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United trims 2 Vail routes, boosts other outdoor destinations in latest pandemic adjustment

March 02, 2021
4 min read
United trims 2 Vail routes, boosts other outdoor destinations in latest pandemic adjustment
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Major U.S. airlines have been busy boosting flights to destinations with plenty of built-in social distancing to capture leisure traffic traveling during the pandemic.

Consider Kalispell, Montana; Eureka, California or Idaho Falls, Idaho. All three cities are getting brand-new airline service, thanks to their proximity to national parks and other outdoor activities.

However, not all outdoor-friendly destinations are created equally.

United Airlines is dropping two routes to Vail/Eagle (EGE) from its timetable. The carrier was originally planning to fly twice-weekly EGE service this summer from both Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Houston Intercontinental (IAH).

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Over the weekend, United pulled the ORD and IAH flights, leaving Vail connected by twice-daily Denver service.

Cutting flights to Vail during the summer season might come as a surprise to some. The warmer months are typically quite popular with travelers seeking hiking trails, white water rafting, fly fishing and more.

United's move, however, suggests that there are limits to where pandemic-weary travelers are looking to vacation. Vail's appeal as a mid-pandemic escape is seemingly much stronger in the winter.

Thanks to its world-class skiing, United blanketed Vail with nonstop service from five of its hubs during the winter season. In fact, Cirium schedules show that the carrier plans just 4% fewer flights to Vail during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic highs of 2019. (For context, United's networkwide flight count has dropped by 45%.)

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With United's latest cut, Vail still seems to primarily be a ski destination, despite an abundance of summertime activities that would theoretically fit the bill for a safer, mid-pandemic escape.

Related: The best Colorado ski towns to visit

Other leisure-oriented destinations are faring better.

Florida doesn't seem to have limits. United keeps boosting service to the Sunshine State from airports across its domestic network, with a notable recent expansion from Denver. Despite the state's hot and humid summers, flyers are still prepared to soak up some Vitamin D in June and July.

United's competitors are also feeling the (Florida) heat. Southwest recently unveiled a sweeping route expansion, largely focused at airports like Sarasota/Bradenton (SRQ), Destin/Fort Walton Beach (VPS), Fort Myers (RSW) and Miami (MIA). American and JetBlue are also doubling down on the beach traffic.

Just a few hundred miles north of Florida is Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. This leisure spot known for its beaches and golf courses has also proven quite popular during the pandemic. Over the weekend, United added daily service to the island from its ORD hub from May through early September.

Related: Southwest Airlines add 6 routes to 2 brand-new destinations, including Bozeman

Airports near national parks are also seeing a spike in flights. JetBlue will soon launch a new seasonal nonstop from its New York-JFK hub to Kalispell (FCA) near Glacier National Park.

Another Montana city — Bozeman (BZN) — has seen a dramatic increase in service thanks in part to its proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Southwest will launch its first-ever service to the city later this year. American Airlines is also adding a new seasonal Phoenix (PHX) to BZN service.

All told, Bozeman will see over 1,100 more flights in the first six months of 2021 compared to the same time period in 2019, per Cirium timetables. This 28% increase from pre-pandemic highs shows how quickly airlines are responding to changing demand patterns.

For the airlines making network adjustments, it’s not just about swapping business-focused routes for those catering to leisure travelers – but also about finding the busiest outdoor-friendly markets.

Featured image by (Image courtesy of United Airlines)
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more