10 Positive Travel Trends to Watch in 2016
2016 may be more than halfway through, but there’s plenty of travel left to do. As a travel expert, I pay close attention to any travel industry changes, because they often mean new ways to save money on airfare, hotel stays and trip booking. Here are the top 10 trends I've noticed popping up this year, and how you can use them to your advantage the next time you travel.
Basic economy fares are changing the way we fly.
Delta Airlines was the first to introduce basic economy fares a few years ago, and other airlines are now following suit. A basic economy fair is essentially a very cheap flight that comes with none of the perks normally associated with airline travel. This means no ticket changes, no seat selection, limited elite benefits, and even Medallion members who purchase basic economy fares can't be upgraded to preferred seats or first class. Keep a look out for this kind of fare to hit American and United flights in the future.
While this is actually a good thing for budget travelers, you don't want to book one of these by mistake. Make sure sure you double check at booking what fare class the airline puts you in. I've booked plenty of Delta basic economy flights, and while I've seen plenty of warning about the lack of amenities that go along with my ticket, a less-frequent traveler than I might not understand what this means.
Fare wars are bringing down the cost of airline travel.
Due to more efficient planes, cheaper gas, and a few major mergers an acquisitions that have taken place over the past few years that have finally made the airline industry profitable, flying is cheaper than ever before. As most U.S. plane travelers fly infrequently, one way airlines can compete for your business is by driving down the ticket price.
Spirit and Frontier have set the bottom for fares (seriously, I flew for $36 round trip from Chicago to Phoenix non-stop last year), and international airlines like Etihad and Emirates have hit American carriers hard. Expect to see ticket prices go down even more in 2017.
Service is getting better.
Yes, that’s not a typo! Another way airlines compete for customers is by offering better and better service. When the price of a flight is the same across the board, service can be a differentiating factor when it comes to making a choice about which airline to fly. American and United have added snacks back into economy (hello, Biscoff Cookies!), and American is spending millions on its domestic lounge updates. This new and improved focus on service is also due to increased competition from foreign airlines that offer a premium product (see my Etihad Airlines review for comparison, it ain’t no American airline!).
Passengers are earning fewer miles on their flights.
As of today, all three of the big U.S. airlines, American, United and Delta, offer redeemable miles based on the price paid for a ticket and not the mileage flown. This is a big change from how it was in the past. Before August 1, 2016, I could fly a $300 fare on American to Panama City, Panama (or wherever), and earn redeemable miles based on how far I flew. Now, the mileage I earn is based on a multiplier of my base fare (which does not include taxes and fees), significantly reducing the amount of miles I can earn. However, passengers flying expensive, short haul routes, though, may see more miles in their account than in the past.
We're seeing newer planes and nicer seats.
As a part of all this increased competition, airline passengers are getting to enjoy better amenities as they fly. United just unveiled its exciting new Polaris business class seat, Delta just added the privacy of doors to its business class accommodations, and American is set to introduce announced a Premium Economy option soon. All of this is in addition to the buying binge that airlines worldwide have been on over the past decade, and their new planes will finally be coming online soon.
Transportation to and from the airport is getting better and better.
Uber and Lyft are competing heavily for customers domestically, and as a result it feels like I get a 50 percent off promo from both of them on a weekly basis, and Lyft is even adding a rewards program with Starbucks in the future! Now that both ride sharing companies have made nice with airports around the country, you can hail an Uber X or Lyft from the airport to your final destination, which dramatically cuts down on transportation fees. Additionally, many airports are opening or planning to open direct rail transports in the coming years, making the arrival and departure experience that much better. Personally, I can't wait for LAX’s People Mover to arrive in 2023, as traffic in and out of LAX is atrocious.
Hotels are offering up perks for direct booking.
This year, most of the major hotel brands introduced direct booking perks to encourage travelers to make reservations on the hotel's own website, rather than through an online travel agency like Expedia or Travelocity. The perks usually include things like complimentary WiFi for non elites and discounts for elite members that beat out Expedia's pricing.
Private jet travel is actually becoming affordable.
I say this with a grain of salt, as what I'm talking about is not truly private, but many charter jet companies are expanding their offerings to fly a hybrid private/charter service between private hangars on smaller planes. JetSuite X is one major airline that's offering this on the West Coast, and others are following suit. Why fly "private?" No TSA security, free drinks and snacks, and a first class experience, that's why! I’ll actually be posting a review of JetSuite X’s service tomorrow, so stay tuned!
Hotel brands are consolidating.
The hotel industry has seen a number of large acquisitions in the past few years: IHG bought Kimpton, Accor bought Fairmont, and now Marriott is buying Starwood. Just like in the airline industry, this is definitely going to keep happening in the future. While consolidation is usually not great for customers, as it means less competition, the hotel industry is still very fragmented, meaning we probably wont see too many noticeable changes right off the bat. My bet? Expect Hyatt to purchase a brand in 2016 or 2017.
Travel is getting cheaper!
It has never been easier or cheaper to travel! With low fares, cheap airport transportation, and alternative lodging options like airbnb and VRBO, it’s entirely possible to travel the world on a fraction of what it cost in the past.