We’re calling it now: The 20 hottest travel destinations of 2020
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With 2019 rapidly coming to a close, everyone with a thirst for travel and a healthy stash of points and miles is wondering where to go next. So we scoured the planet, reviewed countless reports and surveys, tapped our network of travel experts, studied route maps and hunted for award availability and redemption sweet spots to find your next adventure for the new decade.
The result? A list filled with incredible destinations as close to TPG HQ as Boston and as far away and unfamiliar as Ethiopia.
Whether you want to see a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event or cheer on your favorite Olympians, you can take advantage of new nonstop routes making the world smaller — and loyalty program developments making it possible for travelers to use their hard-earned points and miles in unexpected ways.
We can only try to predict the future, but we bet these destinations will take off, make a comeback or be the most talked-about places on Earth in 2020.
(Travelers who want to scratch entries off the previous to-go list before the end of the year should check out our favorite places to fly in 2019.)
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Río Negro, Argentina
This time next year, travelers and stargazers will have flocked to South America to see a total solar eclipse on Dec. 14. According to NASA, the place with the longest and greatest view of the eclipse will be near the small village of Sierra Colorada, in the Río Negro province of northern Patagonia. The area is famous for glacial lakes and stunning views of the Andes. Nahuel Huapi, the oldest national park in Argentina, and Lanín National Park, closer to the path of totality (the track along which the total eclipse is viewable) should both be on your itinerary.
But there are other reasons to fly to Argentina, which saw American Express cardmember travel increase 35% year over year, even if you don't venture beyond Buenos Aires. The Argentine peso hit a record low this summer (as much as 65 pesos for every dollar), meaning travelers holding U.S. dollars can get great bargains.
Travel tip: For eclipse chasers, the closest airport to the action is San Carlos de Bariloche Airport (BRC), served frequently by Aerolineas Argentinas and LATAM. Start by looking for business-class, saver-level award availability on American Airlines from the U.S. to Buenos Aires. Book two one-way flights rather than rooting around for a round-trip deal, and then fly on to Bariloche. Remember, LATAM and American are effectively ending their partnership on Feb. 1, 2020, but tickets booked before then should keep the same benefits.
Though you'll want to rent a car to explore nearby national parks and position yourself for the eclipse, it's easy to use points for a night or two in the area. Llao Llao Resort, Golf & Spa is a Leading Hotels of the World property, and those with a Platinum Card® from American Express can book through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) for 5x points per dollar spent, along with premium perks including daily breakfast for two, room upgrades depending on availability, late checkout and a complimentary dinner for two. Alternatively, Hampton Inn's first-ever property in Argentina just opened in this lake town, with rooms from $114 or 35,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s tourism economy grew by 48.6% in 2018, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual review. It's the largest leap made by any country in the world and makes Ethiopia — home to the continent's fastest-growing airline and a newly expanded airport — a smart destination for those who like to be at the forefront of a travel movement. Long overshadowed by neighboring Kenya and the nearby hotspots of Egypt and Uganda, Ethiopia has captivated us since it opened up e-visas to travelers of any nationality in 2018 and launched a nonstop flight from Chicago (ORD) to Addis Ababa (ADD).
Major hotel brands are finally flying their flags there, too: In 2019, Hyatt opened its doors, and the Radisson Hotel Bahir Dar will debut in 2021. Travelers flying to Ethiopia in 2020 will experience a country on the verge of an incredible tourism boom, where you can seek out the world's rarest canines in Bale Mountains National Park or brave the sulfurous and Seussian Danakil Depression.
Travel tip: Try Ethiopia first as an extended layover. Ethiopian Airlines provides a free hotel stay and airport transfers to any passengers flying the airline with a connecting layover in Addis Ababa of between eight and 24 hours. Ethiopian will even facilitate your transit visa upon arrival. For economy flights, search on United.com for availability and use United miles to fly this Star Alliance partner (Aeroplan has a slight edge for business-class awards). The airline also offers a fifth-freedom flight out of Newark (EWR) on the way to Addis Ababa (ADD) that stops in Lome, Togo (LFW). Award space on the carrier's flights tends to be wide open in economy, and it's not uncommon to see multiple business-class award tickets as well.
The city that straddles two continents is terrific for 2020, thanks to a sparkling new airport and fantastic award availability from the U.S. The city also boasts multiple points hotels, including the new Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul, Curio Collection by Hilton (from 119 euros, about $130, or 47,000 points per night) and the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus, which welcomed its first guests on Dec. 1 and has rooms from 30,000 points per night on off-peak dates. Six Senses also transformed historic mansions on the Bosporus waterfront for its new Kocatas Mansions property (also open as of Dec. 1) and, thanks to IHG's recent acquisition, travelers can soon book award nights here with IHG Rewards Club points.
Related: Inside the new Istanbul Airport
Travel tip: If you’re lucky, you might be able to snag an award seat on Turkish Airlines' Boeing 787 Dreamliner, complete with a contemporary new business-class product and renowned catering from Do & Co. Start searching through United’s MileagePlus program, but your best booking option is likely through Air Canada’s Aeroplan.
Portugal has it all: terrific food, gorgeous beaches and amazing wine. Now you can add phenomenal flights and business-class award availability to the list. The country’s flag carrier, TAP Portugal, has been announcing new routes between North America and Portugal at a dizzying pace. In June, the airline added nonstop flights from San Francisco (SFO), Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Washington, D.C. (IAD) to its main hub in Lisbon (LIS). And last month, TAP announced new nonstop service to Lisbon from Montreal (YUL), plus nonstop service to Ponta Delgada (PDL) in the Azores from Boston (BOS). Both routes are expected to launch by summer 2020.
Though Lisbon is a convenient gateway, the entire nation continues to ride a wave of increased tourist interest. When Vrbo released its trend report for 2020, Portugal took three of the top five spots on the vacation rental site's list of beach destinations. Expedia saw a spike in demand for travel to Porto (up 55% from 2018), Faro (up 35%) and Lisbon (up 10%), and Virtuoso's network of luxury travel advisors reported 29% increases in bookings to Portugal in 2019.
Related: TAP Air Portugal expands again
Travel tip: TAP Portugal has been known to release up to nine business-class seats for its Star Alliance partners on a single flight — meaning you and the entire family could cross the Atlantic in style — and most popular Star Alliance airlines don't impose fuel surcharges when booking TAP awards.
When you arrive, take the short train ride from Lisbon to the resort region of Cascais, Sintra and Estoril, a historic retreat for royalty known as Portugal’s Riviera. A Ritz-Carlton golf resort in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Penha Longa, is a Category 5 property, so you can score a free night here starting at 30,000 points per night on off-peak dates. In Estoril, Palacio Estoril is an SLH property where you can earn and redeem World of Hyatt points. A free-night award here will set you back 25,000 points — at least until peak- and off-peak pricing goes into effect.
Cape Town, South Africa
There's never a bad time to visit South Africa, but it's easier than ever to get there, now that travelers can fly United's new nonstop from Newark (EWR) to Cape Town (CPT). Available until the end of March 2020, it's the only nonstop flight between the U.S. and Cape Town, and United says the route will save flyers nearly eight hours of travel time round-trip. We've even seen some economy award availability for 40,000 MileagePlus miles each way. If you manage to find business-class saver award space, it’ll cost at least 70,000 United miles each way. Even more good news? United’s vice president of international network, Patrick Quayle, confirmed the route will return next season as well, returning as early as November 2020.
Related: Best credit cards for earning United miles
Travel tip: It may still take a while to get to South Africa from the U.S., but once you're there, hotel points go a long way. Thanks to Marriott’s partnership with Protea Hotels, dozens of properties across the country are bookable, and many require 15,000 points or less per night. For added luxury, TPG senior editor Nick Ewen recommends the Protea Hotel Cape Town North Wharf, where 30,000 Marriott points gets you a one-bedroom apartment minutes from the famed waterfront. For more content related to Cape Town, visit TPG's Cape Town travel hub.
