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6 ways the new COVID-19 relief bill impacts the travel industry

Dec. 28, 2020
4 min read
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After months of wrangling in Congress, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill Dec. 27 that included $900 billion in COVID-19 relief to offer more help to citizens and businesses as the pandemic rages on. Tucked into that bill were measures designed to help the travel industry, which has been decimated as global travel plummeted in 2020.

Part of the $2 trillion CARES Act Congress passed in March 2020 included the Payroll Support Program, which gave airlines $25 billion to keep them afloat during pandemic-related shutdowns, but that ran out Sept. 30. As a result, carriers were forced to lay off more than 35,000 workers as passenger numbers plummeted. And airline chiefs pushed Congress to provide more relief to the industry.

They got their wish with the signing of a second relief bill. Below we highlight six travel-friendly measures included in the new spending package.

Payroll protection

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

The bill extended payroll protections to aviation workers at a cost of $15 billion. In return, airlines are required to bring back furloughed workers and keep them on the payroll until March 31, 2021. Southwest Airlines, which had sent out layoff notices, will now avoid having to make the first job cuts and pay cuts in its 49-year history, said CEO Gary Kelly in a statement. He added he also didn't "anticipate the need to conduct any furloughs or pay cuts next year."

Airline contractors also received $1 billion under the measure for their workers.

Related: Should Congress dole out more money for airline employees? The case for and against

airports

(Image courtesy of Salt Lake City International Airport)

Airports and their concessionaires received $2 billion in relief. With far fewer passengers spending money in airport terminals, hundreds of retail, food and service businesses have been forced to close. U.S. airports are facing at least $14 billion in losses because of the global health pandemic, according to trade group Airports Council International – North America.

Amtrak

Amtrak Empire Builder nears Glacier National Park. (Photo courtesy Amtrak)

The passenger rail company received $1 billion in the package. It was needed, since Amtrak ridership nose-dived, causing major service cuts and more than $800 million in losses for the country's already struggling national rail service. Amtrak already received $1 billion in CARES Act funding. It is also requesting $4.9 billion to retain service and another $5.2 billion for construction and capital investment in the 2021 federal budget.

Related: I traveled on Amtrak during the pandemic — here are 5 things that have changed

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Hotels

(AFP via Getty Images)

A November survey of American Hotel & Lodging Association members found that seven in 10 hoteliers said they won’t make it another six months without more financial relief from Congress. Without further government assistance (i.e., second Paycheck Protection Program loan, expansion of the Main Street Lending Program), nearly half of respondents indicated they would be forced to close hotels.

While the new COVID-19 relief law did not include direct aid to hotels, it did include $325 billion for small businesses, including nearly $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans. While large hospitality companies such as Marriott International and Hilton Hotels & Resorts don't qualify for these loans, independent businesses that operate under these brands can apply for funds.

Related: As CARES Act confusion reigns, small businesses lose

Aircraft safety

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images)

The FAA received $275 million over five years to beef up its aircraft certification process in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. The agency also received $27 million a year through fiscal year 2023 to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists and scientific and technical advisors, among others.

COVID-19 vaccines

(Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)

Efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines distributed received $69 billion in aid. That includes more than $30 billion to procure vaccines and treatments, distribution funds for states and a strategic stockpile. It also provides $22 billion for testing, tracing and mitigation and $9 billion for health care providers.

Featured image by AA parked planes at various locations including Tulsa and Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy American Airlines)

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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

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • 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

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees