Vacationers drive travel rebound; flights filling up to Florida, other outdoor destinations

March 15, 2021
4 min read
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.

With an accelerated vaccine rollout underway, demand for travel is making a rebound.

Friday, March 12, 2021, marked a new pandemic-era record for the number of passengers screened by TSA. Since the onset of the pandemic, TSA throughput has eclipsed 1 million just a handful of times, usually around holidays and other long weekends.

But Friday's record has been a few weeks in the making. Recent screening data suggests that travelers are returning to the skies, with average TSA screenings topping nearly 870,000 daily passengers, up significantly from the height of the pandemic.

Of course, the latest highs are likely boosted by spring break vacations at schools across the country. Unlike the spring break of 2020, there's a nationwide improvement in COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations. Plus, the accelerated vaccine rollout has many starting to plan future trips.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Until now, airlines have matched supply to the limited demand. They've parked planes, grounded flight crews and trimmed schedules.

But as demand starts picking up, the airlines are noticing — and are adjusting capacity accordingly.

Take a look at the recent route-map shake-ups across the major U.S. airlines. One common theme is the push to outdoor-friendly, leisure-focused destinations with plenty of built-in social distancing. Pandemic-weary travelers are seeking beach vacations and hiking trips, instead of escapes to major cities.

Cirium schedules show that the capacity to Florida — one of the most popular pandemic-era destinations — is up over 22% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.

South Florida, in particular, has seen significant capacity growth. For the same period, Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Miami (MIA) have seen 20% and 30% growth quarter-over-quarter, respectively.

Other airports, like Key West (EYW) and Pensacola (PNS) have received a host of new airline routes, contributing to the 45% and 8% quarter-over-quarter capacity growth, respectively.

It's not just the supply of flights that's steadily increasing. Data from travel app Hopper shows that travelers are increasingly looking to book new flights.

Related: American Airlines shifts focus from Canada to the Caribbean through 2021

From Feb. 28 to March 1, there was a 22% increase in searches for domestic flights, with a focus on summer travel. For the week ending on March 14, the Airlines Reporting Corp. reported a 56.5% decrease in ticket variance, which corresponds to the total number of airline tickets purchased compared to the same time period in 2019. While 56.5% is still significant, it's a marked improvement compared to the 90% or higher decrease at the height of the pandemic.

Hopper data confirms that Americans are looking for outdoor-focused destinations, including cities in Colorado, Montana, South Carolina and others. In fact, the top three domestic destinations trending in search demand include cities like Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Kalispell, all of which have attracted new airline service during the pandemic.

This recent growth in travel demand has led some flights, especially those during peak weekend times, to be sold out. Leisure travelers have historically purchased tickets at least two weeks in advance.

A crowded Fort Lauderdale airport on Feb. 16, 2021 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Those waiting for the last minute might find that there are limited seats available. For instance, a search for flights between New York and South Florida for the Easter weekend yielded fares that start at over $300 each way, with just a handful of seats remaining.

As travelers are once again taking to the skies and airlines are getting better at forecasting COVID-era travel demand, the U.S. carriers might start being cash-positive once again.

Related: United Airlines boosts Denver hub in 4-route Florida expansion

At Monday's J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference, United CEO Scott Kirby said that the airline expects to halt its cash burn starting this month, a major milestone in the return to profitability — and perhaps the biggest indicator yet that travelers are returning.

But not all travelers are created equally. Pre-pandemic, airlines made the most revenue on long-haul international and business-focused trips. Both segments have yet to return, according to American Airlines CEO Doug Parker at Monday's investor conference.

As the airlines have said time and again, demand recovery won't be linear. The latest trends are looking up, thanks to the nationwide spring break and accelerated vaccine rollouts.

But if virus mutations emerge and new lockdown orders are announced, much of this recovery can be wiped away in the blink of an eye.

Featured image by (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)
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.

Top offers from our partners

See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.

More Details

  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

View More

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023