The 2020 Summer Olympics host city has a lot going for it, including terrific award availability after the games. Virtually every U.S. gateway has seen multiple available business and even first-class award seats to Tokyo, and Haneda International (HND) has opened up to numerous new U.S. flights. To accommodate the influx of tourists (an increase of 9 million from 2018), Narita is even building a temporary terminal to cope with the crush arriving for the Olympics.
Watch for exciting hotel debuts from every major brand in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. In the northern Kanto region, The Ritz-Carlton, Nikko opens in May. Marriott loyalists can also look forward to an Edition property in Tokyo. A spring grand opening is expected for the Kimpton Shinjuku for travelers with IHG points, and Hilton Honors members will love the Hilton Okinawa Sesoko Resort, opening in July. In the mountains of Hokkaido, a stunning Park Hyatt will welcome guests in January. If you're more interested in earning points than redeeming them, Japan's third Four Seasons will appear in time for the games at Tokyo at Otemachi.
Travel tip: If your heart isn't set on watching an Olympic sporting event, book your ticket a week after the opening ceremony (Friday, July 24), when airfare is expected to drop 24%. And don't limit yourself to the skyscraper-filled capital. According to Virtuoso travel advisors, bookings are up 42% year over year for trips all over Japan. We love Osaka, Kyoto and Sapporo.
According to American Express, cardmember travel to Kauai, the Garden Isle, is up 39%, meaning it's recovering beautifully after devastating floods and landslides in 2018 wiped out roads, bridges, homes and some of the island's most famous trails. Nearly 14 months later, Kauai reopened its extraordinary North Shore parks, Hāʻena State Park and the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, including the Kalalau Trail.
That's just the beginning of the good news, because Southwest Airlines' foray into Hawaii has made this in-demand leisure destination far more accessible and affordable to travelers all over the U.S. The airline's expansion continues on Jan. 19 and 20, when the low-cost carrier begins flying to Lihue (LIH) on Kauai from California's San Jose (SJC) and Oakland (OAK) airports. New inter-island routes will also connect Kauai with Oahu with four daily round-trip flights.
Travel tip: Southwest award redemptions are tied to the ticket’s price, and its reliably low fares and penchant for celebratory sales when launching new routes is a prime opportunity to use Southwest points for a cheap trip. Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest instantly at a 1:1 ratio or, if you find saver-level award availability on American or Alaska from the West Coast, consider redeeming British Airways Avios. A round-trip flight from gateways like Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA) will only set you back 26,000 Avios — or even less during an Amex Membership Rewards transfer bonus.
Redeem 25,000 Hyatt points per night (or Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred 1:1 to Hyatt) to stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai on the sunny side of the green island, or wait for the Princeville Resort (formerly a St. Regis) to emerge from a metamorphosis into the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay for a serious splurge.
Nearly one decade ago, the Moroccan Department of Tourism announced an ambitious goal: to be one of the top 20 tourist destinations by 2020. The North African nation has made impressive strides, welcoming over 12 million tourists in 2018 — more than all of Central America, according to the World Tourism Organization. Next year, Marrakech will become the first African Capital of Culture.
As if to signal its arrival on the global stage, a flurry of new luxury hotels are cropping up all around Morocco in 2020, including a Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Tamuda Bay, the latter marking the brand's debut in Morocco. (A Ritz-Carlton is opening in Rabat soon, too.) In northwest Morocco, Anantara Al Houara will open in Tangier, a bustling port city on the Strait of Gibraltar linked to Casablanca and Rabat by the first high-speed rail in Africa, which opened in November 2018. The 304-room Hilton Tangier Al Houara Resort & Spa opened on a three-mile stretch of beach in April.
Travel tip: American Airlines launched its first-ever flight to Africa from Philadelphia (PHL) to Casablanca (CMN) this summer. Casablanca is a main hub for Royal Air Maroc, which formally joins Oneworld in 2020. From here, travelers can fly the national flag carrier on multiple daily flights to Tangier. Ryanair recently increased its service from Toulouse (TLS) and Bordeaux (BOD) to Tangier (TNG), and there's word you'll soon be able to take a 10-minute helicopter ride from the Spanish port city of Algeciras to Tangier.
For travelers who have exhausted Western Europe, 2020 is the year to look east, to Poland. Polish Airlines (LOT) will add new nonstop service between New York-JFK and Kraków (KRK) starting May 3, becoming the only carrier to fly nonstop between the two cities. American Airlines has its eyes on Kraków, too, flying here from Chicago O'Hare five times a week on a 787-8 between May 7 and Oct. 23.
These new flights make this charming medieval city an easy alternative to more popular and expensive destinations around Europe. Last year, American Express Travel named Kraków one of the top five emerging summer destinations. It's easy to see why: Kraków is consistently regarded as one of the most affordable cities in Europe for travelers, and it's home to a trio of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, incredibly preserved cobblestone streets and a Gothic skyline of churches and castles.
Travel tip: Aeroplan tends to offer the most reasonable Star Alliance business-class redemptions to and from Europe and imposes minimal fuel surcharges on LOT flights, so book through that program for the best value. Travelers can also take advantage of United's Excursionist Perk to craft a free stopover elsewhere in Europe during a trip to Kraków.
Singapore Airlines still holds the title for the world's longest flight, which relaunched last year from Newark. Now, travelers can also book nonstop flights to the Lion City from San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX) and, most recently, Seattle (SEA). For AvGeeks, there are few places more enticing than Singapore, home to the stunning 10-story Jewel Changi Airport complex at Singapore’s namesake airport (SIN) that opened in April.
The glass-and-steel Jewel is home to the 130-foot-tall Rain Vortex — the world’s largest indoor waterfall — a 1,400-tree forest, its own hotel and more than 280 places shops and restaurants. It's one of the most beautiful airport terminals on Earth and proves Singapore's serious about providing an unforgettable end-to-end travel experience. Believe us, you want to build yourself a long layover here, if only to check out this world-class airport. The sprawling complex connects directly to the arrivals hall of Terminal 1, is a five-to-10-minute walk from terminals 2 and 3 and is even accessible to the general public, as it’s outside of immigration and security.
Travel tip: We've seen excellent saver availability on the world's longest flight, but travelers can also book a paid seat in the premium economy cabin and use 47,000 miles to move up at the saver level, or 70,000 at the Advantage level. (You can also waitlist for your preferred award flight if it's not initially available.) If you can find availability, it’s relatively easy to book award seats with Singapore, since KrisFlyer is a transfer partner with Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou.
We've found discounted premium economy fares selling for $1,171 for almost all of next year — and if you care about United elite status, that may be the easiest way to earn it in 2020. Best of all? Flyers in either cabin can, as of this month, book Singapore's signature inflight dining up to 24 hours before departure. Order the lobster Thermidor.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Over the summer, American Airlines began seasonal service to Kalispell, Montana (FCA), the closest airport to Glacier National Park, from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles and Chicago. As a result of those successes, American added even more flights to airports nearby and announced additional routes in 2020. These routes can be booked from 10,000 to 12,500 American miles each way. Alternatively, a route such as Dallas to Kalispell costs 11,000 British Airways Avios on American at the saver level. The airline will even fly bigger aircraft on two of its existing seasonal routes to Kalispell.
Glacier National Park is perfect for travelers who want to see our planet’s endangered glaciers and stargaze at the world's first Dark Sky Park to span an international border. Many Glacier Road is also receiving much-needed repairs and improvements in the coming years. But don't limit yourself to Glacier National Park. Across the state, Big Sky (near Yellowstone) is making big moves. The Wilson Hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, opened in Big Sky this spring, and is one of the first from a major brand in the area. Big Sky could also have the first five-star, ultraluxury hotel in the entire state when a Montage debuts in 2021.
Travel tip: Don’t forget to grab an $80 annual national park pass. Glacier National Park normally charges a $35 entrance fee per vehicle in the summer ($25 in the winter), so you’re sure to get lots of value from it now that access to this incredible destination is easier than ever.
Canadian Rockies, Canada
Tourism is thriving in the Great White North. Expedia saw tremendous year-over-year growth all across the country, with Canadian cities taking 15 of the top 20 spots this year. In Toronto (up 265%) the W Toronto opens in 2020, along with the country's first Ace and 1 Hotel properties. Calgary (up 385%), is an energetic city at the heart of a massive route expansion. As the closest airport to Banff and a key hub for Jasper National Park, Calgary is the gateway to the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
In June 2020, Air Canada will offer seasonal service between Calgary International (YYC) and Boston. The airline is also connecting Montreal (YUL) and Nashville (BNA), and boosting service on its existing route between Vancouver (YVR) and Newark. Edging the flag carrier out by a month is the low-cost Canadian airline WestJet, which will launch service between Boston and Calgary in May. WestJet will also open its own lounge at Calgary in late summer 2020. It’s WestJet's first proprietary lounge, and will also benefit Delta travelers thanks to the growing kinship between the two airlines.
That's because Delta is entering into a joint venture with WestJet that will allow them to act more or less as a single airline between Canada and the U.S. Already, WestJet has launched new transborder routes from Calgary, including to Delta’s Atlanta (ATL) hub; Portland, Oregon (PDX); and Delta’s focus city in Austin, Texas (AUS). In response, JetBlue is considering adding service to Canada, a country it doesn't serve today.
Travel tip: Flying to Canada can be a great use of airline miles, as many popular destinations aren’t very far from major U.S. cities but can still be pricey. So, if you're not flying Delta, WestJet or Air Canada, travelers can use as few as 7,500 British Airways Avios to fly up to 1,151 miles each direction on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines — thanks to British Airways' distance-based award chart. Alaska's existing route from Calgary to Seattle, for example, is well under 500 miles each way.
US Virgin Islands
Following Hurricane Irma's destruction of St. John and St. Thomas in 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered a second punch when Hurricane Maria (also a Category 5 storm), unleashed its wrath on St. Croix. But the string of jewel-like islands that comprise this U.S. territory are singing their comeback song. Now, travelers can pack their bags (but not their passports) and check in to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, which reopened in late November, or The Westin St. John Resort Villas, which emerged from a stunning renovation early in 2019.
In 2020, the beloved Frenchman's Reef resort on St. Thomas will, reportedly, reopen as a Marriott once again, while the former Morning Star beach resort section of the property will become the first Autograph Collection hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Called Noni Beach, travelers can expect an infinity pool with a swim-up bar overlooking a quarter-mile of beach.
Travel tip: Both Delta and American have expanded their Caribbean networks through new codeshare partnerships with Silver Airways. For Delta, flights to St. Thomas (STT) and St. Croix (STX) are included, and though Delta frequent flyers cannot earn miles on codeshare segments, St. Croix is finally on Delta’s map. On Dec. 21, American will launch Saturday-only flights to St. Thomas from DFW and Chicago O’Hare (ORD). If you want to head to the Caribbean in a lie-flat seat, use your miles to make it happen in 2020.
U.S. airlines are increasing service to major cities across India, but it's Mumbai that's caught our eye. Delta is returning to India this winter, launching nonstop flights between New York-JFK and Mumbai (BOM), and United resumed nonstop flights between the U.S. and Mumbai on Sept. 6, 2019, after a temporary stop. It’s also one of the destinations where your dollar will go the furthest right now, making it great for travelers on a tight budget.
If you choose to hang around in Mumbai, the Soho House Mumbai remains the place to be seen, but travelers will have a new upscale option with the 2020 opening of The Chedi (likely to join Amex FHR). And the long-rumored W and Ritz-Carlton hotels planned for Mumbai are still underway, according to Forbes India. Popular points hotels are also popping up all over the nation. The First Tribute Portfolio hotel opened in Kochi in 2019, the Hilton Goa Resort began taking reservations on Dec. 1 and the Grand Hyatt Gurgaon opens in 2020.
Travel tip: If you can find availability on Delta's nonstop flight, you can book a Delta One Suite to India for as few as 60,000 miles through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club, though this can drop even lower during one of Amex's regular transfer bonuses. Virgin also doesn't add fuel surcharges, so you only pay taxes, which come to about $42 on a round-trip itinerary.
Boston, long overshadowed by New York City, is finally asserting itself as a crucial city for international travelers. With new flights coming from American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta and Europe-based Level, Boston Logan is poised to overtake Miami (MIA) and Washington Dulles in terms of number of seats to Europe. By 2020, Boston could be the third-largest gateway to Europe on the East Coast.
At the same time, Boston is shaking off its reputation as a city overrun by college students. Over 2,200 hotel rooms have been added in the past year, with more than 2,700 more to open by 2021. Among them? Wynn Resort's new Encore Boston Harbor casino and a Hyatt Place in the Seaport District. A Raffles and new Omni are also underway.
Travel tip: Until these new hotels open, take advantage of one of the great points properties already in Beantown. A few of our favorites include the Kimpton Nine Zero and the Ames Boston Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. Travelers can also watch out for new nonstop Acela service between New York-Penn Station and Boston South Station, though this won't happen until 2021 at the earliest.
Sweden has never been particularly affordable for Americans, but the Swedish krona has continued to stumble throughout the year, making it easier for travelers with U.S. dollars to catch a break. Deals can also be found on airfare, as prices are down by nearly 13% percent since 2018, according to farecasting app Hopper. Take advantage of the bargains by bringing the entire family to this vast nation next year. It's a destination everyone will enjoy, and parents can likely take advantage of the recurring kids fly free deal from Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), now called Travelers Start Young. When available, SAS allows up to eight kids, ages 11 and under, to fly free on SAS from the U.S. to Scandinavia with the purchase of a paid adult ticket — you only pay taxes and fees.
Discover a host of fun things to do when you land in Stockholm, including museums that are free for kids 18 and under. Before the end of 2020, a new marine archeological museum called Vrak — Museum of Wrecks, will open its doors in a boathouse.
Travelers can also save by using a Marriott 35,000-point free night certificate in Stockholm, where it's much easier to redeem than in other European cities. Nobis Hotel Stockholm, for example, is a member of Design Hotels and, thanks to a partnership with Marriott, qualifies for a free night with one of these certificates on standard dates. Of course, you can always earn points by splashing out at one of Sweden's forthcoming luxury hotels: Villa Dagmar, a Preferred Hotels & Resorts property in Stockholm, and the much-anticipated floating Arctic Bath hotel and spa in Swedish Lapland.
Travel tip: While many domestic airline programs have made premium cabin awards increasingly expensive on miles, there’s still a great way to fly to Sweden in style using Amex Membership Rewards points from cards such as the American Express® Green Card and American Express® Gold Card transferred to All Nippon Airways (ANA). With that frequent-flyer program, you can book an award ticket to Sweden and relax in a lie-flat business-class seat on a Star Alliance carrier, such as SAS, for as few as 88,000 points and reasonable taxes round-trip. Be aware, ANA requires round-trip award tickets, so you'd need to find availability in both directions.
The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
East Cape, Mexico
Luxury hotels continue to appear on a dreamy stretch of coast between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas referred to by some (developers, mostly) as the Golden Corridor of Los Cabos. Among them, the Waldorf Astoria Pedregal (available from 120,000 Hilton points per night for a standard king room), which debuted this year, and Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (you won't be able to earn or redeem any Marriott points here).
But for hoteliers — and travelers always sniffing out the hottest new destination — it's the untrod East Cape that still feels undiscovered (for a heartbeat, at least). It's here the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas opened in October and where travelers can expect Amanvari to drop its flag in 2020. Unlike most Los Cabos resorts, the East Cape properties boast swimmable beaches.
Travel tip: To support massive demand from tourists, airlines are doubling down on Los Cabos. Calgary-based WestJet offers weekly seasonal service between Calgary and Los Cabos (SJD) until April 18, 2020, and American announced new weekend service between Austin (AUS) and Los Cabos on Saturdays and Sundays from May 9.
The Albanian Riviera
Charming villages and some of the few remaining unspoiled beaches in Europe are luring travelers to Albania, a less-touristed answer to Croatia and Italy located on the Balkan Peninsula. But new hotel and aviation developments could send tourists to the sandy shores of the Ionian Sea in droves. On the 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index from the World Economic Forum, Albania jumped 12 spots from 2017 — one of the most improved countries on the list.
Air Albania launched in September 2018, flying the Albanian flag for the first time since the former national airline folded in 2011. That same month, the first Hilton opened in the capital city of Tirana. Major brands continue to lay the groundwork for an impending tourism upswing: Hyatt is developing a property in the capital, too, as is Meliá, a Spanish brand with a forthcoming property in Tirana (2021) and a resort in Durres, on the coast (2020).
Albania is especially great for U.K.-based travelers seeking affordable, round-trip, business-class fares. TPG U.K. contributor Daniel Ross bought a cheap return business-class fare with British Airways to Albania for around 240 pounds ($316), earning a massive 160 Tier points — a quarter of what you need annually to gain or retain status. Whatever you do, just get there before everyone else figures out where you've gone.
Travel tip: Once in Europe, travelers can fly EasyJet's first-ever flight to Albania, which launches May 1, 2020, between London Gatwick (LGW) and Tirana International (TIA). Rent a car and enjoy the scenic drive along the coast to the Riviera.
Fernando de Noronha Island, Brazil
Fernando de Noronha Island, Brazil, is a tiny isle with 3,000 residents and strict environmental regulations severely limiting tourism. That makes it an exceptional spot for scuba diving and desirable to travelers turned off by thick crowds and overly developed destinations. But Fernando de Noronha Island, once largely unheard of, is now appearing in headlines. For travelers seeking out the still-undiscovered corners of the globe, this could be the last opportunity to see the South Atlantic paradise before construction projects forever transform the turquoise waters and rocky islets.
Traveling to Brazil got easier in 2019, as the country officially dropped visa requirements for U.S. citizens entering the country. Perhaps as a result, Expedia saw significant demand for Fortaleza (up 35%), Iguazu Falls (10%) and São Paulo (also 10%) — the latter is getting a Rosewood in 2020. And though LATAM and American are ending their partnership, a codeshare between Delta and LATAM’s Brazilian and Chilean subsidiaries, its primary operating carriers, is expected in 2020. American is now reportedly in discussions with Brazilian carrier Gol over a new partnership, and United is still working toward an expansive partnership with Avianca, Copa Airlines and, possibly, Brazilian carrier Azul.
Travel tip: A new nonstop link to Brazil began on Dec. 16, when Azul began flying between Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte (CNF), one of the gateways to Fernando de Noronha Island (FEN). Starting in 2020, American will increase frequency on its Miami (MIA) to São Paulo route (GRU), and we recently saw round-trip, business-class flights to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) from New York-JFK for under $1,200. Plan far enough in advance, and you may be able to take advantage of an airpass to fly a certain number of flights within Brazil over a set time frame for a fixed price. We've even found availability to Fernando de Noronha.
Everyone’s talking about Australia right now, thanks in part to Qantas’s Project Sunrise, which hopes to one day bring nonstop flights from New York City and London to Australia’s East Coast. Travel all across the continent is on the rise, with cities seeing a 5% to 20% increase in travelers, according to Expedia. But in 2020, Perth — long a less congested and more affordable alternative to Sydney and Melbourne — may be the hottest city in the Land Down Under. The 100th Ritz-Carlton property opened in November and promises to lure luxury travelers. Tribe, the new brand from AccorHotels, debuted here, too.
Travel tip: We're years away from booking regular seats on a nonstop Qantas flight from New York to Australia, but now is a great time to fly the national airline. Qantas has added new partners (Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airline) and made changes to its frequent-flyer program. The airline plans to lower prices for economy-class redemptions by as much as 10%, and promises to increase the award seats available on Qantas- and partner-operated flights, including up to 30% more premium-cabin seats. Plus, there's no arguing that using miles to fly all the way to Australia basically catapults you to the head of the points-and-miles class.
Additional reporting by Nick Ewen, Ben Mutzabaugh and Summer Hull.
All images by Orli Friedman and Wyatt Smith.