Travel has been at a near standstill for much of 2020, thanks to the pandemic, which has kept millions of Americans home for months on end, their vacations canceled or delayed indefinitely. The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in more than $500 billion in losses for the U.S. travel economy so far, according to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry advocacy group.
Travel insiders predict that recovery for the industry is still at least two years away — but many view the start of COVID-19 vaccinations as reason for hope.
“For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling optimistic about travel again,” says Jan L. Jones, a professor of hospitality and tourism at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
So, what to expect in 2021?
1. Those $200 airline change fees may be gone for good. American, Delta, United and Alaska Airlines, looking to get more passengers on planes in 2020, stopped charging customers exorbitant fees (typically $200) just to change or cancel domestic flights. They recently extended that policy to include international flights (with some exceptions for Basic Economy fares). In 2021, says Jones. “I think airlines are going to be doing everything they possibly can to get people on flights.”
2. Flexibility will be everything. Before committing to a trip, travelers will want assurance that they can easily cancel their cruise, hotel or tour without penalty. Providers are responding: Celebrity Cruises, for example, is now allowing customers to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours before departure and rebook through May 2022 (certain conditions apply). Intrepid Travel, which offers small group tours, allows customers to change the departure date and/or destination up to 21 days before a trip for no fee. “For the first time in my lifetime, consumers are in the driver’s seat,” says Clint Henderson, senior news editor at The Points Guy, a travel and credit card rewards website.