Your holiday travel decision will be like none other in recent memory
Might as well throw out the rulebook for planning your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s trips because you won’t need it. Your holiday travel decision will focus on personal responsibility rather than strictly on family factors.
“The coming holidays will bring unprecedented challenges,” says Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech who directs the business school’s program in hospitality and tourism management. “Be prepared for the unexpected.”
Travel will be down – way down – from past holiday seasons. So will most prices.
Random information: On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, it was perhaps his most famous speech. He called for “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Read more about Gettysburg here.
Travelers will make their holiday travel decision at the last minute, days, or even hours before departure. And the risks will be a lot higher. If you’re older or have a medical condition, you might want to celebrate the holidays at home this year.
Fewer people want to travel. Holiday-related journeys are “not a top priority” in 2020, according to Eugene Levin, the chief strategic officer for the analytics company SEMrush. That may be an understatement. This summer, online searches for “holiday travel” decreased by 43 percent from 2019. “Christmas travel” is down by 46 percent, and “Thanksgiving travel” is off 38 percent.
Prices will be lower, for the most part. The steepest declines are for air travel. Priceline analyzed recent flight booking data and found that the average price of nonstop round-trip flight tickets is down more than 30 percent for both Thanksgiving weekend and the December travel season compared to 2019. Hotel rates are down 10 percent for Thanksgiving weekend.
But not everything will be cheaper. For the December travel period, hotel rates are up 3 percent, suggesting that demand is about to pick up. Car rental rates are also up slightly (2.5 percent for Thanksgiving and 7 percent for December).
The average American will travel just 513 miles this Thanksgiving, a decrease of more than 50 percent from last year.
That continues a pattern that started last summer, where people stayed closer to home. And 41 percent of travelers say they’re making reservations with an eye toward isolation, according to data from Booking.com.
“They plan to stay at a self-catered accommodation like an apartment, vacation rental or villa,” says Arjan Dijk, a senior vice president at Booking.com. “That makes it easier to social distance and take advantage of amenities such as a kitchen to cook family holiday meals.”
Many families will book at the last minute
Another trend that will continue from the summer: Most bookings will happen at the last minute.
IHG Hotels & Resorts says since the outbreak, booking lead times have shortened compared to previous years. In 2020, 63 percent of bookings happened within two days of stay, compared to 39 percent during the same period last year.
“Spontaneity is key,” says Brian Hicks, a senior vice president at IHG Hotels & Resorts. So is flexibility. IHG is among the hotel chains that have introduced “book now, pay later” options, which allows guests to pay at the last minute or cancel without facing any penalties.
“Holiday travel in 2020 will be more last-minute, depending on Mother Nature, border reopenings, and quarantine requirements,” says Limor Decter, a travel adviser with Ovation Travel Group. “Those factors will affect holiday travel plans.”
Will holiday travel be safe?
But is travel safe? No one knows, but that isn’t stopping anyone from making an educated guess. If there’s a consensus, it’s that travel will continue to be risky – maybe too risky for you.
“We’ll likely continue to see a surge of cases in the fall and over the holidays,” says Karen Edwards, a professor and epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine. “If you must travel, be sure to follow all recommendations, including checking with destinations and events you plan to attend to be sure that travel to that destination or event is still possible. Cancel your trip if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or concerns about risk of infection.”
Edwards isn’t planning a holiday trip this year. But if she did, she’d use her own car instead of mass transit, and wear a mask at all times, even outdoors. She’d also wash her hands with soap and water for 20 seconds “as often as possible.”
“Many people will probably opt to stay home,” she adds. “If they do travel, they may choose to have smaller gatherings with friends and family this year.”
That’s sound advice. I said it before – and I’ll say it again – this is not the time to travel. If you can avoid getting out there, maybe you should.
Do your research. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find the most up to date guidelines for COVID-19, says Lori Calavan, Allianz Partners’ senior medical consultant. “Be prepared.” And don’t take an airline or hotel’s word for it when they claim to be safe or clean. Sherry Orel, president of the certification, audit, and assurance division of Bureau Veritas, advises considering travel companies with hygiene excellence guidelines and operation procedures beyond physical distancing and personal protective equipment. “Ask about the products and technologies used to clean,” she says.
Prepare for a different kind of travel experience. “Travelers must be prepared for enhanced health screenings at the airport and different arrangements for holiday activities and events,” says Curt Carlson, a senior vice president at Trawick International, a travel insurance company. Some airlines are offering COVID-19 tests, and hotels have started scanning guests as they check in. Traveling will be a different experience.
Don’t be afraid to postpone. It’s still dangerous out there, so if you’re concerned about getting infected, it’s best to wait until 2021. There’s no shame in waiting.
Vaccines can be seen at the end of the tunnel this spring — be responsible
Dr. Anthony Fauci made this point Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” urging Americans to reconsider holiday travel plans. In another presentation at the National Cathedral in DC, he said, “We have a vaccine light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s beat this disease by following expert advice.”
In light of a new surge in new COVID-19 cases, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said, “We’ve really got to double down on fundamental public health measures that we talk about every day because they can make a difference.”
Fauci continued, “We really have to be careful this time that each individual family evaluates the risk-benefit … If you have vulnerable people, the elderly or people that have underlying conditions, you better consider whether you want to do that now or maybe just forestall it and wait,”
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.