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5 things I've learned now that travel is back

June 07, 2021
6 min read
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In case you missed it, U.S. domestic travel is back.

I recently returned back to Baltimore after a trip to visit my family in San Antonio. I had a 7:25 p.m. Southwest Airlines flight on Sunday, May 9 out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). I returned on Tuesday, May 25 on a 3:25 p.m. flight from San Antonio International Airport (SAT). My departures and arrivals for both flights had a lot of activity.

Let me share five things I learned during my recent travels.

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Uber/Lyft prices are higher -- and there's a wait

(Photo by Hrach Hovhannisyan / Shutterstock.com)

I always schedule my rideshare in advance when going to the airport. I recently decided to buy an Uber Pass for 50% off ($59.99 a year) to get 10% off my first three rides of the month, and thanks to my Uber Rewards Platinum status, I usually get priority airport pickups.

When I landed in San Antonio, however, I had a 19-minute wait for my Uber home. When I asked my driver about the delay, he said that there's been a big move toward delivering groceries and restaurant food, causing a shortage in cars. In turn, prices go up because of that scarcity. Upon arriving in Baltimore, the same thing happened, although that was only a 14-minute wait.

Related: You’ll have more ways to use your monthly credits with Uber’s latest update

Checkpoint lines are back

Travelers in a TSA checkpoint at Orlando International Airport (MCO) on the Friday before Memorial Day 2021. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

At BWI, one security checkpoint in Concourse A is still closed. When I went to the next Concourse A checkpoint, the lines were pretty long on that Sunday. Luckily for me, I have both a Clear membership (worth every penny) and TSA PreCheck, thanks to my Global Entry membership, so I didn't have to stand in that long line. At San Antonio's Terminal A on Tuesday, it was close to a mob scene, with check-in counters full, and long security lines -- except, oddly enough, the TSA PreCheck line.

After more than a year of not taking to the skies, I fully expect long security lines to continue -- and grow -- throughout the summer.

Related: Busy summer? TSA says it needs 6,000 new officers to meet skyrocketing travel demand

Concessions are a mixed bag

The Vino Volo wine bar at San Antonio International Airport (SAT). (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Once past the BWI checkpoint, there were lines at all the open restaurants. BWI has been slowly bringing back food and retail, but it's not 100% yet. I stopped off for a snack at R&R Seafood Bar, which was completely full -- but still had socially distanced seats. It was a bit of a rush, since most of the airport's dining options are still closing at between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., so it's smart to check your airport's website for the latest information on what's open during what hours.

At SAT, several of the eateries are still closed, making the ones that were open pretty crowded. I managed to snag a two-top table seat -- with power outlets and USB ports -- at Vino Volo. But it filled up pretty quickly, with travelers outside waiting for a seat. The line to get into Smoke Shack BBQ was long; plus the screen to order carryout food was inoperable, forcing customers to order at the crowded bar.

Related: Airport eateries are (slowly) starting to reopen — here are your options

Seating is scarce

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The seating area for my gates on both sides of my trip were pretty full, with no real attempt to socially distance. Travelers were sitting in blocked seats and on the floor against the window. Others sat in seating areas across the alley or at nearby gates. The gate agents were emphatic about us keeping our masks on throughout the flight, and that message was echoed by the flight attendants. Everyone was wearing their masks, although there was some grumbling during the gate announcement.

Flights are packed

I miss the days when Southwest Airlines flights were as empty as this one. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson / The Points Guy)

No surprise here: All of my Southwest Airlines flights were completely full. Many people haven't traveled in more than 15 months, and they were out in full force, despite rising airfares. We're all just ready to go somewhere -- anywhere -- so don't be surprised if there's never an empty seat on your upcoming summer flights.

Our flight was drama-free, but be warned: The FAA is enforcing a zero-tolerance policy on those who misbehave on flights. Your flight could be really expensive, with the FAA levying fines of up to $35,000 for infractions including not wearing a mask, ignoring crew instructions, fake bomb threats, being abusive to flight attendants and drinking alcohol you bring on board.

Related: It’s official: The era of blocked middle seats just ended

Bottom line

The American Express Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport (LAS). (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As a long-time Girl Scout, I take its motto to heart whenever I travel: Be prepared. I pack snacks, wipes, hand sanitizer and a charger for my laptop and electronics. I download Netflix programming in case there are issues with inflight entertainment. I bring an empty Swell water bottle (it does a great job of keeping liquids hot or cold) and fill it up post-security. If there's a lounge I can access with my The Platinum Card® from American Express, I make a beeline for it. I take full advantage of my A-List early boarding status on Southwest Airlines to ensure I get my aisle seat toward the front of the aircraft.

I also pack patience and grace. It's going to be a long, hot travel summer, so remember to be nice to the check-in and gate agents, flight attendants, retail and food workers and the other travelers you encounter on your trip. We're all in this together.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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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
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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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