Prepare yourself: 12 unexpected but significant ways travel has changed

Apr 23, 2021

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As vaccines continue to roll out, more and more folks are hitting the road. With international travel still pretty tricky, many people have opted for domestic trips. That includes many of us at The Points Guy. For those of us who’ve traveled, however, it’s been quite shocking how quickly crowds have returned to airports, planes, hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants. And don’t even get us started on rental cars.

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And lots has changed out there in the world of travel. We’ve got you covered.

Read on for a few of the things that may shock you when you begin traveling again.

In This Post

Beware of service cutbacks

A day touring the outdoors in Rwanda. (Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

“Don’t get used to daily housekeeping (unless you request it or stay at a full luxury property). If you want it daily you’ll want to research which hotels offer it in advance. Also, room service is severely cut back/gone in many hotels. This is a good reminder that ordering local Seamless, Doordash or Uber Eats is likely cheaper, and better anyway.

In Kenya, you cannot enter the airport without a printed COVID-19 test result, nor approach the check-in area, security, gate, etc. Bottom line, print out whatever you can.” – Brian Kelly, TPG founder/CEO

Related: What your hotel will look like post-COVID-19

Print everything

Great Stirrup Cay beach Bahamas Private island Norwegian Cruise Lines
Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. (Photo by photosvit / Getty Images)

“Print everything, particularly COVID-19 test results & vaccine information. Airlines are all requiring different forms so check ahead. American Airlines from Miami International Aiport (MIA) to Jamaica did not allow anyone to go with an electronic boarding pass. You had to go show printed-out documents before boarding. It was the same with Silver Airways out of Fort Lauderdale to North Eleuthera Airport (ELH) in the Bahamas. They required you show the Bahamas Travel Health Visa.” – Nathan Richardson, executive VP

Related: A country-by-country guide to Caribbean reopenings

Plan ahead

Whiteface Lodge Lake Placid 2021. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

“You must plan ahead for everything. Reservations are needed for vineyards, hotels, dinner, amusement parks and more. One of the joys of travel has always been spontaneity but unfortunately, that last-second mentality doesn’t work in the age of COVID-19. Spend a little time in advance mapping out your vacation, leave some time for random exploration but also have confirmed plans so you aren’t locked out of everything.” – Scott Mayerowitz, executive editor

Related: Some national parks requiring reservations

Expect schedule changes

“Having traveled some in the last year, I knew to expect pretty full planes, high prices in popular leisure spots (looking at you, Florida) and at times continued reduced services and amenities in others. But, what has recently surprised me with some upcoming trips is how limited — and fluid — flight schedules still are, especially once you get beyond those in-demand leisure spots.

Related: Time to get excited about travel

When I used to fly regularly between Houston to NYC, I could sometimes get a widebodied plane equipped for international travel if I timed it correctly. At a minimum, I’d get a 737-sized plane. But now, many of the flights that are on the reduced schedule are regional jets, which isn’t my ideal mode of travel for a 3.5-hour flight between two major cities.

Related: Prepare for travel’s comeback: The 12 hottest destinations of 2021

And in a slightly different scenario, my nonstop summer flights to explore national parks have been changed to connecting itineraries as airlines continue to tinker with schedules. I wouldn’t have paid what I did for the nonstop flight if I would have known it would have ended up as a connecting flight. But by the time those schedule changes happen closer in to travel, the options that were more affordable initially end to also have snaked up in price by that point leaving you having paid a premium for your ideal itinerary and ending up with something else entirely.” – Summer Hull, editorial director

Plan for crowded security

Clint Henderson and Benet Wilson in Seward Alaska March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

“Although BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) has three main TSA security checkpoints, one has been closed. On my travels last week, the remaining two were pretty crowded — but not for me, thanks to my Clear membership.

Also, many airports, including BWI, closed parking lots and slashed prices. At BWI, the price for the hourly lot right next to the terminal went from $22 a day to $12 a day. But as the airport has re-opened one of its long-term parking lots, the price for the hourly lot is now $16 an hour.” – Benet Wilson, senior credit cards editor

Lounge chairs may be unavailable

Hyatt Regency Maui 2020. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

“The hotel in Maui where we stayed for a week in early April required lining up before 6 am to score a set of lounge chairs by the pool. If you arrived by 7 am, you may not get a chair at all, let alone one with an umbrella for shade. Not just our hotel but all hotels were at full capacity and even with restrictions on hotel amenities, people are still content with getting back to travel.” – Juan Ruiz, editor

Related: Hyatt Regency Maui review

Rental cars are in short supply

Rental cars at STL airport
The rental car facility at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL). (Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“Very little truly shocks me, so I’m not shocked or put off by crowds of people or full planes, even during the pandemic. What was a shocker was how difficult it was to get a rental car during a recent trip to Norfolk, Virginia. It seemed like virtually everyone who landed at ORF (Norfolk International Airport) that day was also in need of a car. I stood in line with dozens of other frustrated travelers for over an hour — and even ran into an old high school friend who was also in line for a car. I was lucky to get a vehicle — an SUV instead of my chosen Mustang but I also noted that the agent didn’t even upsell me on typical add-ons like rental insurance, GPS or an electronic transponder. The agent just handed me my keys and told me where to pick up the car. I think that’s indicative of the car rental shortage more than anything else.” – Victoria Walker, senior writer

Related: Rental car apocalypse

Mask-wearing is a mess

CDC Vaccine card and masks
Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination record card with masks, Minnesota. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“As a New Yorker who didn’t venture out much at first, I was shocked by all of the different approaches to mask-wearing. In some places, servers in restaurants don’t wear them at all. In others, people are fairly good about wearing them in public, and then pull them down to talk to you, as if it’s impossible to communicate with your face covered. Local customs seemed to have popped up, but I’ve found them more frustrating than quirky — we know masks are effective at limiting the spread, so please, just keep yours up whenever you can.” – Zach Honig, editor at large

Related: It might be time to upgrade your mask

The cost to rent a car is sky-high

“Rental cars are quickly becoming one of the biggest headaches for trips. Before finalizing flights and hotel reservations — especially to a popular destination — have a peek at car rental rates. You’d hate to lock in other plans only to see that you’ll need to fork over hundreds of dollars per day in rental fees. In addition, sign up for any and all credit card loyalty programs. This can help you skip the line when you get to an airport and help ensure there’s actually a car for you when you arrive. Earlier this month at Denver International Airport, I saved at least 90 minutes at Budget by being a member of Fastbreak and getting dropped off there instead of going to the main desk — and I was the only customer who got off the bus there.” – Nick Ewen, senior editor

Related: What to do if rental cars sold out

Airplanes and hotels are crowded

Long lines at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Oahu, Hawaii March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

“I’ve been shocked at the difference a few weeks has made in the travel recovery. I was in Kauai back in January and planes, airports and hotels were still empty. When I flew back to Hawaii last month, I figured because of the extensive hoops travelers have to jump through, that it would still be fairly uncrowded. Boy was I wrong.

Related: Fair warning, Hawaii is packed again

It was like a travel light switch had been flipped. My flights to Kona were full. The airport in Seattle was mobbed. Hawaii itself was crowded with tourists again. In fact, the line to check in to my hotel in Honolulu was more than 45 minutes, and that was the elite line. My flights back home were also crowded. It definitely feels like people are making up for lost time by booking again, at least domestically.” – Clint Henderson, senior news editor

Related: I took 5 COVID-19 tests to go to Hawaii and it was worth it

Rental car lines are long

“When I have landed in Houston, Orlando and Miami over the last few months, the one constant has been rental car lines for every single company snaking around the respective ground transportation areas. Without rental car status that lets me skip the line, I would have to adjust my plans by a few hours. Not all too surprising based on the rental car prices I’ve looked at before each trip. $500 for a weekend compact in Houston? Travel is back.” – Richard Kerr, director of travel partnerships

Related: 11 common rental car mistakes — and how to avoid them

The days of spontaneous trips are behind us

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

“Before the pandemic, I was really big on last-minute, spontaneous travel. But those days of booking a last-minute flight or hotel room seem to be over, at least for now. I’ve booked multiple trips to the Catskills region of New York this year, for example, and have found hotels and inns with little to no availability and expensive rates, even though some of the on-site amenities remain unavailable.

Related: Americans have big plans for summer vacations

As my colleagues have said, there’s a lot of demand for certain destinations and types of trips. If you want to book a road trip or spend a long weekend in the mountains, you won’t be alone. So you’ll have to plan far ahead to secure a room and a rental car. And that’s to say nothing of trips that require you to get a negative COVID-19 test result or quarantine in advance of arrival. Maybe one day I’ll be able to book a flight leaving that night, grab my bag and go — but for now, I’m trying to learn to plan ahead.” – Melanie Lieberman, senior travel editor

Featured Image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

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