

For now, many countries are allowing U.S. visitors, though some are adding new entry requirements.

Spain, for example, had some of the least restrictive rules for U.S. tourists this summer, previously requiring no proof of vaccination or negative tests for Americans before entering the country.

But beginning Sept. 6, U.S. travelers will be allowed to enter Spain only if they first present a QR code generated through the Spain Travel Health portal.

In addition, U.S. tourists must also show proof of vaccination if they are traveling for a nonessential purpose, such as tourism. Children under 12 are exempt from these requirements if traveling with vaccinated adults.

Unvaccinated travelers from the U.S. won’t be permitted to enter France for nonessential purposes starting Sunday, Sept. 12. Those who are able to provide a “compelling” reason for travel will need a negative Covid test, and must isolate for seven days upon arrival. Vaccinated U.S. tourists can still vacation in the country.

Italy also now requires fully vaccinated Americans to provide a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. In addition to showing a negative test, unvaccinated travelers must also quarantine for five days upon arrival and then be tested again.

As of Sept. 4, unvaccinated Americans also can’t travel to the Netherlands for nonessential purposes, such as vacations. Vaccinated travelers will need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival but might be able to shorten the quarantine period by getting tested on the fifth day. Travelers must also show proof of a negative Covid-19 test as of Sept. 6.

Unvaccinated Americans are now prohibited from traveling to Denmark unless they have a “worthy purpose” for entry as defined by the Danish government, which might include being a student, an au pair or an attendee of a documented business meeting. Fully vaccinated Americans are allowed to enter for any reason, including tourism.

Other countries have decided to temporarily stop tourism from the U.S. Sweden implemented a ban on nonessential travel from the U.S., effective Sept. 6, including by vaccinated vacationers. The country said it is considering exempting fully vaccinated residents of certain countries from the entry restriction.

Some countries are proceeding as they have been for the past few months. A Greek official said the country will continue to welcome U.S. visitors for the rest of the tourism season, while maintaining monitoring at Greece’s borders.

Will My Airline Refund My Flight If I Can’t Travel?

Many carriers have eliminated change fees on domestic and international flights. As of Monday afternoon, airlines said they would continue to monitor the situation but provided few specifics.

“We continue to evaluate our travel waivers and policies based on market conditions and current travel restrictions that are in place,” said Andrea Koos, a spokeswoman for American Airlines.

United Airlines also said it would keep customers informed of any changes to their travel plans. “We’ll continue to monitor how member states respond to this new guidance,” said spokeswoman Nicole Carriere.

Delta Air Lines said customers can use an interactive map on its website to review changing requirements. Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the airline, also noted that if a flight is canceled for any reason—whether domestic or international—customers are entitled to a refund.

Will my travel insurance cover my trip if the country I’m visiting isn’t open to visitors?

Most standard trip-cancellation policies won’t cover this type of situation, says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of, a policy-comparison site. “The border shutdown is one of the big holes still in the coverage terms of most standard travel-insurance policies,” he says.

Mr. Sandberg said that, in the beginning of the pandemic, some travelers were able to receive refunds from airlines and hotels when borders closed. “Of course, that still is dependent on the travel supplier, the hotel or the airline, and what their policies are,” he says.

Travelers who have “cancel for any reason” coverage will find themselves in a better position to get money back.

This coverage is often sold as a supplemental policy and will allow you to receive reimbursement for your prepaid and nonrefundable trip costs. It can cost up to about 60% of your base insurance plan and will typically reimburse about 75% of your trip cost.

“So you’re not going to get 100% back,” Mr. Sandberg says. “That ‘cancel for any reason’ feature does give you the best protection against a border closing or government shutdown.”

What Else Should I Keep In Mind?

U.S. travelers have faced many complications traveling abroad this summer. The time frame to receive a passport is far longer than it was pre-pandemic, with standard passport applications taking up to 18 weeks and expedited applications taking up to 12 weeks.

Additionally, many attractions across the EU, including museums, are requiring reservations this year to head off large gatherings.

Updated: 9-12-2021

What Travel Investors Need To Know

Negative commentary from airline companies hardly means all near-term travel is doomed.

We all wanted 2021 to be different, but it is bringing a lot more of the same. That doesn’t mean travel investors need to universally pump the brakes.

Ahead of an investor conference on Thursday, a handful of major airlines warned in regulatory filings that their third quarter may not look as rosy as hoped.

United Airlines noted a deceleration in customer bookings for travel demand, while Southwest Airlines reported a continued softness in bookings—even in leisure—and elevated trip cancellations.

American Airlines similarly said that, after a strong July, it saw a softness in near-term bookings in August and an increase in near-term cancellations. All three suggested the Delta variant is having a dampening effect on business.

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Investors have to some degree been ahead of this curve, but there is room for a sharper turn. It may not be that all travel has been put on hold, but rather that, as the Delta variant continues to spread, consumers are simply more wary of where they go and how they get there.

On its earnings call last month, Walt Disney Co. said theme park reservations at its domestic parks remained strong, noting overall park reservations were above levels it reported in its fiscal third quarter ending July 3.

As of Friday morning, reservations were no longer available for the next three Saturdays at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, according to Disney’s online reservation system.

That is only one data point, but it is suggestive of continued demand for trips that consumers may have put on hold last year. A recent U.S. survey from Jefferies showed that, of those who haven’t yet traveled this year, roughly 30% say they planned to travel in the second half of the year.

The survey also showed that most survey respondents plan to take the same number or more trips this year than they took in 2019, regardless of vaccination status.

It is unlikely that everyone who holds a weekend Disneyland reservation this month lives in or around Disneyland’s hometown of Anaheim, Calif. But, given general airline commentary on Thursday, it is likely many ticket holders live within driving distance.

That could be good news for companies offering drive-to lodging such as Airbnb, whose shares are up roughly 15% since the end of July. It may also benefit Expedia Group, which owns Vrbo.

While Expedia’s shares are up nearly 50% over the past year, they fell 10% in the month of August. Spooking investors might be that lodging was 70% of the online travel agent’s revenue in 2019, growing to 78% in 2020, as air travel cratered.

But all hope isn’t lost. On Thursday, Marriott International Chief Executive Tony Capuano said at an investor conference that, although there was a slight decline in revenue per available room in August from July, there has been some stabilization this month.

He also noted two business travel trends that should benefit the lodging sector overall. Because travel today is more onerous, often requiring vaccination, proof of that vaccination and some added risk, Mr. Capuano said he is seeing workers extending business trips to get more enjoyment for the effort. That also may mean more so-called bleisure travel, he said, which blends business and leisure trips.

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Marriott’s stock traded up following Mr. Capuano’s remarks on Thursday, but there may be other companies better positioned to take advantage of the bleisure trend right now.

Fresh data from hotel analytics firm STR show that as a four-week moving average for the period ended Sept. 4, occupancy rates for interstate, small town and suburban hotels were near or above where they were in the comparable period of 2019. Meanwhile, urban, resort and airport hotels continue to lag behind on a relative basis.

That bodes well for drive-to home stay demand, but also for roadside lodging companies. Choice Hotels International, for example, has said more than half of its domestic locations are within one mile of a highway exit and 90% of them are in suburban, small town or interstate locations.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, whose brands include Super 8, Days Inn and Travelodge, also stands to benefit. Occupancy rates for economy-class and midscale hotels were recently above levels seen in the comparable period of 2019, while more expensive hotel options lagged behind, STR’s data show.

For travel investors, it may just be about picking the right ride.

Travel And Covid-19 Testing: What To Know If You’re Flying Or Taking A Cruise

Some at-home tests are permitted, but leave yourself plenty of time to test before your trip.

More travel destinations are now requiring travelers to present negative Covid-19 tests for entry, even those who are fully vaccinated. The changes are adding fresh complexity to an already-confounding time for travel.

Travelers are struggling to both keep up with changing test guidelines and find acceptable tests that will provide results by the time they need to fly.

After the European Union removed the U.S. from its “safe” list of countries, some member nations began imposing new rules for travelers. Italy, for example, now requires fully vaccinated travelers to submit a negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival in the country.

And beginning Sept. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require fully vaccinated cruise passengers to submit proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within two days of boarding a ship. Previously, fully vaccinated passengers had to provide negative test results within three days of boarding.

“Things change daily,” says Susan Peavey, owner of Susan Peavey Travel Inc. in Marshfield, Mass. Travelers have to understand each country’s rules and regulations, she says, and in some cases additional requirements at destinations, such as resorts that are now requiring proof of vaccination.

Finding the correct tests within the allowed time frame is proving challenging for many. In some areas of the country, Covid-19 tests are harder to come by, and acceptable at-home tests can be costly.

If you’ve got a trip coming up, here’s the latest advice on which tests you’ll need to fly or join a cruise—and how to find them.

Determine Which Covid-19 Test You Need

Travel advisers say travelers are seeking out at-home tests, but are often unsure which ones are acceptable. The Abbott BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card home test, for example, is a rapid antigen test that is widely accepted by many cruise lines and airlines because it includes the supervision of a telemedicine professional.

The professional will watch you take the Covid-19 test, and you will receive a validated result through an app. The tests can cost $150 for a pack of six.

There is great demand for at-home self-tests, but many of those tests don’t meet CDC testing requirements for international travel because they don’t include supervision from a telehealth professional.

The type of test you can take also depends on your vaccination status. Many cruise lines will accept antigen tests for fully vaccinated travelers, but unvaccinated travelers, including children under 12, must submit PCR tests.

Nucleic acid amplification tests, which include PCR tests, are also widely accepted and available at pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.

Robin Katz, a travel adviser who owns a Cruise Planners franchise in Miami, says she recommends travelers take both a PCR test and a rapid antigen test if time allows.

PCR tests are widely accepted, she says, but the results can take longer to arrive, so having a rapid antigen test can also be helpful in time-sensitive situations, she says.

Some countries, such as Canada and Anguilla, don’t accept antigen tests. Travelers will need to look closely at each country’s specific requirements.

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time To Get A Test

Randy Mewes, a mechanic for a John Deere dealership, lives in rural Nebraska, about an hour’s drive southeast from Lincoln.

He knew he needed to get a Covid-19 test before departing on a Carnival cruise to Alaska last month, but says the chain pharmacies nearest to him were in Lincoln. He hoped to find a more convenient option, while making sure he got his results in time.

Mr. Mewes, who is fully vaccinated, went to a nearby retirement home in Adams, Neb., where he knew staff members were tested weekly. He was able to get a rapid antigen test and get his negative results the day before he boarded the cruise.

Travel agents suggest doing a broad search for testing locations if local pharmacies are booked up. Ms. Katz notes that Zoo Miami, for example, offers PCR tests.

Because of the tightened timing for tests, some cruise lines are offering passengers options. Royal Caribbean International now sells at-home test kits, which can be ordered online and cost $69.99 for a pack of two and $99.99 for a pack of three.

Carnival previously said it would look into providing rapid testing at departure ports, but later said the “logistics of making this service widely available to a large number of guests doesn’t make this a viable option.”

The cruise line now suggests customers order an at-home test or make an appointment at a pharmacy or Quest Diagnostics location.

Disney Cruise Line will require all passengers to take a rapid PCR test at the terminal before boarding starting Sept. 13, regardless of vaccination status. The test is provided free of charge, the cruise line said.

Plan Ahead To Save On Testing Fees

If you plan ahead, you can also save on testing costs. Last month, Cortney Buckelew, who works as an operations manager, scheduled antigen tests at a private walk-in clinic near her home in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., before her Royal Caribbean cruise, which left Saturday.

The tests would cost $100 each for her and her husband. The couple found a county testing site and got free rapid antigen tests, saving them $200.

Travelers must also provide a negative test to re-enter the U.S. by air; those tests must be taken no more than three days before boarding a plane home.

Consult the U.S. Embassy website for the country you are visiting; they have information about the average cost of PCR and antigen tests locally. In Italy, for example, antigen tests cost about $25 and PCR tests cost about $75, according to the U.S. Embassy there.

Some hotels in the Caribbean are offering testing on-site, says Ms. Peavey, or can recommend nearby testing sites. It can be more difficult to find a test in Europe, she says, in part because travelers need to ensure they are taking the correct type of test and will receive results in time.

Some pharmacies offer walk-in Covid-19 testing, but Ms. Peavey recommends ordering at-home tests before you depart, and taking them under the supervision of a telehealth professional within three days of your return. Many airlines have links to purchase these tests on their websites.

Some airports offer rapid testing in terminals pre-departure. United Airlines, for example, has rapid testing available at many U.S. airports through a partnership with XpresCheck. Tests can cost $200 each.

Print Out Your Test Results

Many airlines will allow you to upload vaccination records and negative test results to an app. Having a hard copy on hand can help, too. Ms. Katz says she cautions clients against relying only on digital copies in case they lose Internet access or cell service when their results are being checked.

Mr. Mewes also recommends keeping the paper copies with you. When he was waiting to board the cruise in Seattle, he realized the paper that showed his negative test result was in his luggage, which had been taken away to be loaded onto the ship. He chased down the luggage cart, and got the result back in time. “Keep everything together, and it’ll save you a lot of heartache,” he says.

Get Tested—Even If You Don’t Have To

Not every international destination requires a negative test for entry, but many travel advisers say they tell their clients to take a test regardless. “If you can do it [easily], why not,” says Jerry Lang, president of House of Travel, which is based in Aventura, Fla. “The rule might change when you’re flying.”

It is also helpful to know your Covid-19 status before traveling. Because negative tests are required to return to the U.S., you don’t want to find out you are positive after you have departed, and need to pay for time spent in quarantine accommodations, says Ms. Peavey: “The worst surprise is to test positive and have to stay in a destination.”


Updated: 3-30-2023

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

We put the AI chatbot to the test using three very different scenarios, and its performance varied widely. Still, its successes showed surprising promise.

Travel planning correlates with happiness—so say a million articles, researchers and well-published scientific papers. So why is it so danged overwhelming?

Maybe it’s because we think we’re looking for something unique when in reality we don’t want to venture that far off the beaten path. Or because the internet seems so full of ideas, yet always points us to the same over-Instagrammed clichés. (It’s a real paradox.) Or because our dreams are bigger than our budgets, given current headlines.

Tired of seeing the flickering cursor in a Google search bar—and wondering what it was that I was actually searching for—I decided to enlist generative artificial intelligence. After all, Chat GPT-4, the latest version of Open AI’s chatbot, promises to iterate creatively with users in order to solve complex problems.

Here’s how it tackled a variety of travel planning situations—for two alter egos I created to test the technology—and how it might help you, too. The answer is, as with anything, a truly mixed bag.

The Success Story

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

The Mission: A relaxing, family-friendly trip with two (very) young kids

Score: 9/10

Most glossy hotels would rather tell you how they cater to honeymooners than to toddlers, despite the fact that millennials—their once-coveted demographic—now globe-trot lavishly with their rugrats.

I threw ChatGPT a curve ball by asking it not only to find me five-star Caribbean resorts with kids clubs but specifically ones that would accept my 4-year-old; to my frustration, most kids clubs start at age 5.

Its first suggestion was a perfect bull’s-eye: The Four Seasons Nevis actually lets kids as young as 3 participate in its Kids for All Seasons programming. (Many of those activities are complimentary, in a further surprise!) When I dug around the resort’s website to verify ChatGPT’s suggestion, I could see evidence of a pink-hued playground on the sand (that my daughter would love) and a beautiful arts and crafts station at the kids club. Sold.

It also suggested Eden Roc Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, where I actually tried to plan our spring break trip this year. We scratched it because the flights from New York were astonishingly expensive; the resort itself is an amenity-packed dream for families with kids, and its Koko Kid’s Club indeed takes 4-year-olds.


Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

Less on the nose were suggestions for all-inclusive resorts Beaches Turks & Caicos and Grand Velas Riviera Maya. They scratch the kid-friendly itch beautifully, but aren’t in the same threshold for luxury. On another query, ChatGPT recommended great hotels such as Malliouhana in Anguilla, where my kiddo isn’t actually old enough to partake in the 5-and-up Mini-Explorers’ Program.

(Disclaimer: None of this information is easy to find online; I find myself digging for it in the least-seen corners of hotel websites. It’s also possible that ChatGPT was simply referring to outdated, pre-2021 information; that’s one thing that OpenAI warns about explicitly when you begin using it.)

The bot also did surprisingly well when I gave it even fewer parameters. In a fresh query, I asked it to brainstorm a relaxing vacation that I could take with my 1-year-old, ideally within two time zones of home.

Since it didn’t know I live in New York, the second half of my question threw it for a bit of a loop—prompting suggestions of Vancouver! San Diego! ChatGPT is human-like in the way it phrases responses, but it doesn’t ask follow-up questions.

It’s best to be specific. Even so, its suggestions included Costa Rica and its rain forest reserve near the Arenal volcano, where I happen to have a future trip in the works.

ChatGPT didn’t quite drill down to the hotel I’m looking at (Nayara Tented Camp) but it came close by suggesting I go to the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, where we could try “a range of family-friendly amenities and activities, including a kids’ club, family pool, and a variety of outdoor adventures such as zip-lining and surfing lessons.”

(Did it remember I also have a 4-year-old and a taste for luxury?) The suggestion was a lucky one, I think: Papagayo happens to be two time zones away.

The Miserable Failure

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

The Mission: A mental health escape on a $750-per-night budget

Score: 2/10

“I need a total mental reset,” I confessed to ChatGPT. “Can you find me a great yoga retreat in a luxurious resort, for May?” The query was rooted in wishful thinking: It’s a question for which I’d love to know the answer—if time away from my family (and work) were even halfway possible.

Unfortunately, ChatGPT made the whole premise feel even more outlandish (sigh) when it recommended I head to the remote destination spa Ananda in the Himalayas or to a few posh spots in Bali—so very Eat, Pray, Love, I thought.

I rephrased the question: Anything in Europe or the Caribbean? Sure, it said, and spouted off resorts in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

I started afresh. “I need a total mental reset,” I reiterated. “Where should I go on vacation?” This time, I got a slightly better-rounded set of suggestions, all destinations rather than resorts. (Costa Rica came up again; I should really just take that trip.) But I wanted hotel recommendations, so the bot came back with classics: Ranch Malibu, SHA Wellness Clinic, Kamalaya Koh Samui.

“My budget is $750 per night,” I followed up. “Do any of these work?”

What ensued was pure comedy. “Yes, there are some options that would work with your $750 per night budget,” it told me. “Here are some examples.” The Ranch Malibu typically costs $1,050 per night, it said, but a cheaper package might bring the price to $1,114.

SHA works out to $826 per night. And at Como Shambhala, in Bali, terrace suites start at $815 per night. “This means that you could stay in a Terrace Suite for less than $750 per night,” it explained. I don’t think it was being sarcastic.

The In Between

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

The Mission: A crowd-free trip to Europe

Score: 5/10

Here’s a trip everyone is asking me about: “How do I do Europe this August without the crowds?” I relayed the question to ChatGPT. Its answers were generally sensible: Scandinavia, Portugal and Turkey were all on the list. I wondered about the latter and pressed further.

“Isn’t Istanbul crowded in August?” I asked. “What’s the weather like?” It answered my questions with standard information that I might find in the front section of a guidebook.

Ditto when I asked about cultural experiences: I got low-hanging fruit, such as going to a hammam or taking a cooking class, without specific recommendations.

But when I asked about destinations to visit in Turkey beyond Istanbul, ChatGPT got creative. Sure, it gave me a few obvious answers like Cappadocia and Bodrum, but it also suggested Antalya and Trabzon, a small but picturesque city on the Black Sea that I had never heard about and couldn’t find written up in any travel magazine.

The Verdict

Can You Use ChatGPT To Plan Travel? It’s Hilarious And Can Actually Work

Am I likely to go to Trabzon or to recommend it to others? I can’t say so. I just don’t know enough. And neither does ChatGPT.

While the engine recommended a few markets where I could theoretically buy handicrafts and artisanal foods, as well as a handful of the city’s higher-end hotels, it was never going to make me feel confident booking a trip to an unknown spot halfway around the world.

Given its inability to do basic math, AI doesn’t command enough trust for me to embrace recommendations that entail such high stakes.

Which brings me to a point that I don’t see changing soon. When it comes to travel, it doesn’t make sense to trust anything automated or generic: That’s why we still find ourselves going back to the pros.

What we’re looking for is happiness, right? This means something different to each of us.

Yet, as a preliminary planning tool, chatting with the bot was more satisfying than taking to Google and clicking on endless slideshows offering the best hotels in so-and-so places.

When it works, ChatGPT’s randomness fosters a sense of discovery—which is what travel planning is all about.

And when it doesn’t, well, at least it makes you laugh. The catch: You’ll have to do a lot more Googling to find out which one’s which.

Updated: 4-14-2023

How To Fly To The Hamptons For $1 This Summer

How To Fly To The Hamptons For $1 This Summer


First, you’ll need to spend $4,495 to join Tailwind Air’s brand-new members club, Fast Lane Club Plus. And then get a little lucky.

This summer, you may be able to fly to the Hamptons for as little as $1. It will take some luck and an upfront investment to unlock such a steal. But it will be possible.

The deal is built into a new membership program from Tailwind Air, a small fleet of amphibious Cessna eight-seaters that flies from Manhattan’s Skyport (NYS), on East 23rd St., to East Hampton, New York (HTO); Boston Harbor’s Fan Pier (BNH); Provincetown (PVC) and Nantucket (ACK) in Massachusetts; as well as several other destinations.


How To Fly To The Hamptons For $1 This Summer


Called Fast Lane Club Plus, the program costs $4,495 per year to join and includes unlimited discounted seats on scheduled flights among all nine destinations the airline serves, plus last-minute access to unsold seats for a buck.


“Our system won’t let us sell these tickets for free,” explains the company’s co-founder and executive vice president, Peter Manice. “We’re required by law to collect certain required federal taxes.” Hence the nominal price tag, which is typically a $1 fare with approximately $4 in additional taxes.

The membership—a twist on a conventional loyalty program—was inspired in part by Frontier Airlines, which this year announced an all-you-can-fly annual pass that costs $1,999. That program allows users to cash in on free domestic flights that depart within 24 hours or international flights leaving within 10 days.

How To Fly To The Hamptons For $1 This Summer

Like Frontier, Tailwind sees its club as a way to move unsold inventory. Reservations for the $1 seats will open up between 24 to 36 hours of departure.

“The program is certainly not for everybody,” Manice says. “If you need to be somewhere on a specific day, you’re not going to want to roll the dice this way. But if you have personal flexibility to pick and choose when you want to fly, it’s going to be a great value.”

Manice anticipates last-minute availability will be greatest between New York and Boston, a 70-minute, twice-daily route frequented by business travelers.

“Maybe you’re the boss and you can choose when to come in, or maybe you’re a retiree coming down to Manhattan to see your daughter spontaneously,” says Manice. “We’re running these flights anyway, so we might as well get more people on them.”

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It should also be easy to get a deal if you’re flying between Boston and Nantucket, a new daily route that will be building its audience from scratch this summer.

Regardless of the destination, it’s worth noting that Tailwind’s Cessnas are small planes which means they have small cargo holds. Regular passengers are restricted to 20 pounds of carry-on luggage; Fast Lane Club Plus members are allotted 30 lbs as an added courtesy.

And while members can book one companion seat on any Tailwind flight, Tailwind will cap those bookings to three flights per friend. (In other words, you can bring a single guest on any flight, but your partner could only come three times before they’d have to get their own membership.)

If you need to plan further out, “member rates” represent savings of 34% to 66%, depending on the route. The cheapest two are Manhattan to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Boston to Plymouth, Massachusetts—they cost $35 each way (compared to $75 for nonmembers). Manhattan to East Hampton or Provincetown, by contrast, is $695 each way (compared to regular rates of $1,095 to $1,195).

Flights between Manhattan and Boston are the most steeply discounted, running $295 each way (nonmembers would pay $895). The rates are valid until at least Sept. 30, without specified blackout dates.

As for scoring that $1 seat to the Hamptons?

“There will certainly be flights with availability there,” Manice says. The trick will be figuring out when. “If you’re wanting to go out to East Hampton 4 o’clock on a Friday, I’d venture to guess that’s a pretty big crapshoot,” he says with a laugh. “Wednesdays may be more likely.”


Updated: 4-18-2023

Ultrarich Hamptons Residents Surge 2,700% In Summer Wealth Migration


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The number of high-net-worth, year-round residents in cities like Miami, Cape Town and Napa is dwarfed by those who pop in for occasional visits.

Scores of megarich people own homes in Naples, Florida. But don’t count on bumping into them on the golf course on an off-season Tuesday.

The west coast Florida city counts 24 centimillionaires among its year-round residents. But more than 100 own homes there and use them as occasional crash pads, especially in cold-weather months, according to a new report from New World Wealth and Henley & Partners, firms that study wealth.

That number is dwarfed by seasonal hotspots like the Hamptons in New York. More than 700 superrich flock to second homes there, usually during peak summertime season. That swells the ranks of wealthy residents by 2,700%, in contrast to the 25 living there full time, according to the report.


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New World Wealth, a South Africa-based firm, analyzed information from 2022 on people with $100 million in investable assets and, for the first time, pulled together a sampling of US, European and African cities.

The study spotlights the dramatic influx of wealth during peak holiday months as the world’s rich decamp to second homes.

“It’s always been an argument around wealth stats about how many people actually live in a city and how many have homes there,” said Andrew Amoils, head of research at New World Wealth.

The figures are often of interest to companies and representatives who want to attract high-net-worth clients, such as luxury retail firms, investment advisers, city planners and policymakers, said Sarah Nicklin, a spokeswoman for Henley & Partners.

One of the more dramatic influxes of wealth occurs in Aspen. Only six centimillionaires live in the ski paradise full-time, while more than 200 come in for a seasonal visit — a more than 3,000% increase, the firm said. In fact, so many Aspen newbies are moving in that the town has been dubbed “Wall Street West.”

The ultrarich are also retreating in droves to second homes on Lake Como, Italy; Saint Tropez, France; Lugano, Switzerland; and Cape Town.

More than 800 centimillionaires are sitting on real estate in Miami and the island of Miami Beach, compared with about 160 who live there year-round.

Some of those 800 may also be counted in the figures for Aspen or the other cities if they also spend time in their homes there, Amoils said. In Paris, there are more than 300 ultra-rich homeowners but only 126 who live in the city of light full time.

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Meanwhile, tiny Carmel-by-the-Sea, which has only 3,196 residents according to 2021 US Census figures, includes more than 150 ultra rich homeowners. Only 40 of them are full-time residents.


Updated: 7-12-2023

Flights Are Getting Cheaper As Summer Travel Season Ramps Up

* Ticket Prices Drop For Third Straight Month As Fuel Costs Fall

* Airlines See Unrelenting Demand For Flights Despite Inflation

The cost of a plane ticket plunged in the early days of the summer travel season, continuing a retreat as airlines benefit from lower jet fuel prices.

US airfares in June fell 8.1% from the prior month, the third consecutive decline and the largest drop since last July, according to figures released on Wednesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The slide was the second-biggest on a monthly basis since April 2020, when airlines saw travel demand evaporate during the onset of the pandemic.

Compared to last year, June airfares plummeted 18.9%.

The declines come amid falling fuel prices, giving carriers a boost as they prepare for a surge of summer travel expected to rival the record traffic of 2019.

Jet fuel prices have tumbled 57% this year, based on the rate for immediate purchase in New York harbor. Fuel vies with labor as the two largest expenses for airlines, and fares historically have followed the move in fuel prices.

About 275 million people are expected to travel between May 25 and Sept. 4, according to TD Cowen. That’s 7.4% higher than in 2019 and 19% higher than last year.

US passenger counts, which had lagged the record 2019 levels since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, have roughly recovered to pre-pandemic levels in recent months, according to Transportation Safety Administration data.

Surging US travel took hold as the pandemic waned in 2021 and hasn’t let up. The industry thus far has seemed impervious to inflation and economic slowing as consumers continue to use pandemic savings for travel.

Domestic and near-international trips fueled the industry’s early pandemic recovery. More recently, soaring demand for international travel, particularly to Europe, has bolstered the industry as countries have dropped lingering Covid-related restrictions.

Delta Air Lines Inc. is set to be the first major US carrier to report second-quarter results Thursday and provide an update on demand through the peak summer season.

The carrier last month said 55% of its seats offered in the current quarter have already been booked, including 70% for long-haul global flights and 40% on domestic routes.

A group of 11 US carriers are expected to report a record $58 billion in second-quarter revenue, according to Deutsche Bank.


Updated: 7-25-2023

The Post-Covid Travel Boom Is Running Out of Steam

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Fare promotions and other signs of weakening domestic demand show business is leveling out for airlines.

European beaches and cities are jam-packed with US tourists eager to venture across the Atlantic now that there are no Covid restrictions to hold them back. But back at home, the air travel recovery appears tapped out.

Alaska Air Group Inc. on Tuesday forecast weaker-than-expected sales growth for the third quarter. Chief Financial Officer Shane Tackett told Bloomberg News that travelers’ prioritization of international sojourns is coming at the expense of its primarily domestic routes and is weighing on fares.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines Co. in June ran a promotion for 40% off fares on trips between Aug. 15 and Dec. 14, with the week of Thanksgiving blacked out.

Frontier Airlines last week had a sale for $29 fares on select days of the week through Nov. 15. Spirit Airlines Inc. offered one-way flights for $50 from Aug. 9 through Oct. 4 excluding Friday and Sunday bookings.

Airlines typically run sales when they’re trying to stimulate demand for weaker booking periods, so these promotions don’t bode well for the fall. For the better part of the last 18 months, airlines have had more demand than the country’s aviation infrastructure could handle.

There are still logjams in the airplane manufacturing supply chain that are keeping carriers from taking delivery of the jets they’ve ordered, and other structural capacity constraints, particularly at the busiest airports, are limiting the number of flights they can operate daily. But that balance may be shifting.

While the US consumer has proved much more resilient than many economists and investors had anticipated, credit card charge-offs are on the rise, the savings that this group built up during the pandemic are almost depleted and there are signs that inflation is starting to influence spending decisions.

Pool Corp., a distributor of pool equipment and supplies, cut its full-year guidance last week and said some customers are deferring discretionary purchases such as heaters or upgraded cleaners.

Trips were a worthwhile splurge for many people after pandemic restrictions took long-distance vacations off the table temporarily, but there can’t be much left in the “revenge travel” phenomenon at this point as consumers take stock of their finances.

Average booked rates at Omni Hotels & Resorts properties — which are primarily domestic — have moderated because vacation travelers aren’t splurging on fancier accommodations as frequently, Chairman Peter Strebel said in a June interview.

Like the airlines, the company is relying more on promotions this year to attract leisure travelers than it had to last year, he said.

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First-quarter earnings at US airlines were broadly disappointing amid lackluster business demand and a shift in traditional booking patterns that made the already seasonally weak months of January and February even weaker.

The risk is that the pattern repeats once the summer boom in travel has run its course.

The corporate traffic recovery is stuck at about 25% below pre-Covid levels at most airlines; if anything, bookings seem more likely to downshift in the near term as businesses cut costs.

The total operating costs of companies rated investment grade by S&P Global Ratings declined 5.3% in the first quarter, indicating companies reduced day-to-day expenses such as wages and business travel, according to a report this month from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Domestic unit revenue at Delta Air Lines Inc. declined 1% in the second quarter relative to the period a year earlier, while domestic passenger revenue for each seat flown a mile slid 2.4% at United Airlines Holdings Inc.; sales on the same basis at American Airlines Group Inc. fell 3%. American said total unit revenue may fall as much as 6.5% in the current quarter, worse than analysts had anticipated.

The guidance for the second half of the year “seems to show pressure in the domestic market, offset by continued international strength,” TD Cowen analyst Helane Becker wrote in a report.

The average price in June for a US round-trip ticket booked through travel agencies was $555, down about 8% from the period a year earlier, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. That’s the third consecutive month that fares have declined relative to 2022 levels.

Fares are still about 8% above 2019 levels, and continued system constraints provide some kind of floor on pricing.

But the airplane deficit in the US isn’t nearly as drastic as it is overseas. Domestic seating capacity has actually recovered to 2019 levels, although it remains about 16 points below where the market would have been if growth hadn’t been disrupted by the pandemic, according to an analysis by Melius Research analyst Conor Cunningham.

In the international market, a larger number of airlines went bankrupt, with low-cost, long-haul carriers — including SAS AB and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA — hit particularly hard.

During the depths of Covid, the idea of packing people on twin-aisle jets for overseas jaunts seemed like a relic and those wide body planes were put into retirement at a much higher clip than their narrow body brethren that are more popular for domestic routes.

The result is a 39 percentage point deficit in international aircraft supply relative to what is needed to support demand, Cunningham’s analysis shows.


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Delta executives have said travel patterns indicate the international summer vacation season is extending well into October in the wake of the pandemic, particularly in the warmer, southern parts of the continent. One look at the heat domes in Europe this month might explain why autumn sounds appealing to some travelers.

The extended international travel season will help counterbalance any shortfall in domestic markets for Delta and United, which also has a substantial overseas business.

But the durability of other post-pandemic travel habits that have helped airlines make up for slower corporate traffic — such as leisure travelers springing for premium seats and taking advantage of work-from-home policies to book more long-weekend trips — is untested in an economic downturn.

Even in Europe, where it seems just about everyone is vacationing this summer, some cracks are emerging in the demand picture. Ryanair Holdings Plc said this week that it might need to offer lower fares in October and November to stimulate demand for seating capacity that’s expected to be 25% above pre-pandemic levels this winter.

“We have noticed in the recent couple of weeks a slight softening in the close-in fares in late June and early July; nothing that I would be overly worried about at the moment,” Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said on a call to discuss the company’s quarterly results. But there’s “a degree of customer resistance to the higher fares.”

Whereas last year customers were paying prices well ahead of Ryanair’s budgeted expectations to lock in seats for summer vacations, now “there is a kind of a leveling out,” albeit at an elevated fare relative to 2022, he said.

Leveling out is probably the best way to describe what’s happening in the air travel markets. The airlines aren’t headed back to the pandemic doldrums.

But stocks of the largest carriers have taken off like jet planes in recent weeks, bouncing back from a slump after the regional banking crisis sparked fears of a recessionary pullback in consumer spending.

Shares of Alaska, for example, hit their highest price in more than a year earlier this month. United shares last week touched a more than two-year high. Investors may have stopped worrying about air travel demand a bit too soon.

Updated: 8-3-2023

Airlines Slash Prices To Convince Americans To Vacation Closer To Home

* Lower Fares Could Extend Through Fall To Winter Holidays

* Timing For Move Back To More Domestic Travel Is Uncertain

JetBlue Airways Corp., Alaska Air Group Inc. and other US carriers expected the post-pandemic travel boom to send ticket prices soaring this summer. Instead, they’re getting battered.

Travelers are showing an unusually strong preference for international trips, forcing domestic-focused carriers to discount prices. At the same time, many of them are facing higher costs from new labor contracts, flight disruptions and inflation.

As a result, JetBlue has slashed its yearly outlook. Southwest Airlines Co. and others have signaled they’re under pressure — a reversal from a few months ago when industry leaders promised high demand would endure.

While domestic ticket sales may pick up again in a few months, with holidays encouraging people to take trips closer to home, it’s still been a tough reality check and a sign the end-of-lockdown travel frenzy is cooling for some.

“If you don’t cater to premium, if you can’t bank on loyalty and if you don’t fly internationally, this year’s third quarter is likely to disappoint,” Jamie Baker, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst, said in a report.

There are a number of reasons why travelers have become especially enamored with trips abroad. In particular, looser Covid-19 restrictions mean for the first time in years Americans can visit far-flung destinations without expensive tests and the threat of lengthy quarantines.

The shift has been larger than the industry expected, and occurred after plans to boost available seats were already in motion. That’s weighed on prices.

US round-trip fares are down about 11% compared with 2022 and 2019, and will remain slightly below 2019 levels until the winter holidays begin and carriers are able to boost fares as demand increases, according to booking app

Adding to the pressure, Frontier Group Holdings Inc., a major discount carrier, is increasing capacity by 23% this quarter, compared to a year ago.

Lower Expectations

The tougher environment was a major reason JetBlue slashed its adjusted profit outlook to between 5 cents and 40 cents a share, from its earlier outlook of as much as $1. It also said it won’t earn as much this quarter as analysts had estimated.

Fares that were “really strong” through June have declined from record levels in 2022, Alaska Airlines said last week, but remain above pre-pandemic prices. It forecast revenue this quarter will be flat to up 3%, with a midpoint below Wall Street’s expectations.

“It’s not that people aren’t traveling, it’s just on the domestic system fares have come in lower than everyone in the industry had expected,” JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes said on a call this week.

Southwest shares tumbled the most in almost a year on July 27 after it warned that higher-than-expected costs would pressure earnings. The Dallas-based carrier this week offered a buy one, get one 50% off fare deal for the first time. The three-day sale was for travel in August and September.

Spirit Airlines Inc., the largest deep discount carrier, on Thursday missed Wall Street’s second-quarter earnings expectations and said in a statement that it would generate total revenue this quarter of $1.3 billion to $1.32 billion, well below the average analyst estimate of $1.52 billion.

“The current setup is simply not favorable to a domestic focused airline,” Spirit CEO Ted Christie said on a call. The executive blamed a “dramatic” demand shift to long-haul international markets not served by the airline and weather-related challenges, adding circumstances are unlikely to change in the near future.

In April, the airline had “sold-out flights every day” to Cancun, Mexico, but conditions are now completely different, Spirit Chief Commercial Officer Matt Klein said. “Demand just fell off” starting in June, he told analysts.

The differences between their fortunes and that of global carriers is stark. United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. each said they would earn more this quarter than analysts expected. The companies, along with American Airlines Group Inc., all improved their full-year forecasts.

Investors appear to be rewarding the global carriers as well, with United shares increasing 40% this year through Wednesday, Delta 36% and American 25%. Alaska and JetBlue are up more modestly, while Southwest has slipped slightly and Frontier has dropped 18%.

Temporary Dip

Hayes and others have tried to soothe investor worries by suggesting the dip in demand could be temporary. Though they’ve stopped short of promising sales will improve after summer vacation season ends.

“We actually believe a lot of the demand is going to spill into the fall, and therefore, we have not made an assumption that this environment changes before we get into the heart of winter,” Frontier Chief Executive Officer Barry Biffle said Tuesday.

“Although I do know that once we get to January, February, it’s a heck of a lot better to be in Florida than it is in most parts of Europe.”

And Wall Street isn’t betting on a rebound. Helane Becker, a TD Cowen analyst, said she was skeptical that domestic demand at JetBlue would recover sufficiently by year-end, and reduced her full-year adjusted earnings outlook for the carrier.

Views by the airlines that demand will swing back “may ultimately prove correct,” Conor Cunningham, a Melius Research analyst, said in a report. “But near-term, as industry capacity is set to ramp and fare sales become increasingly more common, fear on fares will only intensify.”


Updated: 8-4-2023

American Travelers Are Shunning The U.S. For Europe

Domestic ticket fares fall as tourists favor longer trips abroad.

Globe-trotting Americans have packed international flights this summer, leaving behind some domestic-focused airlines.

Americans are flocking to Europe. The allure of international travel has travelers swapping out shorter trips within the U.S. or to some nearby destinations in favor of longer journeys.

The number of passengers on domestic flights slid 2% in July from the same month in 2019, while the number of passengers on trans-Atlantic routes increased 14%, according to Airlines for America, a trade group that represents several major airlines.

Airline ticket prices reflect the shift. Domestic fares are down 11% from last year and tracking below 2019 levels, while international fares have risen 11% from a year ago and are up 28% from 2019, according to Hopper, a booking app.

The pivot is cutting into revenue for some U.S.-focused airlines that haven’t seen demand build to the heights it reached last summer, according to airline executives. To cope, carriers are rejiggering schedules and trying out new routes to better match the emerging patterns.

“The current setup is simply not favorable to a domestic-focused airline,” Spirit Airlines Chief Executive Officer Ted Christie said Thursday as the carrier reported weaker-than-expected earnings.

Dan Plotinsky and his family usually fly to New England to visit relatives over the summer. With his oldest daughter graduating from high school, they instead took a family trip to Europe. Plotinsky’s wife and daughters started in France, and he met them in London.

“I think we just decided, let’s try something new,” he said.

JetBlue Airways cautioned this week that it might see a loss in the third quarter and pared its guidance for the full year. Executives at Spirit, Frontier and Alaska Air have said in recent weeks that U.S. airfares have cooled as more of their customers have spent their vacation budgets on trips abroad.

“When we lose 5% of our people to go to Europe, that’s a lot of customers,” Frontier Chief Executive Barry Biffle said Tuesday.

Hotels are seeing a similar switch. Marriott International said this week that per room international revenue is expected to climb as much as 30% this year, fueling growth while the U.S. and Canada increase more moderately. Hyatt Hotels said 27% of second-quarter rooms revenue at its hotels in Europe was from U.S. travelers, up from 21% in the same period in 2019.

“We’re seeing Americans broaden where they’re going,” Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian said Thursday.

Travel has been on a two-year upswing as easing Covid-19 restrictions unleashed a torrent of demand that has been stronger and more resilient than many industry observers expected.

This summer’s domestic slowdown is one of the first indications that the frenzied pace of the rebound could be moderating.

Some airline executives and industry observers said the international travel surge is a delayed echo of the domestic boom that played out last year.

Months after travel within the U.S. had started to pick up, trips abroad were still hemmed in by lingering rules requiring testing or vaccination records that made some travelers uneasy about planning expensive, complicated trips to far-flung locales while the rules were still in flux.

The U.S. government dropped rules requiring air travelers to take Covid-19 tests before flying to the U.S. in June 2022, after some consumers had already set travel plans for that summer.

“That’s really late in the game,” said Mike Daher, who leads Deloitte’s U.S. Transportation, Hospitality and Services practice. “Obviously, this summer, that wasn’t the case.”

Travelers snapped up seats on international flights months in advance this year. Delta Air Lines said in April that it had already received three-quarters of its summer international bookings. Delta and United Airlines both bulked up their European schedules ahead of the summer rush.

Domestic demand is still decent, but it is tough to live up to last summer, said Vik Krishnan, an aviation consultant at McKinsey. “2022 was pretty much the high watermark, one might argue, for what people would seem to be willing to pay for air travel domestically,” he said.

The change played out abruptly this spring. Cancún, in Mexico, was one of the most popular destinations throughout the pandemic. As recently as April, flights were sold out almost every day and fares were high, Spirit Chief Commercial Officer Matt Klein said Thursday. Less than two months later, that reversed.

“The demand just fell off,” he said.

With many business travelers still sidelined, airlines are increasingly subject to the whims of fickle vacationers, and they are still trying to figure out how to adjust. Carriers are culling flights on off-peak days such as Tuesday and Wednesday, and shifting their networks to cater to leisure fliers.

Southwest Airlines said recently that it will pull flights from business-heavy markets—think Chicago to Columbus, Ohio—and add service to destinations such as Sarasota, Fla., Tampa and Phoenix.

JetBlue said recently that it plans to try different routes in an effort to tap in to new veins of demand. The airline in 2021 started flying across the Atlantic, but service is still limited. “Other airlines have talked about how strong Europe is. We’re seeing that too. We just don’t have very much of it,” CEO Robin Hayes said.

Airline executives are debating how long consumers will give priority to European vacations over domestic travel. Delta and United both said they are expecting demand, at least for destinations in southern Europe, to extend into fall, longer than usual.

Other carriers, including Spirit, said they expect patterns to snap back to normal in the coming months as summer wanes.

Frontier’s Biffle said: “We have not made an assumption that this environment changes before we get into the heart of winter.

Although I do know that once we get to January, February, it’s a heck of a lot better to be in Florida than it is in most parts of Europe.”


Updated: 9-28-2023

How To Avoid Airline, Hotel And Shopping Fees While Traveling

The secret isn’t about finger wagging at the front desk. It’s all about what’s in your wallet.

Junk fees have become such a norm for travelers in the US, the Biden administration has made them a big talking point this year. In July the president announced a multi-pronged approach to getting rid of them for good.

Yet the nickel-and-diming persists. Legislation thus far has succeeded only in improving transparency, as opposed to eliminating the fees altogether.

Here are some of the most common charges you might encounter when traveling and how to nix them.

Airline Fees

Most international passengers, elite status holders and premium cabin travelers get a free checked bag. But if you’re flying domestically, luggage will typically cost $30 to $35 per bag, each way. Lounges are set to creep up in cost, too.

Starting in 2025, Delta Air Lines Inc. loyalists using the $550-per-year Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card from American Express Co. will get just 10 complimentary Sky Club entries a year.

How to avoid them: The Delta SkyMiles American Express card and Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (among others) offer holders—and as many as eight people on their reservation—a free checked bag on any flight. Round-trip, this can save you $60 to $70 per person.

If lounges are your concern, upgrade to a Platinum Card from American Express, which offers unrestricted access to Centurion, Plaza Premium and Priority Pass lounges.

Resort And Destination Fees

The class-action lawsuits brought in recent years against Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Hyatt Hotels and Marriott International for not disclosing miscellaneous fees at booking time have forced transparency around surcharges that can amount to $90 a night.

(These costs are justified as covering basic amenities such as Wi-Fi, bottled water, parking and fitness center access—whether guests use them or not.) Meanwhile, the proposed legislation making such fees illegal is tied up in the courts.

How to avoid them: Points are one way to circumvent the issue. Both Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt waive resort fees on all bookings made entirely with points; Hyatt goes further by waiving the fees for all top-tier Globalist members no matter how they’re paying for their stay.

Marriott doesn’t offer any such loopholes, except for some fine print in the terms and conditions of its Bonvoy agreements. One example is Wi-Fi: If it’s included in a hotel’s resort fee—something loyalists get for free already—then a replacement amenity must serve as compensation. (Think drink coupons, food or spa discounts, or in-room gifts.) Have the policy handy; staff don’t always know the rules.

Dynamic Currency Conversion Fees

Let’s say you’re wrapping up dinner at a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. When you swipe your card, the machine reader prompts you to pay either €1,000 or $1,095. If you select US dollars, you’re getting suckered by dynamic currency conversion fees.

Paying in dollars requires your bank to make an on-the-spot conversion, which means you’re going to be charged a 2% or 3% markup. Multiply it across meals and hotels, and it can add up quickly over a weeklong trip.

How to avoid them: Resist the instinct to choose your home currency as the more familiar of two options. Also, avoid paying with cards that charge foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. Both add a roughly 3% fee, per swipe, when you’re abroad.

Award Redemption Fees

Most consumers join loyalty programs for the freebies, but carriers love to slap hefty fuel charges and other taxes on “free” mileage tickets. Some are more egregious about this than others: On American Airlines trans-Atlantic flights operated by British Airways Plc, you may pay 61,000 AAdvantage miles for an economy ticket, plus $450 in fees.

(It’s $1,500 in fees if you fly business.) Delta flights originating in Europe often tack on around $200; ones leaving from the US are better. Other offenders include ANA, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic.

How to avoid them: Consider flying United Airlines Inc., the least stingy carrier in this regard. Or comparison-shop using award services such as and to minimize the sting.

Value-Added Tax

A recent push to digitize value-added tax rebates via special airport kiosks seemed like welcome news for travelers, but so far, not so good. Think of VAT as a sales tax that can run around 20%. Foreigners can get refunded for those charges—if they’ve shown a passport and secured proper paperwork at the time of purchase.

Buy a Chanel bag for $8,000, for instance, and you may save a cool $1,600. But the process is mired in red tape. Get any part of it wrong, and you’ll be denied your refund; get it all right, and you still may never see your money. The system promises it will hit your credit card automatically, but it often fails to manifest, leaving customers with zero recourse.

How to avoid them: Only patience solves this problem. Arrive at the airport early, pack strategically so you can show your purchased items to a human agent if required, and don’t despair if the VAT signs are hard to find. (They make this complicated for a reason.) As with all financial tasks, a little persistence goes a long way.


Updated: 10-18-2023

How United Airlines Is Changing Its Boarding Process For Economy Passengers

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Airline says it can shave off up to two minutes from boarding times.

United Airlines has a plan to fix one of the most annoying parts of travel: boarding.

Next week, United will bring back a boarding method for economy passengers that it says is more efficient, hoping to shave up to two minutes off what is often a cumbersome, often contentious process.

It sounds simple: window, middle, aisle, or “Wilma.” When economy passengers board, those sitting in the window seat will go first, followed by middle seats, then aisles. Groups traveling on the same reservation will still board together.

Airplane boarding has become a Byzantine process that can frustrate customers and put airlines behind schedule, causing delays that can ripple throughout the day.

For airlines, boarding is a logistical puzzle as well as a psychological test as they try to balance speed, fairness and revenue. Earlier access to overhead bin space is often a perk for higher paying customers, and some clamor to get on first.

Carriers have tried tweaks like better signage and text-message alerts about when to head to the gate. The number of boarding groups has proliferated as airlines have sought to reward loyal customers while keeping things running more smoothly. Social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic created new headaches.

More cramped flights as airlines have squeezed in more seats has made boarding harder, but new big overhead bins that can fit more bags can ease the stress—once passengers get used to turning bags sideways. No matter what, crowding at gates and logjams on jet bridges seem inevitable.

In a memo to employees, United said things have gotten even worse as travel has rebounded from the pandemic. Boarding times have increased by up to two minutes since 2019, the airline said.

“WILMA boarding was tested at four domestic line stations and one hub and it’s faster,” the airline said in its memo.

United has used the Wilma process before: It is how it loaded its coach cabins before 2017, when it adopted Basic Economy in an effort to compete with discount carriers offering cheap no-frills fares.

At the time, the airline was only able to manage five boarding groups and had to combine middle and aisle seats into a single group to make space for Basic Economy passengers whose tickets often don’t include carry-on bags.

Now, an airline spokeswoman said United has the “technical flexibility” to add a sixth group.

United will still allow people with disabilities, active-duty military members, unaccompanied minors and others to board early. The process will also stay the same for passengers sitting in first or business class and those with status or credit-card perks that give them priority-boarding rights.

The third boarding group, which includes those sitting in window seats and exit rows, will also remain unchanged. Economy passengers in dreaded middle seats will board in Group 4, followed by aisle seats in Group 5. Basic Economy passengers will have their own newly created group and will be the last to get on the plane.

Other Airlines Have Also Been Tinkering With Boarding. Southwest Airlines

this year has conducted experiments in Atlanta as it looks to shave five minutes off the time a plane spends at the gate between flights. Small reductions in that “turn” time can add up over the course of the day and allow for more flying.

Engineers and academics have studied the boarding process and have different theories on the speediest procedure.

Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist and associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who has studied the problem, said there is a faster method that would board passengers in alternating rows to avoid crowding. Boarding back to front—a method airlines have tried over the years—leads to clumps of passengers that bunch up, he said.

“Window-middle-aisle does perform significantly better than back-to-front,” he said. “The chances of having an open space go way up.”


Updated: 10-20-2023

Trips To Europe Will Require A New Step for American Travelers

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U.S. visitors to European Union countries will need to plan more once these changes take hold.

Americans who want to travel to Europe will have to register online to enter the continent starting in 2025.

U.S. travelers will need prior authorization for travel to European Union countries beginning in spring 2025, EU officials said Friday.

The new requirements for travel will also mean that U.S. travelers arriving in Europe will no longer get passport stamps. Instead, their faces and fingerprints will be scanned and logged in a new digital registration system beginning next fall.

The changes, which have been delayed numerous times, are part of a global movement toward biometric screening at border crossings. Travelers won’t need to apply for advance permission to visit until well after the surge of international visitors taking in the Paris Olympics next July and August.

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or Etias, will apply to Americans and others whom the EU allows to travel without visas. The authorization is meant for trips of up to 90 days, meaning short vacations are included.

Once the changes take hold, the EU recommends that travelers submit their information to the Etias website before booking flights or lodging.

Some other European countries that aren’t EU-member states, including Switzerland and Norway, will also require the authorization. Most applications will be processed in minutes, but others could take up to 30 days if an interview is required.

You will still need to bring your passport when the new entry/exit system that collects fingerprints and face scans goes into effect. Travelers will still have to scan their passports at electronic gates. The arrival and departure information will be stored in an electronic database, along with other personal information about the traveler.

Travelers won’t be able to opt out of the biometric screening. Cyprus and Ireland will continue to stamp passports manually.

The changes should result in shorter waits at entry points and a more efficient process, officials say. The EU says the system will allow it to better track people who overstay—and that it will strengthen security by giving law enforcement digital access to travel records.

Electronic-privacy advocates warn that travelers will give up privacy, in addition to passport stamps. Face and fingerprint data will be stored in databases maintained by other governments, which digital-privacy organizations say could ultimately lead to increased surveillance.

The new target launch dates of fall 2024 and spring 2025 offer some flexibility for the 27-member states to prepare the technology and train appropriate staff, an EU official said.

Americans may have already encountered facial comparison technology in domestic and foreign travels.

They can use electronic gates at the Cancún International Airport in Mexico and at international airports in the United Kingdom. Singapore’s Changi Airport said in September it would launch an automated clearance system.


Updated: 10-22-2023

Mexico Aims to Cut Flight Costs by Up to 12% With Fee Change

* Change In Airport Operator Fees Seen Lowering Flight Prices

* Government Announced Deal Last Week After Roiling Markets

Mexico is looking to reduce the costs of airplane tickets by as much as 12% following the modification of a fee structure for airport operators.

The government estimates cost reductions of between 9% and 12%, Miguel Vallin, the head of the Federal Civil Aviation Agency (AFAC), said at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum conference. The reduction will take place from January.

“Flights will go down by a decent percentage,” he said Sunday.

Mexico shocked investors earlier this month by changing the terms of the contributions airport operators pay to the government. The announcement roiled markets, with shares of airport operators falling as much as 44%, amid concerns of overreach by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

On Thursday, the operators reached a deal with the government to pay it 9% of gross revenue, up from the current 5%, though it’s still unclear how consumers will be impacted.

“The reduction in fees will also reduce costs,” Vallin said. “This represents a reduction of profits for the airport groups. But it’s not as drastic as some want it to seem, rather, it’s a rearrangement of how the fees should be based on growth and users’ possibilities of paying the service.”

The Government Is Still In Talks

with the airport groups on fees so that end users see lower prices, Transport and Communications Undersecretary Rogelio Jimenez Pons said Monday at the same conference.

Passengers pay an airport use fee as part of their airfare, known as the TUA. Fees were previously reviewed every five years, but the government now aims for that to happen annually, Vallin added. Reviews on airport operators’ investment plans will continue to happen every five years.

Mexicana Delays

Among the ambitious plans Lopez Obrador has for the aerospace sector is the revival of carrier Mexicana de Aviacion as a state-owned airline. Still, the AFAC has not yet received from Mexicana the details of the aircraft it plans to use — including serial numbers and registration information — that are necessary to approve their operation, Vallin said.

“We can’t yet talk about a precise date because up until Friday we hadn’t received the request to review aircraft information,” he said. “Once we receive it, we’ll give it the due process to authorize the services, but we don’t have it for now.”

No Mexicana tickets have been sold yet, and the company’s website has been modified to prevent people from attempting to do so, Vallin added. Still, various parties are working to meet Lopez Obrador’s goal of starting operations on Dec. 1.

In a different press conference, Boeing Co. Latin American President Landon Loomis said the company is continuing to work with the government on planes for Mexicana, but declined to give more details.


Updated: 10-28-2023

How I Get Eight Free Hotel Nights Every Year Without Doing Anything

Free-night certificates mean that my hotel credit cards pay for themselves.

As a professional credit card reviewer, I’ve opened nearly 100 cards over the last decade and later closed dozens of them as the costs outweigh the benefits. But there is one type of card I’ll hold on to forever—my hotel cards.

Despite annual fees as high as $650, my hotel credit cards have consistently paid for themselves, primarily through annual “free night certificates”—and the best part is that they don’t ever have to leave my nightstand to do it.

I was approved for my first travel credit card 10 years ago. My income was low at the time, and credit card rewards afforded me an opportunity to travel when my bank account wouldn’t. When I got my first hotel-branded card—the IHG Rewards Select Credit Card—in 2015, I also began to learn about the joy of free night certificates.

So long as you pay the annual fee, many hotel credit cards offer one free night each year. Unlike companion passes offered by airline cards and credits you can get with general travel cards, I don’t have to spend any additional money to enjoy a free night every year.

If the value of your stay is greater than the card’s fee, you’ll come out ahead without ever swiping. (The math is in cardholders’ favor, with most hotel cards charging under $100 a year, while the average daily rate at U.S. hotels is more than $150.)

Before discovering free night credits, I stayed at my fair share of motels with rock-hard beds and paper-thin walls. So early on, the biggest appeal was access to a decent hotel room where I could actually get some sleep. As I started traveling more, I added cards to keep things affordable, eventually accumulating eight hotel cards.

Currently, I’m paying $1,632 in annual fees across all eight. In a typical year I book more than $2,500 worth of rooms using my free night certificates, saving more than $1,000 compared with if I paid for the rooms in cash.

However, as my life and finances evolved, the benefit of my free night certificates has become about more than saving money.

Sure, I still use credits for overnight layovers or one-nighters on a road trip, but my favorite use is to take my two kids to a hotel near our home in Sandy, Utah because they love the experience. Last year, I took them to a Hilton resort in Park City, about half an hour away, where they marveled that our room had a full kitchen, living room and loft bedroom.

I’ve been able to create some cherished memories with my kids—swimming at the hotel pool, playing Nintendo Switch in the room or introducing them to my favorite childhood movies—experiences that it can be difficult to make time for in normal life. Every time we drive past a hotel we’ve stayed at, my kids remember that quality time together and I’m grateful.

My Hotel Credit Card Collection

You probably don’t need eight hotel cards. As a freelance writer, I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, allowing me to travel enough to make the fees worth it. Friends and family are always impressed when I share my experiences, but I’m forced to acknowledge that it often requires a lot of planning and research to find eligible properties.

For people who only travel once or twice a year, it may be harder to justify the cost and hassle of numerous cards. But if you’re interested in getting one or two, consider cards from hotel chains you prefer to stay with. Be sure to compare cards based on all features, including welcome bonuses, rewards rates, annual fees—and free night credits.

Also consider hotel elite status perks such as late checkout, free Wi-Fi and complimentary room upgrades, which can make a better overall trip experience. Keep in mind that some cards may require you hit a minimum spend before earning a free night (though none of the ones I use do).

Here Are The Hotel Cards In My Wallet, And How I’ve Used Them:

IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card

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Key Stats:

* Base Rewards Rate: 3X
* Bonus Rewards: 10X At Ihg Hotels; 5X On Travel, Dining And Gas Stations.
* Sign-Up Bonus: 140,000 Bonus Points After You Spend $3,000 In The First Three Months.
* Key Perks: Annual Free Night Award, Fourth Night Free On Consecutive Award Redemptions, Automatic Ihg® Platinum Status, $100 Trusted Traveler Program Application Fee Credit Every Four Years.
* Annual Fee: $99
* Apr: 21.49% To 28.49% Variable
* Foreign Transaction Fee: None

I have two IHG credit cards to accommodate for trips that last more than one night. Each card offers an annual certificates worth up to 40,000 points, which is enough to pay for a room that would normally cost $200 or more.

For example, when I took my daughter to Disneyland in early 2020—what I still consider to be one of the best experiences of my life—I was able to use one free night from my IHG Rewards Select card (which is no longer available to new applicants) and another from my IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card to stay at a Holiday Inn Express less than a mile from the park. I had book each night separately, but IHG linked the two reservations when I checked in.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

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Key Stats:

* Points: Up To 17X Points On Purchases Spent At Marriott Bonvoy Participating Hotels; 3X Points On First $6,000 Spent At Gas Stations, Grocery Stores & Dining; 2X Points On All Other Purchases
* Welcome Bonus: Three Free Nights Award, Up To 150,000 Point Value
* Annual Bonus: Free Night Award Every Year After Account Anniversary (Valued At 35,000 Points)
* Annual Fee: $95

Marriott often offers sizable welcome bonuses on its credit cards, which is why I’ve accumulated three of the six cards the brand offers. In April 2023, I used two of my free night certificates to take three friends on a wine-tasting trip in California—Marriott let me use both on a single reservation.

With my $95 a year Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Credit Card (no longer available), the annual night certificates are each worth up to 35,000 points. That’s enough to pay for a stay at brands including Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites or The Westin.

In contrast, the $650 a year Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card goes up to 85,000 points, which is enough to pay for a night at the Ritz-Carlton, the Autograph Collection or W Hotels.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

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* Base Rewards Rate: 3X
* Bonus Rewards: 14X At Hilton Hotels And Resorts; 7X On Select Travel And Dining At U.S. Restaurants.
* Welcome Bonus: 180,000 Points After Spending $6,000 In The First Three Months
* Key Perks: Annual Free Night Reward; Up To $200 In Annual Flight Credits; Up To $400 In Hilton Resort Credits; Annual $189 Clear Plus Credit; Complimentary Diamond Elite Status
* Annual Fee: $550
* Apr: 20.99% To 29.99% Variable

“The information for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Buy Side. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.”

The Hilton Honors credit cards are the only ones that offer free night awards that you can use at any Hilton property (other brands exclude their most luxurious properties from free night eligibility or severely restrict availability).

That’s how I used my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card to get two free nights at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, which would typically cost more than $500 per night. Because of my elite Diamond status, another benefit of the card, my sister and I were also able to enjoy free drinks and a spectacular view of the Las Vegas Strip.

World of Hyatt Credit Card

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* Base Rewards Rate: 1X
* Bonus Rewards: 4X At Hyatt Hotels; 2X At Restaurants, On Airline Tickets Purchased Directly From The Airline, Local Transit And Commuting, And Fitness Club And Gym Memberships
* Welcome Bonus: Up To 60,000 Bonus Points: 30,000 Points When You Spend $3,000 In The First Three Months, Plus 2 Points Per Dollar Spent In The First Six Months, Up To 30,000 More Points.
* Key Perks: Free Annual Night Certificate, Plus A Second Certificate After You Spend $15,000 In A Year; Discoverist Elite Status
* Annual Fee: $95
* Apr: 21.49% To 28.49% Variable

Hyatt doesn’t have nearly as many properties as some other hotel chains, but its hotels are often in prime locations. In early 2021, for instance, I booked one night at a Hyatt House in Seattle on the way home from seeing the northern lights in Alaska and got an impressive view of the nearby Space Needle.

My World of Hyatt Card offers a one-night certificate that I can use at any property in the rewards program’s lowest four of eight categories, which includes brands such as Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt but not Andaz or Park Hyatt.

Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card

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* Base Rewards Rate: 1X
* Bonus Rewards: 6X At Wyndham Hotels And On Gas; 4X On Eligible Dining And Grocery Store Purchases
* Welcome Bonus: 45,000 Bonus Points When You Spend $1,000 In The First Three Months
* Key Perks: Annual 7,500-Point Bonus; Platinum Elite Status; 10% Discount On Stays Booked With Points
* Annual Fee: $75
* Apr: 20.99%, 25.24% Or 29.99% Variable

Some cards offer bonus points every year instead of a certificate. For example, my Wyndham Rewards Earner Business Card gives me 15,000 points each year, which is enough for up to two nights at some Wyndham properties. What’s more, Wyndham points don’t expire for up to four years, giving me more time to use them. I’ve used these rewards for budget hotels on road trips when I just need a place to sleep.


Updated: 11-7-2023

These Countries Are The Best At Attracting World’s Top Talent

* Quality Of Life, Sustainability Are Keys For Emerging Hubs

* Ai May Widen Disparity Between Poor/Rich Countries And Gender

Switzerland retained the top spot in a ranking of nations based on their ability to attract and retain talent, marking a decade of domination in the competition to get the creamy layer of human capital.

Singapore and the US rounded out the top three slots in the list dominated by European nations — seven out of the top 10, according to the 2023 Global Talent Competitiveness Index published by business school Insead.

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Switzerland placed first in enabling and retaining talent categories due to its high levels of social protection and its natural environment. Quality of life and sustainability will be a “critical asset for those aiming at becoming talent hubs” over the next decade, according to the report.

Singapore’s “highly-educated labor force and innovative economy” vaulted it to the best overall in global knowledge skills, while the US placed first in growing talent due to its “world-class universities and business schools”.

Among other countries, the UK placed 10th overall on the strength of its tertiary education and had dominant showings in general knowledge skills and talent growth despite low marks in vocational and technical skills.

Elsewhere, China placed first among the so-called BRICS nations made up of China, Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa. Its status as “the global leader in matching the skills of people with the needs of the economy” was anchored by its “Achilles heel” in attracting talent, which contributed to its score of 40th overall.

India, the world’s most populous nation, ranked 103, regressing in the past three years since 2020 to place at the bottom of the BRICS pack. A slump in business sentiment hampered its ability to attract talent domestically and from overseas, according to the authors.

Competition for talent among nations may grow even fiercer over the next 10 years, according to the report, which cited rising uncertainties in trade, investment and geopolitics. The report placed emphasis on the ability of countries, cities and organizations to innovate and project soft-power.

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This may create further talent disparity between rich and poor countries as the “the wealth/talent correlation remains strong,” according to Insead.

The report also found that Covid strengthened gender inequality, as parity in high-skilled jobs decreased over the past three years from a 2019 peak.

AI may exacerbate this trend as “unqualified or low-qualified labour will bear much of the additional pressure, while new categories of workers, some with higher skills, will suffer from stronger competition from algorithms and specialised equipment.”


The Scammers Waiting When Your Flight Gets Canceled

Fliers are encountering phony accounts on X pretending to offer customer service from the carriers.

It took Southwest Airlines just two minutes to reply to my request for help on social media on Monday.

Fake Southwest wasn’t far behind.

I posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, to informally test what Southwest and other airlines say is a growing problem: impostor accounts trying to obtain travelers’ personal information or money. Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Air New Zealand have recently pinned warnings at the tops of their feeds about look-alike accounts.

“We are aware of accounts on X impersonating our @FlyFrontier and @FrontierCare accounts. When contacting Frontier on X, please ensure you only communicate with our official accounts,” Frontier’s post says.

I wasn’t duped because I was on the hunt for scammers. I know every major airline’s official handle and, well, travel is my job.

But it wouldn’t be hard to mistake the accounts for the real thing, especially if you’re in a hurry this holiday travel season and the wait to reach a phone rep is long. Or you might be unfamiliar with Twitter’s rebranding to X and switch from free blue check marks to a new, paid verification system.

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Fake accounts are an issue across social media, but X is the go-to site for airline complaints and questions. It’s easy for travelers to post and companies constantly monitor it.

“If scammers are spending enough time and energy doing this, somebody’s falling for it,” says Jason Rabinowitz, an airline marketing consultant.

Rabinowitz, who lives in New York, spends his entire day with X open on his computer screen. For the past couple of months, he has noticed that anytime he has posted about an airline, he has been deluged with replies from random fakers—even when he wasn’t looking for customer-service help. So he did an experiment in early October, calling out several airline accounts and sprinkling in keywords such as help, flight, canceled and delayed.

“I got a response from every fake airline,” he says.

X didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Flock Of Fakes

Fake Southwest’s reply to my tweet was typical of other impostor accounts, the airline says.

The account looked similar to Southwest’s, with the airline’s signature heart logo. The display name on the account was SouthwestAir, which is the actual Southwest’s handle. The reply was empathetic, too. (“We apologize for the inconvenience.”) It was even signed like Southwest does in its posts.

But I noticed red flags. The account’s actual handle was @_SouthwestAir9, not @SouthwestAir. Unlike the real feed, the impostor had no gold check mark, the new replacement for the blue check mark for many brands.

Both the real airline and Fake Southwest asked me to send information via direct message for assistance. The impostor account wanted my phone number, not my flight confirmation number. As soon as I provided it, someone called me via WhatsApp and said they were with Southwest Air. I said it didn’t sound like Southwest and they quickly hung up.

It wasn’t a one-off. Around the same time on Monday, a traveler reached out to Air Canada on X with a complaint about a canceled flight. The airline and an impostor, @aircanada153551, both responded.

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Air Canada says it offers a warning on its site about impostor accounts.

John Young, a manager at Southwest’s social-media monitoring center, says impostor accounts pose the most risk when the airline can’t reply to a traveler quickly. Send your confirmation number to the wrong account and they can mess with your reservation, including canceling or changing a flight.

“Most of the time we have already responded to the customer, so the customer sees our handle in the conversation as well,” he says. “You can distinguish [between] these two different people that are responding.”

Southwest has software to detect impostor accounts, and its social-media staff is always on the hunt. When they find one, they flag it immediately to their X rep.

“In the last three weeks, we probably squashed 20 to 30 accounts,” says Carlye Thornton, a social business specialist with the airline.

I flagged the impostor Southwest account to Southwest via direct message and it was suspended within 30 minutes.

Despite the quick enforcement, Rabinowitz says he’s changed his stance on X being the go-to place for quick airline help.

“I can’t recommend it for a novice social-media users,” he says. “It’s very difficult to determine what’s real, what’s fake.”

Adam Seper fell for a fake Air France account at 4 a.m. in Paris in August while frantically trying to figure out whether his family’s flight to Chicago was canceled or just delayed. (Overnight emails from the airline offered conflicting information.) He didn’t look closely enough at the account name.

“I was frazzled. It was early. I was stressed,” says Seper, a stay-at-home dad in St. Louis. When the impostor said Seper would receive a link to rebook the flight, Seper grew suspicious and hung up. His family ended up making the flight.

Get Reliable Help

So what can travelers do when they need quick airline help?

For starters, skip public social-media posts. On X, I always start with a direct message to the airline when the option is available. (Delta is among the airlines that doesn’t offer this feature, but sends travelers who reach out to its chat function, which is reachable via X, or Delta’s website and app.)

“If your goal is to get an issue resolved, there’s no reason to publicly tweet, because most of the time we’re going to switch to a private channel anyway,” Southwest’s Young says. The airline will only ask for personal information in direct messages, he says.

Of course, you have to start by making sure you are indeed messaging with the airline.

Most airline websites list and link to their official social-media accounts. Delta maintains a list of legitimate accounts here, but you have to scroll way down.

On X, you can start by looking for a check mark. Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, United, Southwest, Alaska and Frontier, have a gold check mark, Twitter’s designation for an official organization account. Allegiant doesn’t have check marks. Spirit and JetBlue have a blue check mark.

Another distinguishing feature: Companies with gold check marks have a square profile picture, not round. Fake Southwest was round in my test.

See if the airline has a chat function on their website or app. I’ve used the chat feature on United and other airline apps. American recommends this path.

Then there’s the good old-fashioned phone. Just make sure you’re calling the right number by going to the airline’s website. Don’t simply Google “What is [insert airline name’s] number?” There are scams for that, too.


Updated: 11-8-2023

Safaricom Profit Rises First Time In Two Years On Price Cuts

* First-Half Net Income Beats Expectations And Climbs 2%

* Wireless Firm’s Shares Jump The Most In 15 Years In Nairobi

Safaricom Plc, Kenya’s biggest company by market value, reported a profit increase for the first time in two years after lower prices lured users and helped offset higher expansion costs in Ethiopia.

The Nairobi-based company beat expectations by reporting a 2.1% increase in net income to 34.2 billion shillings ($225 million). Income from M-Pesa, which accounts for about 42% of service revenue, rose 16% from a year earlier.

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“We have taken a bit of pain,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndegwa said in interview in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “We recognize our business was a bit premium-priced especially on mobile data, now we are about 10% above competition on a like-for-like basis.” He added that the company doesn’t expect “material reduction anymore.”

Safaricom’s shares advanced as much as 10.5%, the biggest jump in 15 years, before closing with a gain of 6.8% in Nairobi on Thursday.

In the six months to September, there “was accelerated pressure on the consumer wallet” due to global and domestic factors that drove inflation, Ndegwa told investors on Thursday. Kenyan consumers are also constrained by rising taxes in a relatively weak economy.

“We reduced price significantly on the Mpesa side again, taking a more long-term view,” he said.

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The firm increased its full-year guidance because it expects more use of data and mobile money services, Wesley Manambo, senior associate at Nairobi-based Standard Investment Bank said by phone. “When you look at the GSM trends across sub-Saharan Africa, data consumption is growing,” he said.


Updated: 11-26-2023

Flights To Europe Are Becoming Cheap Again

Deals are possible now that enough fliers have gotten revenge travel out of their systems.

Flying to Europe in 2024 without spending a fortune is in the cards after a long stretch of sky-high prices.

Airlines have added new routes between the U.S. and Europe and announced plans to increase flights on some routes next spring and summer.

The added capacity means travelers can get a break from the run of high airfares in the past couple of years.

Some prices are still high—the average cost of round-trip airfare to Barcelona is over $1,000, according to travel-search website Kayak. But deals now exist that didn’t before, and industry watchers say they expect more to come.

“Everybody really wanted to go to Europe this past summer and pretty much everybody did,” says Kyle Potter, executive editor of travel blog Thrifty Traveler. “And they paid a lot to do it.”

Some airfares stand at or below prepandemic levels, according to a recent analysis of flight prices by Thrifty Traveler. A nonstop basic economy flight in early March from Boston to Dublin can cost as little as $433.

You can find basic economy prices for flights from the U.S. to major cities such as Paris, Rome and Amsterdam for around $500 during that same period.

Booking premium seats with miles for flights next spring and summer also looks to be getting easier, Potter says, another sign of sagging demand.

And the cheaper seats aren’t just in coach. Thrifty Traveler found instances where trans-Atlantic business-class seats could be booked for under $2,000, including on JetBlue
flights from Boston and New York’s Kennedy Airport to Dublin. That is about half what they cost last summer.

John Grant, chief analyst at travel data firm OAG, says fewer fliers are looking for premium cabins to Europe, a change from the revenge spending common in 2022. Grant attributes this to more fliers feeling economic turbulence.

Pick Your Spots

Prices aren’t universally low, but hunting for the best price now and in the coming months can pay off for trans-Atlantic travel next year.

A review of prices conducted last week by Thrifty Traveler found that it was possible to book round-trip flights to Barcelona from several cities in the U.S. for under $500 for flights on select dates now through May.

Prices to Barcelona aren’t always that low. On average, the cost of flights to Barcelona next spring and summer is currently up 21% year-over-year to $1,043, according to data from Kayak. The Kayak analysis was based on advertised prices from the past month.

The current average cost of round-trip airfare to Europe is around $655, according to data from travel-booking company Hopper. Prices remain especially high for destinations in Southern Europe.

Airfares to Athens are up 22% year-over-year for travel between mid-March and the end of May, according to Kayak. Prices are also up by 20% or more for flights to Lisbon, Madrid and Milan.

Carriers are expanding the number of flights they operate across the Atlantic, which could ease prices, says Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper. Several low-cost carriers, including PLAY and Norse Atlantic, have started to fly between the U.S. and Europe in recent years.

Flying with a low-cost carrier often requires a layover in places such as Reykjavik in Iceland. These deals might be worth the added hassle. “I can imagine a lot worse airports,” says Kerry Tan, an associate professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland who studies airline pricing.

Many new nonstop routes set to launch in the coming months could lead to lower prices. United Airlines has grown its trans-Atlantic capacity by 30% since 2019, Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said during a call with analysts in October.

United will add a second daily flight between Newark, N.J., and Brussels in March and a second daily trip between Washington, D.C., and Rome in May, among other route expansions. The carrier is also starting its seasonal service to destinations in Southern Europe earlier than in previous years.

German airline Lufthansa is adding flights to Frankfurt out of Minneapolis and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., beginning in early June. JetBlue recently began selling tickets for flights next spring and summer from Boston to Dublin and from New York to Dublin and Edinburgh.

Bide Your Time

Knowing when to book your ticket is key to scoring a deal. Booking summer travel now may not be ideal.

“Airlines know that travelers booking that far in advance are either anxious or not flexible,” Berg says. She expects prices for spring and summer international flights to drop in the months ahead.

She suggests booking in January for spring trips and March for summer trips. Don’t wait too long, though—people who purchase summer flights to Europe in May likely will have to pay more, Berg says.

If travelers are agnostic about where they visit, open-ended searches for flights on sites such as Kayak or Google could turn up bargains. Otherwise, travelers should set up price alerts to track where prices are headed.

Knowing when to visit, and which places to avoid, also helps.

The Paris Olympics in late July and early August could have widespread spillover effects. Travelers may choose to visit France earlier in the year or go to other destinations to save money.

Complicating matters is the fact that Paris is a major hub for connecting flights to destinations across the continent.

The influx of travelers to France for the Olympics could limit the options for people traveling to further-flung European destinations, says Kevin R. Williams, an associate professor of economics at Yale School of Management.

Nonstop flights to Paris from the U.S. in late July currently cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000.

“That is going to be a more expensive ticket,” Williams says.



Updated: 11-30-2023

The Startling Economics of The World’s Largest Cruise Ship

With its seven pools, six waterslides and dozens of places to eat, drink and gamble, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas brings new meaning to the phrase ‘economies of scale’—and it’s better for the environment too.

It has been nearly half a century since “The Love Boat” promised “something for everyone.” These days, it’s actually true.

Before the hit TV show helped popularize them, cruises were derided as being for the “newly wed and nearly dead,” and were a lot more expensive than they are today. Those not quite rich enough for their own yacht can still splurge on intimate, luxurious trips or high-octane adventures to places like Antarctica.

But most cruisers these days are middle-class Americans or Europeans looking to be fed, pampered and entertained on a floating version of home. Many bring their children. The hyper-efficient industry has made that possible by building megaships that resemble floating theme parks, and even its own islands.

Using tax havens and employing thousands of workers from developing countries has helped keep the cost of cruises down. Their real secret formula, though, has been the economies of scale of modern vessels and cruise ports. A happy side effect is that being lean also increasingly means being green.

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In 1980, the first year data is available from industry body Cruise Lines International Association, there were 1.4 million oceangoing cruise passengers. That number had already begun to soar as a direct result of “The Love Boat,” the ABC show set aboard the MS Pacific Princess that began its nine-season run in 1977.

It was surely one of the most lucrative product placements ever. Next year, CLIA expects 36 million passengers and for the industry to surpass 300 oceangoing vessels—more than most navies.

Many cruises aren’t expensive, and sometimes—for example when operators were luring passengers back from the Covid-19 pandemic that shut it down—they have been outright bargains.

Mass market operators keep ticket prices low enough to reach full occupancy even during recessions because a substantial part of their cost is the vessels themselves, and their fuel. Once people are on board, more than a third of revenue can come from onboard spending such as drinks, spa treatments, specialty restaurants and gambling.

Next month will see the launch of the world’s largest passenger ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, with a maximum capacity of 7,600 people, not including 2,350 crew members. Its incredible size is a selling point in and of itself, but it also highlights the pursuit of savings.

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“You only have one captain, only one bridge team, only one engineering team. The same thing happens in other parts of the ship,” says Bill Burke, the chief maritime officer of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company. Carnival launched the first passenger ship exceeding 100,000 gross tons 27 years ago. That was more than twice the size of the Titanic. Icon of the Seas is as big as five Titanics.

The newest megaships are also saving money through energy efficiency that executives from the Love Boat era could only dream of. That show’s star, the Pacific Princess, was among the earliest purpose-built cruise ships.

Before that, the industry used converted ocean liners that had been made obsolete by intercontinental jet travel in the 1960s. The Pacific Princess burned cheap, dirty bunker fuel and carried about 600 passengers.

Carnival was pushed to the brink financially by the pandemic, but it took the opportunity to sell or “recycle” a number of older, smaller vessels. As an indirect result, it expects to hit an International Maritime Organization target for reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of ships by 2026, years ahead of schedule.

Between 2020 and 2022, some 38 ships across the industry were taken out of service, and their average age was six years younger than those retired in the preceding three year span, according to Cruise Industry News.

The newest megaships have better environmental footprints per passenger, but they pack in the most jaw-dropping amenities too. With 20 decks, Icon of the Seas would have Captain Stubing jumping out of his knee socks.

It has about 12 times the internal area of the Pacific Princess, which was scrapped a decade ago, and features seven pools, six waterslides and dozens of places to eat, drink, gamble, exercise or listen to live music. It also has a zip-line, bumper cars, rock-climbing walls, a surf simulator and minigolf.

Icon is powered by relatively clean liquefied natural gas, has a specially coated hull to reduce friction, can hook up to shore power, treats its own waste and can produce nearly all of its water through desalination. Being green pays dividends beyond saving on fuel.

With governments and especially cruise destinations aware of the environmental impact of giant vessels and record passenger numbers, there increasingly are incentives to avoid pollution. But Carnival’s Burke points out that bigger ships have downsides, such as where they can sail.

“At some point you begin to limit your ability to get into certain places.”

To get around that, and also to save energy and boost revenue, cruise lines have even leased their own private islands a short sail from Florida cruise ports, giving them new names like Castaway Cay and Perfect Day at CocoCay. Often featuring docks that can accommodate megaships, they offer a sanitized version of the tropics where every dollar spent accrues to the cruise line.

Hyper-efficiency is nearing its limit, though, and inflation has affected the industry too. Cruise lines have caused some grumbling by charging more for mandatory onboard gratuities. Norwegian Cruise Lines garnered attention earlier this year for cost-saving steps like reducing turndown service for non-premium cabins and swapping 9-ounce burgers for 7-ounce ones.


Cruisers are showing up in record numbers anyway, and shareholders are celebrating too. After nearly going under amid Covid-19, all three major operators are laden with debt but have seen their shares rebound by an average of 76% just this year.

What’s Not To Love?



Updated: 12-29-2023

Air Travel In 2023 Was A Nightmare. And Flying Isn’t Likely To Get Much Better In 2024.

Millions of fliers returned, but many went nowhere fast.

Complaints about airlines were so numerous in 2023 that the Transportation Department couldn’t even count all the grievances it received for several months. Seriously.

“It is increasingly clear that consumer complaints aren’t returning to prepandemic levels,’’ the DOT understated in its Air Travel Consumer Report issued in October. Not even close, in fact. In the first five months of the year, complaints totaled 38,135, a 68% increase compared with the same period of 2022, and 584% above the similar period in 2019.

Millions returned to the skies, and millions went nowhere fast. From a Christmas ruined for many by a Southwest Airlines meltdown, to a summer of delays and cancellations—especially with a one-two punch of severe storms and an even more-severe shortage of air-traffic controllers in New York—air travel suffered in 2023.

Don’t count on it getting much better in 2024. Though airlines improved their reliability in the second half of 2023, and vowed they were better-prepared for the holiday surge with more postpandemic hiring and investment in equipment and better technology, structural problems haven’t been solved.

Shortages of air-traffic controllers, airplanes and pilots all add up to one conclusion: Travelers will likely be facing higher fares along with more delays, cancellations and disruption.

There are also safety concerns, particularly with air-traffic controllers who are working mandatory overtime and suffering from fatigue. A series of near-collisions on runways has prompted continuing safety reviews.

The system is “showing clear signs of strain that we cannot ignore,” National Safety Transportation Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy told a Senate hearing in November.

Staffing Challenges

To get an idea of the problem, consider this: The number of certified professional air-traffic controllers in the U.S. declined 10% in the decade between 2012 and 2022, according to the DOT’s inspector general, while the number of flights the Federal Aviation Administration handled increased 1.4%.

The two main facilities that handle airplanes in the air over New York before they get to airports and after they take off are supposed to have 66 supervisors combined.

But New York Center and New York Terminal Radar Approach Control actually have only 20, according to a June inspector general’s report. More broadly, 20 of the 26 most-critical FAA facilities are staffed below 85% of full capacity.

“FAA continues to face staffing challenges and lacks a plan to address them, which in turn poses a risk to the continuity of air traffic operations,’’ the inspector general’s sobering report said.

At the Senate hearing in November, the FAA said it is working to hire, train and certify controllers, and that staffing, while still challenged, has improved at some facilities since the inspector general’s report.

The FAA ordered airlines to thin out flight schedules to and from New York in 2023 and into 2024 because of controller staffing shortages. The lack of controllers most affects travelers when bad weather hits.

Blocks of airspace may be shut down, limiting the ability of pilots to reroute around storms, and arrival and departure rates often need to be reduced. The result: Airplanes sit on the ground and wait, or flights get canceled.

A Lack Of Funding

Steve Dickson, the former head of the FAA who resigned in 2022, says skimpy and unpredictable government funding has limited the ability of the FAA to modernize equipment that could increase capacity, improve safety and help controllers. He thinks it will get “more challenging’’ before it improves.

Dickson points to President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which had only $25 billion—2.5% of the total—for aviation. And, he says, $20 billion of that was for airport terminal projects that don’t address congestion in the skies, while $5 billion was targeted to replace old control towers.

“There was no modernization money in there at all,’’ Dickson said recently on the podcast “Airlines Confidential,’’ which I co-host with former Spirit Airlines chief executive Ben Baldanza.

“The difficult proposition that the aviation system and the FAA face is that roads and railroads and even airports are things that the public can see. They are tangible,’’ Dickson said. “What happens in the skies…is what has been getting short shrift over the past few years and that’s where the emphasis needs to be placed.’’

More Demand

Despite the structural problems and forced schedule cuts, travelers keep coming. Demand for international trips surged in summer 2023, and airline chief executives predict continued hunger for trips in 2024 even with economic uncertainty for consumers.

“Look, it’s a rocky time,’’ American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said of the economy recently on CNBC. And yet, he added, “People want to connect. People want to travel. And so, as I take a look out to 2024, I see robust demand.’’


Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.

Demand is likely to grow faster than airline capacity, and that’s a formula for higher fares in 2024. One major factor is that airlines can’t get all the airplanes they want.


has suffered a slowdown in deliveries of both the 737 narrow-body model and the 787 wide-body jet because of quality issues and FAA certification delays. The 737 MAX 7, originally scheduled to start flying for airlines in 2022, now is projected to start deliveries in 2024.

A larger version of the 737, called the MAX 10, also hasn’t yet been certified by the FAA and likely won’t start deliveries before 2025 at the earliest. Such delays have forced airlines to pull flights from schedules.

Another big problem for airlines: Engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of RTX, discovered that microscopic contaminants had gotten into batches of a powdered metal used in key engine parts, possibly leading to cracks.

Engines have to be removed from planes and inspected. If microcracks are found, engines have to be disassembled and then reassembled with new high-pressure turbine disks.

The repairs have forced the grounding of hundreds of planes worldwide and delayed deliveries of new planes. The number of planes on the ground because of the Pratt issues is expected to peak next year at around 600-650 jets, Pratt said in September.

Filling The Cockpit

The shortage of pilots continues to force smaller regional airlines to ground airplanes and cancel service. The Regional Airline Association says 500 regional aircraft—small jets with fewer than 100 seats—are parked and others underused for lack of crews.

Rising pilot salaries and faster career paths to big airplanes are attracting more student pilots, consulting firm Oliver Wyman says, and the severity of the pilot shortage is being reduced. Still, Oliver Wyman predicts it will take several years to ease the shortage, and that the biggest gap for pilots between supply and demand won’t peak until 2026.

The coming year also brings unknowns for airlines, such as whether JetBlue will acquire Spirit Airlines. The Justice Department has sued to block the merger, arguing that JetBlue will remove a lot of low-fare seats and consumers will suffer.

JetBlue argues it has plenty of low fares—so low it has been losing money—and with Spirit’s planes, pilots and established service in the middle of the country, it will be able to better compete against the Big 4 airlines that carry 80% of all U.S. passenger traffic: American, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest.

Perhaps the clearest indication of how bad 2023 was for fliers, the Transportation Department said during the summer that there were so many complaints that it had to stop publishing monthly complaint totals because it couldn’t get them all counted. In October, the department said it was processing the high volume, but wasn’t sure when it could resume publishing data.


Updated: 12-27-2023

Do These 8 Things Now For The Best 2024 Vacation

Why the waiting game on booking travel for next year could backfire.

The smartest thing any traveler can do to get the most out of their vacation next year: Don’t procrastinate.

The Summer Olympics in Paris and the European leg of Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” mean travelers will find limited availability and higher prices next year if they don’t plan ahead. A recent report from the Paris tourism office said hotel prices could rise more than 300% between July 2023 and the summer games in Paris, with hotel rooms averaging about 700 euros (around $777) per night.

There’s also a waiting risk for those wanting to take in other parts of Europe, visit a National Park or go on a cruise.

Travel executives and advisers suggest booking soon, or at least getting a game plan together now. They also gave the following tips to save thousands of dollars and headaches before you book your big trip.

1. Organize Your Awards Accounts

It is tough to keep track of the changing requirements for frequent flier programs (Delta SkyMiles members know this all too well). So, take stock of your rewards programs, whether for airlines, hotels or credit cards, and log how many points you have. This will help you maximize your points when booking travel.

Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.

You should also familiarize yourself with all award program benefits, including airline alliances. If you are a United MileagePlus member, you can redeem miles on other Star Alliance carriers, such as Air Canada and Lufthansa.

Certain credit cards will also provide travel-related perks. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express, for example, offer a statement credit when you use the card to pay for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

2. Set Price Alerts—And Expectations

Tracking hotels, airfare and rental car prices can help you find a better deal when prices are at their lowest. Kayak, Expedia and Google all have price-tracking tools. AutoSlash is a car-rental-deals site that tracks your reservation and will alert you to price drops after you book, so you can rebook at the lower price.

But travelers need to be realistic about how far prices will fall.

Rental car availability has improved greatly compared with several years ago and travelers don’t have to scramble to find vehicles, says Jonathan Weinberg, founder and chief executive of AutoSlash. Still, finding a rental car for $10 or $15 a day is a thing of the past, Weinberg says, and economy cars are often at least $30 a day.

“While you can get some deals close in, I think the majority of better pricing is for folks who are willing to book at least a month out,” he says.

3. Make summer national park Reservations Soon

Many of the most popular national parks require some form of reservation. Visitors to California’s Yosemite National Park will need reservations for much of the summer. These reservations go on sale Jan. 5 at 8 a.m. Pacific time. Rocky Mountain, Arches and Glacier national parks will also require reservations, which are available for purchase on


Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.

4. Renew Your Passport Now

Passport renewal times have at long last recovered to prepandemic norms after years of delays. That means regular processing averages six to eight weeks and expedited service takes two to three weeks. Don’t forget that expedited processing costs an additional $60.

5. Double Check Dates For European Trips

Do your research before booking that milestone birthday trip to Paris this August (when the Summer Olympics will be in full swing). Travel advisers suggest waiting until after the Olympics for trips to France.

A search this week found a round-trip, Air France flight from Newark, N.J., to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport departing July 27 and returning Aug. 3 cost about $1,400. The fare includes a carry-on and checked bag. The same flight and fare class departing Aug. 24 and returning Aug. 31 cost about $1,100.

Next spring and summer, Taylor Swift will bring her record-breaking Eras tour to Europe, which will also limit hotel availability—and drive up prices.

6. Think Long And Hard About What Travel To Europe Means Now

Airlines have increased their routes to and from Europe, meaning U.S. travelers have more options for their getaway flights. Many travelers headed to Europe in 2023 and travel advisers say there are no signs of a slowdown in 2024. Some of the most popular destinations include France, Greece and Italy, advisers say.

You will have more options if you are flexible with your dates and consider trips in early spring or late fall, says Christine Hardenberger, owner of Fredericksburg, Va.-based Modern Travel Professionals. She also suggests keeping temperature in mind. Europe lacks widespread air conditioning, which comes as a surprise to travelers who deal with high temperatures in the Southern U.S.

7. Think Outside The Box For Your Next Cruise

Crowds returned to cruise ships last year and next year is booking up, too. Carnival has nearly two-thirds of its business booked for 2024—and at higher prices, CEO Josh Weinstein said in the company’s earnings call last week.

That doesn’t mean you can’t score a deal during the upcoming “wave season,” the three-month period beginning in January when cruise lines traditionally offer deals to encourage early bookings. But “if you’re expecting to go cruise the Caribbean for $99 for five days, those cruises are definitely over for right now,” says Tanner Callais, founder of the travel website

8. Don’t Forget About Local Experiences

Most travelers remember to book their flights, hotels and rental cars, but some forget to plan ahead for local experiences, says Nora Blum, vice president at Travel Leaders in Maple Grove, Minn.

Travelers tend to be more satisfied with their trips when they spend on activities like cooking classes, guided tours or even photoshoots for their families, she says. It can be tough to spontaneously fit these experiences in once you arrive due to limited availability or cost.


Updated: 1-11-2024

Passport Book vs. Card: 4 Key Differences


Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.

Which will work best for you depends mostly on where you’re going and how you plan to get there — air, land or sea.

For international travel, the U.S. Department of State issues two types of official government documents: the passport book and the passport card.

The main difference between a passport card and book boils down to where you can use them, what methods of transit are eligible and the cost.

It’s important to learn the difference between the two so you can choose more confidently if one (or both) are right for you.

About The Passport Book

A passport book is a small booklet available to U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals that can be used for international travel by air, sea or land. For travelers age 16 or older at the date of issue, the books are valid for 10 years. Younger travelers are given passports that are valid for five years.

Each passport book is assigned a unique number. The first page of a passport contains your photo and personal information, including your full name, nationality, date of birth, place of birth, sex, the passport issue date and passport expiration date.

The rest of the book is filled with blank pages for immigration stamps and visas. Depending on the country you’re visiting, you might be required to have two to four blank visa pages.

Since 2007, only electronic passports have been issued. These books contain an electronic chip that stores the information on the first page, a biometric identifier of your passport photo, a chip identification number and a digital signature.

About The Passport Card

The passport card is also available to U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals, but can only be used for foreign border entry by land and sea — and only in specific places. Regardless of the country you’re visiting, it’s not an accepted form of ID for international air travel.

Passport cards are valid for the same durations as passport books.

The passport card fits a standard wallet card slot and contains your photo, full name, nationality, date of birth, place of birth, issue and expiration dates, plus your unique passport card number.

The card also has built-in Radio Frequency Identification which can be used in Ready Lanes at Canadian and Mexican land borders for faster entry.

How A Passport Book And Passport Card Differ

1. Border Entry Method

The biggest difference between a passport book and passport card is the methods of travel that are eligible. While passport books can be used for all entry methods into an international country — whether air, land or sea — passport cards are limited to travel through land and sea borders only.

2. Travel Destination

Another difference between a passport book and passport card is which countries each can be used to enter.

There are no limitations for destinations where you can use your passport book. Passport cards, however, can only be used going through a land border or seaport in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

For example, if you’re planning a Mediterranean cruise, you’ll need to use a passport book. The card isn’t valid for seaport entry in Europe.

3. Format And Size

Passport books and passport cards have physical differences. Passport books are 3.5-by-5-inch booklets with blank pages for foreign immigration stamps and visas.

Although they’re pocket-sized, passport books are bulkier than passport cards, which are the size of a credit card or driver’s license.

4. Price

Passport books are more expensive than cards. Regardless of document type, all first-time applicants must pay a $35 acceptance fee, which is included in the price.

Passport Books For First-Time Applicants Cost:

* For Adults (16 And Older): $165.

* For Children (15 And Under): $135.

The Cost Difference Is Stark Compared To Passport Cards For First-Time Applicants:

* For Adults (16 And Older): $65.

* For Children (15 And Under): $50.

Acceptance fees are dropped for renewals of both the passport book and card. Travelers can expect to pay $130 to renew an adult passport book and $30 to renew an adult passport card.

When To Get Both

The passport book is the all-encompassing identifier to carry regardless of how and where you’re traveling. You have the option to purchase a passport book and card in one application, and there are a couple of scenarios when having both passport types might be convenient, like:

* If you travel equally by air and land. If you’re visiting Canada or Mexico by car, you might prefer a more compact document for traveling across the border. In that case, having a passport card for regular land-based trips would be useful. You can keep your passport book handy for international air travel.

* If you don’t have a Real ID, which will be required for domestic air travel beginning in 2025. A U.S. passport — book or card — is accepted as an alternative to the Real ID, but the card is more convenient to carry around. If you’re flying domestically without a Real ID, you’ll be able to use a passport card for air travel within the 50 states and reserve your passport book for international travel.

If you choose to apply for both passport options in one application rather than applying for them separately, you’ll save $35 since you’ll only pay one acceptance fee.

If You’re Choosing Between The Passport Card And Passport Book

Deciding between a passport book and a passport card can feel like a difficult choice considering the cost difference and the turnaround time to get your passport application processed.

When choosing which option is best for you, consider the type of travel you’re most likely to do over the next few years. If you’re unsure about your future travel needs, a passport book might be your best option.


Updated: 1-28-2024

The Tricky Math Behind Booking Trips On A Credit-Card Company’s Travel Site


Ultimate Travel Resource Covering Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.

The price you see on an airline’s website isn’t always the same as the one on your credit card’s travel portal.

Chase, American Express and Capital One tout their travel-booking tools for cardholders as a way to maximize rewards and make dream vacations a reality. But are those sites a good deal?

The answer, travelers find, can take some math.

Travelers say differences in price make it tough to determine the best deal. And some grouse that they’re already paying steep annual fees for certain cards.

Will Biesel, a Dallas attorney, pays $550 for his Chase Sapphire Reserve card and says he has found high prices on Chase’s travel portal, such as a $456 American Airlines round-trip to North Carolina that the airline was offering for nearly $100 less.

Another trip, on Southwest, cost 65% more on the portal than from the carrier directly, Biesel says.

Credit-card companies’ booking tools often turn up higher fares and room rates than travelers might find on airlines’ and hotels’ own sites, fliers say.

Part of the reason is the desire of airlines and hotels to get more travelers booking directly, rather than via third parties such as Expedia or Chase’s travel portal.

With many trips booked for this year, Biesel had hoped to use his credit-card points to offset the travel costs. But often he felt like he wasn’t getting his rewards’ worth on the portal.

“You hope to get value out of that credit card by spending the points wisely,” says Biesel, 28 years old. “It’s harder to justify the total price if you’re not using all the perks.”

Premium credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire and American Express Platinum are geared to the jet-set crowd, and the portals are critical to their appeal. Many of these cards offer cardholders hundreds of dollars in travel credits that can be used only in their dedicated portals.

They also entice people to spend their own money, versus their rewards, by offering significantly more points or miles for booking with them.

About 14% of U.S. cardholders typically went to their credit card’s travel portal to research and book trips, according to a 2022 study from the Futurist Group, a payments-industry consulting firm. Over a third of those travelers said they weren’t pleased with the experience.

“The number-one barrier to growth of these portals is the perception that the price is not necessarily the best deal,” Futurist Group founder and CEO Demitry Estrin says.

A Chase spokeswoman said in an email that the company is “committed to providing cardmembers with competitive pricing whether they’re booking with points or cash.”

Why Prices Vary

Credit-card companies don’t set prices for hotel rooms or plane tickets. Most don’t even operate the travel-booking features connected to their cards—major online travel agencies do. Hopper manages Capital One’s website, and Expedia powers American Express’s consumer-travel site.

Cardholders often find different prices based on where they check.

In some cases, these travelers might not be comparing apples to apples. With airfares, it’s important to check which fare class is advertised when you search.

Some websites advertise basic economy—a type of fare with extra restrictions in exchange for a lower price—as the default option. Others display regular economy ticket prices.

Flight and hotel prices also fluctuate based on demand.

Not all websites update their pricing at the same time, says Cory Garner, an independent consultant who led sales and distribution strategy at American Airlines until 2020.

If an airline lowers its fares from Chicago to Dallas, that change might not show up immediately for online booking sites.

Separately, airlines have started implementing new technology to distribute their seats to third parties such as online travel agencies, Garner says. That technology lets carriers offer travelers extra options to prospective buyers, including additional categories for seat selection, more easily.

As they push travel agencies and corporate-travel managers to adopt the technology, some carriers have limited which fares remain available on the old distribution systems. Those fares typically cost more, Garner says.

“Credit card travel portals who are using older distribution technology do not have the same access, despite American’s best efforts to make these fares available to them,” an American Airlines spokeswoman said in an email.

Third-Party Drawbacks

Hotels generally don’t reward points in their own loyalty programs and may not offer other benefits to people who booked anywhere but through the hotel itself, says Adam Morvitz, founder and CEO of, a points and miles search aggregator and booking service.

And when travel snags occur, rebooking can become tougher. In many cases, airlines require travelers to hash out any problems via the site they booked on.

The Chase spokeswoman noted that the company can rebook cardmembers with multiple airline partners when service disruptions arise.

Credit-Card Benefits

Using a credit card’s travel site to book a vacation can sometimes provide enough advantages to outweigh potential price differences.

Joshua Gellers of Jacksonville, Fla., starts his travel research with Google Flights to get a read on prices. He then checks his credit card’s travel site, factoring in additional rewards he would earn going that route.

Credit-card companies sometimes have offers that can boost the rewards rate even higher for customers.

When booking a Sydney hotel last summer, he found booking directly with the hotel was cheaper than his credit-card company’s site. But the rewards offered by the card site swayed him, since their value was greater than what he would save by cutting out the middleman.

Gellers, a professor at the University of North Florida, notes that his tactics aren’t for everyone: “Think about how much extra effort that is for the average traveler.”

Sometimes, credit cards will advertise special discounts on flights or vacation packages only for their cardholders.

Capital One Travel offers price-matching if lower prices are available at the time of booking and free price-drop protection for flights. The site monitors flight prices up to 10 days after customers book.

If that itinerary’s price falls, Capital One issues a travel credit of up to $50, with some limitations.


Updated: 3-21-2024

United Air Allows Passengers To Pool And Share Loyalty Miles

United Airlines Holdings Inc. became the first major US airline to allow passengers to pool and share loyalty program miles.

Starting Thursday, United will allow groups of as many as five MileagePlus members to share and redeem miles from a joint account

There are no limits on contributions, and they won’t affect a member’s status level in United’s loyalty program.

Loyalty programs have attracted more members and awards have grown since the start of the pandemic with consumers increasingly flocking to airline-linked credit cards. The programs have expanded further as domestic travel has largely passed 2019 levels.

Mileage pooling is already offered by some smaller and international carriers, including JetBlue Ai
rways Corp., Air Canada and Frontier Group Holdings Inc.




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