I just returned from a great eight-day trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, visiting some wonderful sights and staying in a few terrific hotels. As so often happens when we vacation, it gave me some time to reflect on the state of the world of travel. As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, we’re running into some real challenges.
Based on our experience booking trips for our clients, NOW is the time to book any travel you’re thinking about in 2022. Our team is increasingly having difficulty booking specific dates for cruises, tours, hotels, and flights. Here’s why, in a nutshell: Three years of pent-up travel demand is being squeezed into 2022, and there isn’t enough supply to meet that demand. Here’s what we’re seeing in each of these sectors:
Cruises and tours: When travel came to a screeching halt in March 2020, most cruise lines and tour operators gave credits to their customers rather than refunding their payments. Most of those credits were probably extended at least once as the pandemic dragged on, but they are now scheduled to expire sometime in 2022. All of these customers are trying to book cruises and tours before that expiration date, and availability is drying up. Compounding this problem for cruises is that they are just starting to set sail and most cruise lines won’t be at full capacity until sometime in 2022.
Hotels: The situation here is similar, in that many of the smaller luxury boutique hotels gave credits in lieu of refunds. . .just like the cruise lines and tour operators. As we try to book hotels, we’re also learning that demand has gone through the roof because all of those aforementioned tour operators are grabbing hotel space, making it even more difficult for individual travelers. We just had a situation where we were trying to make a hotel reservation 15 months out for a client. . .and there was zero availability. Fortunately, our client was able to move their trip to another week so we could book that particular hotel for them.
Flights: Most airlines refunded their customers for cancelled reservations, so expiring credits are not the biggest factor limiting supply. The challenge here is that the number of scheduled flights is around 50% of pre-pandemic levels. Because of decreased demand in 2020 and 2021, airlines slashed their flight schedules in order to survive. Consequently, many of their pilots were grounded for as much as a year or more. Those pilots now have to be retrained, a process that can take as long as six months. I know this because we have a couple of commercial pilots in our family. Now that demand is increasing, with a surge forecasted beginning this fall, the airlines haven’t been able to restart popular flight routes because they don’t have enough qualified pilots to fly them. This problem should straighten itself out sometime in 2022, but, once again, the demand for flights next year will be at an all-time high resulting in higher costs for paid tickets and higher miles for award tickets.
So those are the challenges we’re facing as our clients begin formulating their travel plans for next year. I still don’t recommend international travel for the next several months due to the ever-changing patchwork of restrictions outside the US, so moving international travel up to this year is a sketchy proposition. Here are my recommendations:
- Have a sense of urgency. If you want to travel in 2022, book it now.
- Be flexible in terms of timing. If possible, give us a few different weeks that you can make that trip you’ve been waiting to do for the last 18 months. Even better, give us a couple of months to work with.
- Be flexible in the details. Be open to staying a day or two on either end of your trip to allow us to find award tickets or book that special hotel.
- Think about visiting some less popular, just-as-interesting destinations. For example, try Kefalonia or one of the other smaller yet beautiful Greek islands, instead of Santorini, Mykonos or Crete.
Above all, we’re here to help you plan a great trip to a wonderful destination. Contact us. . .as soon as possible. . .so we can start on your 2022 plans now.