Making up for lost time: 2021 is gearing up to be an epic year for travel
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Planning a vacation after a pandemic, it turns out, might be a bit like your first night out after a bad break-up. After a period of feeling angry and stressed, you need a release. Maybe you’re tired of moping around, and just want to get back at whoever wronged you by having the best time ever.
It seems many travelers will return to the world after COVID-19 with an equally exuberant sense of vengeance. After all, the pandemic has deprived most of us of something we love. Aren’t you eager to settle the score?
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Despite a devastating economic depression and the loss of nearly a quarter-million jobs around the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many travelers say they’re planning bigger, longer and more over-the-top trips than ever before. Think of it as a kind of vacation retaliation against COVID-19.
It’s a response that, psychologically, makes complete sense.
“Stress … is defined classically as, ‘no way out,'” said clinical psychologist and travel writer Scott Haas. “We were afraid that the trap … was permanent. That’s how our mind works.”
Once the metaphorical “trap is sprung,” Haas explained, and we discover we are free — from, say, a relationship or a global pandemic or another major stressor — “all that pent-up energy explodes.”
Payback time: Longer and more expensive trips
When asked to imagine how their future trips might look different after the world returns to normal (or, at least, something close to it), many travelers said they planned to spend more on longer vacations.
TPG reader Stephanie L., from West Palm Beach, Florida, said she’s done with short two- and three-day-long vacations. “I don’t want to take these [little trips] anymore and be rushing around.”
Instead of “ad hoc” weekend getaways, she’s willing to spend more to tick items off her bucket list as soon as she can (Morocco and New Zealand, for example) because of the uncertainty in life — and the world. “We all just had half of a year of our lives fly by,” she said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
Beth Payne, of Washington, D.C., also said she will “spend more time and money traveling,” and expects her overseas trips to be longer in the future. “I will do what I enjoy and not look to save money,” Payne said. “I won’t put trips off until later.”
Industry experts are noticing the trend, too.
“Many of my clients traveling this year and making plans for 2021 are both spending more money on splurges and are planning longer vacations,” said luxury travel advisor Josh Alexander of Protravel International, a Virtuoso agency. “As soon as more international borders open up and the domestic quarantines ease,” he said, “clients will be traveling all over the world, traveling longer and spending more.”
Even clients who are simply rebooking trips scheduled for 2020, Alexander said, are “typically spending more” than they originally planned “to upgrade their room to a suite [or] book a more expensive hotel.”
In addition to making a trip more luxurious, upgrades make some travelers feel safer and can give them more peace of mind. The decision to pay up stems from wanting more flexible reservations, more space and more privacy (think: business-class seats, private car transfers and hotel suites).
Tour operator Intrepid Travel has seen a 31% increase in web traffic in the last two months for private tours among North American travelers. And in June, the private jet charter company Monarch Air Group reported a 125% year-over-year increase.
Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel company Black Tomato, says concerns about flying are also nudging travelers toward “fewer, longer trips.” And longer trips can automatically drive higher spending.
“[Travelers will] have more time in the destination to add in experiences that they wouldn’t have had time for on a shorter break,” Marchant explained.
Settling the score with points, credits and cash
Though the pandemic has spelled financial disaster for many families, others have found they’re saving money by staying at home, cooking meals and taking advantage of limited-time bonus categories to earn more points and miles.
Now, they’re sitting on a growing stash of points, miles and cash they’re unable to use for trips this year — to say nothing of the travel credits and vouchers from canceled trips — and are itching to redeem their figurative piggy banks for luxurious getaways.
Data from ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) supports this notion. A surge in award searches for aspirational vacation destinations in recent months — with spots like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and, for the first time, the Maldives, taking spots in the top five — spell a notable shift from typical contenders like New York City, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Even the cruise industry, which is largely anticipating that cruisers will stick to shorter, closer-to-home sailings for the foreseeable future, said there’s bottled-up demand for travel.
Jaime Williams, who lives in Oxford, Mississippi, said she’s willing to spend more on longer trips in the future because she has unused and refunded credits, points and cash — and she’s eyeing back-to-back Norwegian Cruise Line sailings next summer from Southampton, England to Reykjavík, Iceland and the reverse for a total of 21 days that would also hit ports in Scotland, Norway and Ireland.
“They’re waking up,” Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, told TPG. “For a while, I think everyone was numb and just kind of paralyzed.” But Garcia says people are beyond the initial shock of the pandemic. Now, they’re frustrated and ready to start living their lives — or at least planning to.
The best revenge is living well
There’s also an element of reprisal that’s led many to call this trending behavior “revenge travel” — a concept, according to the Washington Post, that originated with “revenge spending” in China following the Cultural Revolution.
It’s true, Alexander says, that in addition to “pent-up demand,” many of his clients feel that “2020 deprived them of [their] travel plans.”
Marchant says when travel picks up again, after being stuck at home for so long, “people will certainly value their time away much more,” which could lead to “bigger, blowout trips.”
Heather Leisman, president of luxury train tour operator, Vacations By Rail, says travelers are spending 10% more on upscale train vacations — and not just in the name of safety or security. “As customers plan and book their 2021 vacations [they’re] opting for luxury itineraries … to ‘make-up’ for sacrifices made in 2020,” she said.
So, will the years following the coronavirus pandemic be remembered as a period of travel extravagance? In searching for an answer, Haas reminds me of the old saying: The best revenge is living well.
Though it’s safe to say that most of us would like to demand a refund for 2020, splashing out in 2021 may be the only way to exact revenge for a year that left most of us with nothing but heartbreak, disappointment and a stack of travel credits.
Featured photo by edaimansuhaimi/Twenty20.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees