Our favorite ways that travel companies are giving back during the time of coronavirus

May 15, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic that’s currently raging in every corner of the globe has slowed travel — both domestic and international — nearly to a halt.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates.

Predictably, this has resulted in many airplanes flying with fewer than 10 passengers on board, hundreds of thousands of empty hotel rooms and travelers everywhere scrambling to postpone or cancel trips altogether.

While the industry is pausing, many travel brands are doing what they can to contribute to the worldwide effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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Here are some examples of how travel companies are helping healthcare workers, doctors and others who are fighting on the front lines every day to get the pandemic under control.

In This Post

Showing support

Hyatt has teamed up with American Airlines to say “thank you” to healthcare workers who have been battling the spread of the coronavirus in the world’s hardest-hit region: New York City. The two travel giants are providing free vacations to the 4,000+ workers at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst hospital. Each worker — from doctors and nurses to food-service employees and cleaning staff — will receive a three-night stay at select hotels across the U.S. and Caribbean, along with free round-trip airfare from American Airlines.

The pool at The Confidante Miami Beach. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Hyatt’s CEO, Mark Hoplamazian, said “We are humbled by the healthcare workers’ dedication to saving lives. Now it’s our turn to take care of them like members of our own family, and we look forward to making their stays special when they are able to take a hard-earned break.”

Healthcare workers in New York have been battling the pandemic for months and for several weeks were faced with overloaded hospitals and insufficient levels of personal protective equipment. In a further show of support, Hyatt is extending its Friends and Family rate to healthcare workers for stays through June 30, 2021. To qualify, you can input the code THANKYOU at the time of booking, and should be prepared to provide information about your position in healthcare, and then be able to verify your employment in healthcare at check-in.

Many Marriott properties around the world — such as the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina below — are displaying messages of love and encouragement to workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus as well as those who are quarantined in their homes. You can see messages from hotels all over by searching the hashtag #MarriottStrong on social media.

(Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Many IHG properties worldwide have also joined in boosting morale, including this property in the United Arab Emirates below. Social media users are sharing photos of these properties with the hashtag #lightsoflove:

(Photo courtesy of IHG)
(Photo courtesy of IHG)

The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach, one of the most iconic properties in Honolulu thanks to its imposing twin towers, lit up 54 rooms across 30 floors to spell out “Aloha,” the Hawaiian greeting that also implies love, peace and compassion.

(Photo courtesy of Hyatt)
(Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Wyndham Rewards is offering instant, complimentary Gold status to essential workers, including those in health care, truck and delivery drivers, warehouse, construction and sanitation workers, and grocery associates. This offer is available to both new and existing Wyndham Rewards members, and you can sign up instantly at www.wyndhamrewards.com/heroes through Sept. 30, 2020. The complimentary status is valid through Dec. 31, 2021.

Southwest Airlines shared a heartwarming post with a tribute to healthcare workers who were traveling from Atlanta to New York City to help the country’s hardest-hit city. The passengers were photographed smiling and holding up hearts — a signature symbol of Southwest — formed with their hands. Despite having practically no demand for flights, the country’s airlines are stepping up to transport healthcare professionals to the areas around the nation that need help the most.

A few days later, Southwest employees were at it again. The airline reported that employees from many of its stations around the country were “donating their time, their machines, their skills, their fabric …” to sew masks for hospital workers and nursing homes.

Uber, the ride-hailing giant, has several initiatives underway to support to people affected by the pandemic, from restaurant owners to front-line health care workers. Its food-delivery arm, UberEats, has rolled out a feature within the app that allows people to donate to their favorite restaurants. UberEats will match dollar-for-dollar donations up to $3 million and has already donated $2 million to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.

Uber is also providing food deliveries for healthcare workers, seniors and other people in need, and says it’s already provided 300,000 free meals to first responders. Uber also partnered with Feeding America and its nationwide network of food banks to deliver meals. 

Another ride-hailing platform, Via, has partnered with Genuine Foods, a “high-volume, high-quality food service provider,” to help deliver on-demand emergency meal kits to Washington, D.C. charter school students. The new service launched on April 15, and Via drivers were able to deliver over 170 meals to more than 70 families in the D.C. area in a single day.

Rosewood Hotel Group has launched a new initiative — Rosewood Raise — to support the chain’s employees and the communities that have been affected by the coronavirus crisis. According to a Rosewood spokesperson, the initiative “is made of both a brand-wide associate relief fund, as well as property-driven efforts in support of the [Rosewood] Group’s local communities – ranging from the donation of hotel rooms to meal preparation and delivery for essential workers. The Group is now calling on guests, visitors, employees and friends of the brand to lend a hand and donate to the associate relief fund.”

Providing accommodations

As people have essentially stopped traveling, many hotels and vacation-rental properties across the nation are sitting vacant. But many companies in the lodging industry have taken action to help front-line workers.

Related: Complete guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak

Many of the initiatives come from individual companies and independent hotels.

One of the Big Apple’s finest hotels, for example, the Four Seasons New York, has closed to guests and is currently not taking reservations, according to its website. The hotel is providing free accommodations — in rooms that regularly command upward of $1,000 per night — for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are working in New York hospitals. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo highlighted the hotel in a recent tweet and thanked the property for stepping up to help those working to combat this crisis.

(Image courtesy of the Four Seasons New York)

The mayor of London has worked with two IHG hotels in his city to secure rooms for the city’s homeless people, who are some of the most at-risk people for contracting COVID-19. The more than 300 rooms will be used to ensure that those sleeping on the streets can self-isolate to help stop the spread of the disease.

(Photo by onurdongel/Getty Images)

Vacation rental platform Airbnb announced a plan to house up to 100,000 healthcare personnel, emergency responders and relief workers in either free or subsidized housing throughout its network.

Airbnb hosts can volunteer their properties to be used in this program, and those properties will have to “follow new cleanliness protocols based on recommendations from medical experts,” according to a statement from Airbnb.

On April 6, 2020, Hilton and American Express announced a new partnership to donate 1 million free nights in select Hilton hotels for medical professionals around the U.S.

Red Roof, one of the biggest names in economy lodging, is donating rooms at participating properties to those fighting the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and other emergency personnel, through May 31, 2020.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) introduced a new initiative called Hotels for Hope, which is working to create a nationwide database of hotels that state and local governments can use to match available hotels to healthcare workers who need lodging.

Best Western Hotels and Resorts has launched its “Because We Care” campaign, which is meant to “encourage hoteliers to give back and to shine a light on stories of hope, resilience and positivity in local communities across the country.” As part of the program, select hoteliers have offered free nights to hospital workers, donated supplies of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, provided shower caps to local hospitals and more, according to a Best Western spokesperson.

Karisma Hotels and Resorts, which operates such properties as Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Punta Cana has launched its “Holidays for Heroes” campaign, which will provide free, four-night all-inclusive stays to 150 to essential workers and their families (up to five people), as a gesture of gratitude for the nonstop work they’ve all put in to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. If you’re an essential worker, you can nominate yourself, or nominate someone that’s gone above and beyond during this crisis here.

Assisting essential workers

Crews prepare a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 (Registration G-VBOW) with Rolls Royce engines at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. © 2019 Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy
(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy)

The United Kingdom’s government-funded health system, known as the National Health Service (NHS), has called on the furloughed cabin crews of both Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet to put their advanced CPR and medical training to work in fighting the pandemic.

These volunteers can assist doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at the new hospitals the NHS has set up specifically for treating COVID-19 patients. All volunteers and paid staff who are assisting in the government effort will receive free meals and free accommodations at nearby hotels.

In the U.S., Delta Air Lines flew 500,000 surgical masks to nurses and doctors in Michigan, and the airline also sent face shields manufactured by Delta Flight Products to New York and Atlanta hospital workers.

The Parking Spot, one of the nation’s largest airport parking providers, is offering free parking to healthcare workers at all of its 37 locations serving 22 airports around the nation through May 12, 2020. If you’re a healthcare worker and need to travel in response to the coronavirus, simply download The Parking Spot app, register for the Spot Club loyalty program (make sure to use your official healthcare email address), enter the promo code HHERO6918 and then, when you’re ready to park, simply scan the QR code generated by the app upon entry and exit.

Via, a tech-driven public transit company, is providing essential health \care workers in Washington D.C. with $3 flat-rate rides on-demand after 9 p.m. when public transit is limited. This initiative is in partnership with the city’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles (DFHV). Together, they have “transformed and repurposed the existing D.C. Neighborhood Connect service in just a matter of days to provide exclusive and affordable rides for these workers to and from work,” according to Via. The service zone was also expanded to include all of D.C. and parts of Maryland to ensure access for workers across the region. 

Egencia, Expedia Group’s business travel arm, is offering a new program to frontline health workers called “Egencia Helping Healthcare,” which is a free service that will help those traveling to coronavirus hotspots find hotels if they need to be isolated or stay close to places at which they’re assisting. According to a spokesperson for Egencia, the program will offer “healthcare and other service providers three months of free travel management services, including waived transaction and onboarding fees, access to special healthcare hotel rates with an average saving of up to 30% per night and 24-hour customer service in over 30 languages.”

Collecting points and miles for donation

Hilton has set up several ways for Honors members to donate points: to the World Central Kitchen, Clean the World, Project Hope or Direct Relief. If you donate, your points will be converted to cash to be donated to the organization you choose.

(Photo courtesy of the Hotel Revival)
(Photo courtesy of the Hotel Revival)

Chicago-based Hyatt has set up the Hyatt Care Fund, which will distribute proceeds to Hyatt employees “with the most pressing financial needs due to loss of income,” according to a Hyatt spokesperson. It will be fully funded by temporary reductions in executive salaries.

The world’s largest hotel chain, Marriott, has also set up a donation platform for members to donate their Bonvoy points to several organizations including World Central Kitchen, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Marriott International Disaster Relief Fund. The points that you donate will be converted to cash and then sent to the organization that you choose.

Dubai-based Emirates Airline has said that its “Emirates Skywards members have donated 132 million Skywards Miles which are helping more than 90,000 people receive medical care and other humanitarian aid.”

Keeping communities fed

Hyatt’s Hotel Revival, a Joie de Vivre Hotel in Baltimore, is making its kitchen available to chefs and restaurants in the Baltimore area who no longer have spaces to cook in because of the business closures. They will be able to use the kitchen to operate takeout food businesses while the shutdown continues.

Delta Air Lines has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food from its Sky Clubs to hospitals, community food banks and other organizations around the world. It is also donating perishable and nonperishable items from onboard service and unused food from its Sky Club lounges.

Related: Delta donates 200,000 pounds of Sky Club food for coronavirus relief

In London, the Kimpton Fitzroy London hotel is serving complimentary breakfast or lunch at its restaurant, Burr & Co. London, to National Health Service (NHS) workers, emergency services teams, service industry employees and residents.

After closing all 37 of its ski resorts, Vail Resorts has donated more than 50,000 pounds of food to 30 local food banks, schools, and community organizations in the communities in which it has properties.

Free transportation

Air Canada recently announced plans to reconfigure the cabins of three of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to increase cargo capacity. These planes are transporting critical medical equipment and other vital supplies across Canada. The first conversion is complete and already in service and the airline plans to operate 20 all-cargo flights per week.

Air Canada reconfigured Boeing 777-300ER aircraft
The newly configured cabin of this Air Canada B777-300ER is quite a sight to see. (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)

Gov. Cuomo of New York tweeted on March 25 that JetBlue would be providing free flights to medical workers en route to New York to help battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Delta is also offering free flights to medical volunteers heading to heavily affected areas of the country.

Car rental giant Hertz is assisting the relief effort by making free, monthlong rentals available to healthcare workers through April 30, 2020. You’ll need to prove you are a healthcare worker with a valid medical ID, provide an email address with a healthcare domain and show a valid driver’s license before booking a car for as little as a week and up to a month.

Sign with logo at the headquarters of car-sharing technology company Uber in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood of San Francisco, California, with red vehicle visible in the background parked on Market Street, October 13, 2017. SoMa is known for having one of the highest concentrations of technology companies and startups of any region worldwide. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Uber is providing 10 million free rides to healthcare workers, the elderly and others in need of assistance during the pandemic.

Outdoorsy, an RV rental and outdoor experiences company, is gifting free three-day, two-night RV rentals to healthcare heroes for each RV booked now through June 30, 2020. In addition to the free accommodation, recipients will also be gifted an annual membership to Harvest Hosts, a membership club for RVers and a gift card to cover the costs to stay at Kampgrounds of America, the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds.

“The CDC has said spending time outdoors can improve overall health and wellness, so to thank our healthcare heroes for the sacrifices they’re making now, we want to gift them peace of mind for later,” said Jennifer Young, Outdoorsy’s co-founder and CMO.

So, if you know a healthcare worker who would love a road trip to recharge be sure to nominate them through the Outdoorsy website. Each week a new healthcare worker will be selected as the nominations and bookings roll in.

Making passenger flights safer

Although most people aren’t traveling right now, airlines are still operating limited schedules for those who have to travel. Many airlines have implemented new policies to help limit the spread of coronavirus as much as possible, beyond enhanced cleaning procedures.

Delta has blocked middle seats, paused automatic upgrades for Medallion members and reduced passenger capacity on each flight. This way, flight crews can better ensure passengers are seated with as much space between them as possible since close contact contributes to the spread of COVID-19.

Alaska Airlines has also implemented new onboard safety measures. Flights shorter than 350 miles will no longer have food and beverage service and passengers will receive individually packaged drinks and snacks on longer flights. Like Delta, Alaska Airlines has blocked middle seats (and aisle seats on smaller aircraft) through the end of May. First-class seats have also been capped at 50%.

American Airlines has started blocking 50% of middle seats as part of a “relaxed seating policy,” and has adjusted in-flight food and beverage service.

Bottom line

As the travel industry reels from this crisis, many major travel brands are stepping up to contribute what they can to the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus and provide assistance to medical workers and others on the front line of this pandemic. It’s evidence that if we all do what we can — however small that gesture may seem — we can defeat this pandemic and get back to doing the thing we love most: traveling.

Featured image of the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana by Summer Hull / The Points Guy

Additional reporting by Emily McNutt, Madison Blancaflor and Liz Hund.

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