10 years of The Points Guy – 10 big changes in travel in the past decade
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The Points Guy was launched 10 years ago in June of 2010. It’s been a decade of dramatic change in the business and of dramatic growth for TPG.
Here’s just some of the areas of change we’ve seen in the past 10 years:
- The debut of bigger airports and airport makeovers
- New airplane technology and improvements, new liveries and new uniforms
- Massive devaluations of loyalty programs
- Tougher qualification requirements for status, with spend and travel requirements
- Elimination of many airline award charts
- Major mergers of airlines and hotels and other industry consolidation, including plane manufacturers
- The spread of lie-flat business-class seats, and the growth of premium-economy cabins. And as much as we’d like to, who can forget the rollout of basic economy?
- The installation of Wi-Fi across fleets
- We’ve also watched credit card companies make it harder to open multiple credit cards for bonuses. Consumers have had to become much smarter.
- Then there are the travel trends we’ve covered, including the rise of some locations that have become new travel hotspots, while others are no longer so hot.
The Points Guy has survived two major recessions and stock market crashes, seen two very different presidential administrations, and watched the world grapple with global warming and climate change.
We were scooped up by a new parent company, Red Ventures, that enabled us to grow and expand our wings. And they’ve been there for us when travel took a big hit this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world.
And who can forget the march of social media taking over the world? Here’s TPG’s first tweet!
Here’s a look back at what we’ve seen as we look forward to another decade of helping you maximize your travel and see the world.
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Bigger, Better Airports
From brand spanking new airports like Beijing Daxing or Istanbu New Airport (IST) to the remarkable new amenities of airports like Singapore’s Changi Airport, airports around the world have had a massive growth spurt in the past decade.
In the U.S., the story hasn’t been as robust, but in the last few years, several have begun offering at least some competition.
Back in September of 2019 I toured the glorious new additions to Changi Airport in Singapore. The centerpiece of the redone airport is the Jewel — the world’s largest indoor waterfall. TPG’s Ethan Steinberg wrote about it here.
American airports are trying to keep up, with all three New York-area airports getting makeovers — a new concourse at LGA amidst a huge renovation, a major facelift for JFK, and a new terminal at Newark.
New Planes and Technology
TPG’s Special Projects Editor, Alberto Riva, wrote about all the major changes in the aviation industry during this decade, especially the rise of the twin-engine long-haul aircraft. The debut of the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 — in 2011 and 2015, respectively — cemented the supremacy of twinjets. Both of those models offer greater comforts for passengers than previous airplanes, including higher cabin pressure and humidity, which help reduce fatigue and jet lag. They’re also quieter than previous airplanes, with lower fuel burn and emissions. The capabilities of those new jets are staggering: the A350 can fly 19 hours and 10,000 miles between Singapore and New York, the world’s longest nonstop flight.
We’ve also seen the sad demise of the jumbo jet. Back in 2019, Airbus announced it was ceasing construction of the now famous double decker A380 airplane after just a decade of construction. Once hailed as the future of travel, the jumbo couldn’t compete with longer-flying, more efficient twin-engine jets. Airbus will cease deliveries of the A380 in 2021.
Other new technology has struggled. Notably the problems with Boeing 737 Max jets. An ongoing problem that has yet to be fully resolved.
Airplane innovations aren’t only on the inside. Airlines change logos and liveries from time to time, typically at intervals measured in several decades — so when a major airline changes its corporate identity, it’s a big deal. It certainly was in 2013, when American Airlines rolled out its new logo and aircraft paint scheme. When American invited TPG to have an advance look at the new identity, we liked it, but others — for example, airline pilot and TPG contributor Patrick Smith — were not pleased.
Possibly no livery change was as radical as Spirit’s. The largest ultra-low-fare airline in the U.S. went in 2014 from pretty normal to very, very striking. Whatever you think of Spirit, you’re not going to miss its bright yellow planes when you are at the airport.
Many other airlines redesigned their liveries, some introducing a deeply revised color scheme — looking at you, Air Canada — and others making less profound tweaks, like United and Southwest in the U.S. and Lufthansa in Europe.
A trend that emerged in the past decade has been the addition of the airline’s logo to the belly of airplanes, which went hand in hand with the rising popularity of digital cameras with powerful zooms enabling people to easily photograph airplanes overhead. Emirates pioneered the trend, which spread to the U.S. with Delta adopting it in 2015.
Throughout the decade, the Internet has enabled the growth of aviation-geek culture, something you’ll often see referred to on this site when we use the hashtag #avgeek — a worldwide badge of recognition for people who share a passion for aviation. Airlines have been quick to understand the marketing potential of catering to #avgeek tastes, for example staging ceremonies to salute the retirement of historically important airplanes. They’ve also introduced retro liveries, painting one or more aircraft in the colors of decades ago — a throwback that pleases aviation enthusiasts, and more importantly, generates millions of social media hits for essentially no cost.
This is a subject fraught with controversy. Several airlines rolled out new uniforms including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines that were met with mixed fashion reviews, but really big pushback from flight attendants.
Delta for example rolled out new uniforms just two years ago that they are already redesigning because employees who have had complaints about health issues, among other concerns.
That came after the Zac Posen-designed looks from 2016.
American Airlines rolled out new uniforms in 2016 that were also met with health concerns. The airlines have been mostly unable to find problems in internal testing, but it’s an ongoing issues with a minority of flight attendants.
United is in the middle of a major update to its uniforms as well rolling out nationally this year.
Ugly Changes to Loyalty Programs
The thing I’ve hated the most this past decade is the dramatic changes to airline and hotel loyalty programs. I’m especially frustrated with spend requirements, and how the airlines make it harder and harder to qualify for elite status. Airlines have also gone through round after round of devaluations, and many of them have pulled award charts and moved toward dynamic pricing. Many hotel programs have also had big devaluations and have added spend requirements. Ethan Steinberg wrote about all the changes in another post on changes to loyalty programs here.
Goodbye award charts
One of the most frustrating changes of the past decade has been the disappearance of award charts. American Airlines appears to be the latest airline set to ditch its charts.
On May 19, we were first with the news that AA had removed one of its well-loved award search tools. Under the old search tool, you could easily see what type of award was on offer (ideally Saver Award Availability). That’s gone now, and it may be a precursor of award charts disappearing entirely.
Before AA decided to remove this useful search engine, you could easily check what type of award you were booking. After all, it was designed when award charts were still alive and well.
Unfortunately, the leader of the pack per usual on changes was Delta Air Lines. Delta was the first to ditch award charts removing published award charts back in 2015. Delta was the first major U.S. airline to shift to more dynamic pricing of award tickets.
Not to be left out, United Airlines followed Delta’s lead by removing award charts for its own flights back in 2019, and switching to dynamic award pricing. It’s just one of many anti-customer moves by United in the past few years.
There is some good news still when it comes to award charts. Alaska Air still has award charts and we’ve written extensively about some of the sweet spots. You can even still have a stopover on some Alaska itineraries.
There’s also lots of good international carriers that still have award charts. Here’s a list of some of the good deals you can find using award charts.
Among the biggest changes were the giant mega-mergers that have shaken up the commercial aviation industry. The decade began withthe combination of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, initiated in 2008 and completed in 2010, the same year that Southwest bought AirTran (and turned over some of the latter’s jets to Delta, which is still flying them.) United took over Continental later that same year. In 2013, we saw the merger of U.S. Airways and American Airlines, and most recently, the merger of Alaska Airlines with Virgin America.
And that’s just U.S. carriers. Elsewhere, two huge airlines were produced by mergers during the past decade. British Airways and Iberia united in 2010 to form IAG, which now includes Aer Lingus, Level and Vueling. Two years later, the biggest airline in South America was born when LAN and TAM merged into LATAM. And we might see more airline mergers soon, as carriers hit hard by the demand slump due to the pandemic combine to survive.
Mergers happened among planemakers, too. In 2018, Airbus bought the C Series program from Canada’s Bombardier, which is why the jets that began life as the Bombardier CS100 and CS300 are now the Airbus A220-100 and 300. That’s the name you’ll hear when flying these new-fangled, very comfortable jets with Delta and Air Canada and soon JetBlue too.
During the decade. Airbus began making airplanes in the U.S. too. The quintessentially European company, based in France, now assembles some of its jets in Mobile, Alabama. You might find yourself about one of those European / American hybrids when flying with several U.S. carriers; all the big ones except Southwest are now Airbus customers.
Lie-Flat Business Class
The end of the decade also coincides with nearly all long-haul carriers going to fully lie-flat business-class seating, a process that took many years.
In TPG’s lifetime as a news site, we’ve seen biz class morph into the new first class, too — not only with lie-flat seats, but also with direct aisle access for every passenger and suites featuring closing doors. While suites in biz class are still relatively rare, seat layouts offering aisle access for everybody such as 1-2-1 or United’s 1-1-1 on some aircraft are now the standard for all best business products.
One of the best trends in airline cabins is the spread of premium-economy seating. Airlines are increasingly offering these special cabins especially internationally. Bigger seats, nicer cutlery, amenity kits and better food are among the perks. Dia Adams wrote, “One of the biggest trends in aviation is the evolution of premium economy, which can mean anything from just extra legroom to a dedicated cabin with its own standards of hard and soft product.” Adams asked if these premium-economy upgrades were worth it. Her answers are here.
While more space is always a given in premium economy, better service is not. Possibly because premium economy is still relatively new, many airlines do not quite seem to have figured out how to differentiate it from plain old coach class.
Don’t be basic. Many consumers are ignoring that advice and booking the relatively new basic economy fares. JetBlue just became the latest carrier to create this “new” fare class stripped of perks. Southwest is now the only U.S. carrier without basic economy. TPG travel analyst Zach Griff wrote about the phenomenon last year:
“In order to better compete with the ultra-low cost carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit (and simply generate more revenue), the airlines have gotten creative. Thanks to basic economy fares, the mainline carriers have more closely matched the fares of low-cost carriers by stripping out many of the inclusions you’d typically get with a regular economy ticket.”
Check out Zach’s complete guide to basic here:
New Fees For Everything
Continuing a trend that began in the aughts, airlines expanded charging fees for just about everything (not for bathrooms yet) and “unbundling” fares. That allowed them to make more money and gave, at least the pretense, of lower fares. TPG reporter Victoria Walker, wrote about just how much U.S. airlines are bringing in (think billions) and how to avoid these fees here.
Wi-Fi, Glorious Wi-Fi
You’ll now find inflight Wi-Fi on most major U.S. airlines, and it’s good service, as well. American, Delta and United all offer mostly reliable connections with American and Delta getting the most props from seasoned travelers. New planes and new technology means Wi-Fi speeds are improving too. Alaska Airlines plans to have fast Wi-Fi on nearly all its planes by the end of 2020. JetBlue has rolled out Wi-Fi on its entire fleet, though some complain about its capabilities. Same story with Southwest. Most major international carriers lag behind the U.S. airlines. Notable exceptions are Icelandair, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic.
Credit Card Crackdowns
You know the dreaded language from Chase suggesting you can’t have opened more than five new credit cards in the past two years and still be eligible for new Chase cards and the big sign-up bonuses: It’s what’s known as 5/24. Many issuers now have limits on the number of cards and accounts you can have, and how often you can apply. The days of opening up to eight of the same kind of card on the same day are firmly in the past. Some issuers are even clawing back bonuses in crackdowns on what they call “churning.”
But there’s also been great news along with the challenges including bigger sign-up bonuses like the now-legendary Chase Sapphire Reserve card debut. Ethan Steinberg recently compiled a list of all the top bonuses here.
Hot new destinations
Now this is perhaps the most subjective part of covering the travel space over the past decade. What’s hot, and what’s not is really so personal. We have, however, been coming up with some of the most popular destinations or places The Points Guy thinks you should put on your bucket lists.
Melanie Lieberman wrote about our top 20 for 2020. They include Cape Town, Istanbul, Lisbon, Perth, Singapore, and Stockholm.
Closer to home she likes Boston and Glacier National Park. Of course the coronavirus outbreak has scrambled many an ambitious 2020 travel plan, but we’re hopeful we’ll be able to travel again soon. And domestic spots and even some international might be possible even in 2020.
In 2019, TPG recommended Egypt, Israel, Peru and Kenya.
Destinations we’re no longer visiting
While the Points Guy never wants to discourage travel, some once-hot spots have faded in popularity whether its because of over-tourism, unrest, or human rights crackdowns. A decade ago, it was still possible to visit beautiful Venezuela. But in 2010, then-president Hugo Chavez declared an economic emergency and it’s been a steadily deteriorating place ever since. The U.S. State Department has a Level 4 “Do not travel” advisory against travel there, “due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.”
Related coverage: American Airlines cancels flights amidst unrest
Places like Hong Kong have also been struggling. China has become increasingly tough in its approach to the territory that is supposed to remain semi-autonomous until 2047. Protests have wracked the city-state. And China is cracking down on dissent. Still, I visited in 2019 during the protests and found it an incredible stay.
Samantha Rosen wrote about places to avoid in 2019. Those include places like Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen for obvious reasons.
There’s also a lot of places that have become simply too crowded though this may be changed short-term due to coronavirus. Spot in Thailand like the one Rosen wrote about have even gone as far as to ban tourists.
And coronavirus has us all pausing traveling now anyway. Hopefully, for the short-term.
Airlines and hotels are increasingly concerned – along with the rest of us – about the rapidly warming Earth. 2019 was the second-hottest year since records began being kept in 1880. Scientists are nearly unanimous in blaming manmade pollution. Airlines alone contribute some 2-3% of global air pollution. And many companies are stepping up.
Delta Air Lines became the first airline in the world to commit to being carbon neutral. In February, Delta announced it was spending a billion dollars toward that goal. Alaska, JetBlue and United are pushing hard into biofuels.
Etihad Airways and Boeing late last year announced a first-of-its-kind “eco partnership,” in which a specially themed Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be used to test products, procedures and initiatives designed to reduce aircraft carbon emissions. The new plane is expected to roll out early this year.
Another example is Hilton Hotels. The chain says over the past decade it has reduced its carbon footprint by 30%. Hilton says it is committed to bringing its properties in line with the carbon reductions stipulated in the Paris Climate deal. The goal is go cut Hilton’s global environmental footprint in half by 2030.
Oh and you can kiss those disposable bottles of shampoo and lotion goodbye. Most hotel chains have pledged to ditch one-use amenities.
The next decade
Wow. It’s been quite a decade here at The Points Guy. And the rate of change is likely to only intensify from here. Coronavirus has scrambled what was already a rapidly changing business. There was even speculation one of the major U.S. carriers might not survive though that’s been dismissed by several CEOs.
But here’s hoping the travel business doesn’t just survive the COVID-19 epidemic, but thrives.
Here at TPG, we’re busy reinventing the site and the business for the next decade. We’re excited about continuing our mission of helping you travel better and cheaper. Stay tuned, we’ve got some exciting things to bring you in the months (and years) ahead.
Additional reporting from Zach Griff, John Harper, Zach Honig, Brian Kelly, Richard Kerr, Melanie Lieberman, Alberto Riva, Samantha Rosen, Ned Russell, Ethan Steinberg,Victoria Walker, and Zach Wichter.
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