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US airlines see cancellations rise amid COVID warnings against Thanksgiving travel

Nov. 20, 2020
3 min read
US airlines see cancellations rise amid COVID warnings against Thanksgiving travel
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Thanksgiving is shaping up to be its usual busy travel period amid the slow days of November and early December, even with the coronavirus pandemic raging.

But busy in 2020 is not the same as busy in 2019. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates screening more than 6 million travelers over the Thanksgiving week, according to CBS News. While a far cry from the more than 26 million screened a year ago, that would still generate some of the busiest air travel days for the country since COVID-19 hit.

Dampening the traditional familial mood is a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that "postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others" from the coronavirus. The warning comes as the seven-day moving average for new infections hit 164,495 people on Nov. 18, a new high in the U.S.

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Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have all seen the rising case counts hit bookings and, at least for some, increase cancellations.

“We’ve seen a dampening of demand. It really is too soon to tell how deep and how long," American president Robert Isom said at the Skift Aviation Forum on Nov. 19. His recommendation for Thanksgiving travelers was to follow CDC guidance -- though he did not acknowledge the public health organization's stay-at-home advice.

That same day in an investor update, United attributed a "deceleration in system bookings and an uptick in cancellations" directly to the spike in new COVID cases.

Related: Airlines brace for busy Thanksgiving, urge travelers to fly even as COVID surges across US

It is unclear how much the slowdown in bookings will affect Thanksgiving. While U.S. airlines allow travelers to cancel or change flights without fees, there are questions about how many Americans will cancel their plans with the holiday week already here.

"It is a cautionary note with the COVID cases rising once again," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly at the forum. "It's certainly possible we're seeing an impact from that -- we just don't know."

Southwest's outlook still forecasts sequential improvements in November and December compared to past months, just at a slower rate than before, Kelly added.

Related: CDC recommends staying home for the holidays — Here’s what to do if you may cancel your travel plans

Despite the COVID-19 surge, screenings at TSA checkpoints appear to have begun rising ahead of Thanksgiving. On Thursday (Nov. 19), the number of travelers rose to 907,332 or 37% of a year ago. That's a percentage point higher than the number a week earlier on Nov,. 12

Any uptick in travel will be much welcomed by airlines who continue to lose millions of dollars a day. However, while multiple studies indicate that flying on a plane is safe, the rise could further the spread of the coronavirus around the country with negative ramifications for the industry.

“Seriously, I don’t think there’s an end in sight until I can line up for that vaccine sometime in the second quarter of next year," Cowen analyst Helane Becker said at the forum.

Related: Southwest Airlines on full-court press to win back biz flyers, one airport tour at a time

Featured image by AFP via Getty Images

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases