a table with food and drinks on it
Copyright: The Bellagio, Las Vegas

There’s so f**king much to hate about covid-19, but in travel, it hasn’t been entirely bad. Ok, for business, yes — almost entirely bad — but for guest satisfaction and ending things which probably never should’ve been, some things have been great.

Shifting from the negativity of the world into the positives to look forward to in travel, as the world gets moving again, here are 8 “covid features” put in place across hotels, airlines and car rentals which I hope stay, forever.

Airline Cleanliness And Hygiene Kits

Lots of people conflate not getting sick on planes anymore with people wearing masks.

That’s undoubtedly a part of it, but since mosts masks worn by the general population on planes are almost entirely ineffective, another major part is that planes are getting cleaned much more thoroughly, and much more often. The hygiene kits help too.

I adore walking on board and being presented with extra masks, wipes or gels and hearing that the plane was just cleaned using the latest in technology.

Airlines still don’t clean as much as they say they do, since quick turnarounds are vital in some markets, but they’re so much better. It’s an added expense, but hopefully one that stays, particularly after all the bailouts they’ve received.

a table with food and drinks on it
Copyright: The Bellagio, Las Vegas

Room Service Instead of Hotel Breakfast

When booking via a luxury travel agent, an eligible rate, or as an elite loyalty program guest, breakfast is a lovely feature to have.

In BC times — before covid — that mean’t looking semi presentable and slogging down to a large room full of people fro breakfast. But in current times, many hotels realize that social mixing isn’t always ideal, so they’re allowing people to order room service instead.

This, for a change, feels like true luxury. Slippers on, television on, draw the curtains and let the fresh breakfast come to you. I hope the option for room service rather than restaurant breakfast lasts forever.

Flexible Booking Policies

Booking an airline ticket in current times is nothing like before. Most airlines continue to waive change fees, and many even allow a name change, if you can no longer make the trip yourself.

Hoping that this level of flexibility lasts forever is unrealistic, but many elements could stay. The more that do, the more competition there will be to do it best.

Some airlines, like Iberia, have intelligently shifted focus away from largely unrealistic fee collection, when plans change. They’ll gladly sell you some flexibility with a ticket, the same way you’d add trip insurance, or a car rental, for a flat fee.

I’d love to see more of these “subscription” style flex options as travel normalizes.

Contact Free Car Rentals

Contact free car rentals started before the pandemic, but they’ve taken off like wildfire during it. Well, if the car they’ve promised you is actually there when you show up.

There’s never been a good reason for all the face to face touch points in car rentals, other than the rental car company’s desire to up-sell you on various products, from upgrades to insurance add ons.

As technology and digital verification techniques grow ever stronger, the need to ever make small talk with a rental agent should hopefully go away. I do hope they keep some around for when things go wrong though.


Credit For Cancellations

Prior to the pandemic, most non-refundable booking policies in travel were effectively a “use it, or lose it” contract. If you couldn’t fly, or stay, you largely ate the charge.

When travel brands started getting in trouble over refunds, suddenly generosity around future travel credit became a thing. If you can’t travel on a non-refundable booking, many brands are now happy to hold that money as a future credit.

Sure, cash is nicer, but if rates are compelling, it seems like a really happy medium. Rather than getting nothing when you can’t travel, like the old days, you get money to use with the brand at a later time. They hold the cash, but it’s better than nothing.

Respect For Leisure Travelers

It’s hardly a secret that most loyalty programs from 2008 to 2020 were designed with one customer in mind: business travelers.

Even though business travelers rarely have any say over who they fly with, stay with or ride with (and often have no “loyalty” major airlines and hotels bent over backwards to appease and reward these customers who(se companies) spent the most.

Loyalty became purely about often unrealistic money goals, and recognized nothing about regularly choosing one brand over another and engaging with a program across multiple channels. That’s finally changing, and long may it live.

I’ve had more meaningful and heartfelt welcomes, more flexibility with late check outs and more appreciation for my business when traveling during the pandemic, and that kind of attitude is free.

a swimming pool on a rocky island

Broadened Perks From Credit Card Rewards

In the beginning of the pandemic, when there was no hope or light, travel rewards credit cards faced a near existential crisis. How do you keep people paying annual fees in a world without travel?

Quick pivots brought wider benefits to these cards, like UberEats credit, free streaming services and even massive discounts on exercise bikes. You know the one.

Many of these new benefits were introduced as short term stop gaps, but many have created new excitement around once very niche cards. If we’re lucky, this broadened appeal will help more people justify annual fees, and create a new renaissance in card rewards.

Prioritizing Quality Tourism Over Mass Tourism

Let’s be honest. In 2020, travel to major bucket list places like Venice, Santorini, or Barcelona was getting pretty miserable. In summer, I’d say hard pass.

Overcrowding from cruise ships and lack of care for the environment, local community or infrastructure was cheapening the travel experience to unacceptable levels which made it hard to justify.

But then came social distancing, a great pause, a clearing of waters and a rethinking of how a community can make more money from fewer people. Ideally, people who value the place they’re visiting, beyond just an Instagram photo and buying a bottle of water before stuffing their face at a cruise ship buffet.

Many destinations are learning to do more with less, and its making travel uniquely wonderful again, while probably doing some good for the areas themselves, too.

What would you add?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. The one thing I hope stays that is tied to hygiene is hand sanitizer pump stations outside airplane bathrooms.

  2. The main thing I hope stays, is the segregation.

    It’s great knowing there is a class of people below me, and I can scold them publicly for their private health decisions.

    This makes me look like a hero online – and I really hope it is publicly acceptable for a long time.
    It’s so much fun denying others services, especially because they believe different things than us – the morally right and pure – herd.

    1. Not to worry, Comrade. There will _always_ be people who choose not to engage in actions that help their fellow citizens. Instead, they will think only of themselves and their immediate personal comfort, ignoring the fact that a global pandemic continues to rage. Go gentle, brother.

  3. Great list. I’d add one that isn’t currently even being done. Airport cleaning. People want their actual plane to be clean but nobody thinks about the seats/armrests at your boarding gate.

  4. I love the airlines (and some travel tour companies) now offering to hold credit instead of the past’s “use it or lose it”. Sure, the full refund I got from British Airways in May 2020 was awesome (and a surprise that they called me!), but holding credit on account is still vastly better than losing it. Buying an expensive international ticket always felt like a huge and risky commitment before. I hope some form of that and other flexible booking (even if with a nominal fee) remains.

  5. Sanitation is already being cut back. AA no longer gives wipes upon boarding and the flights are turning so fast I doubt there is much, if any, cleaning between rotations.

  6. Airlines fired all frequent flyers that were not OPM prior to 2020.

    OPM flying will probably never fully recover, as corporate overlords are now realizing that their working minions do not need to fly somewhere to get the job done or to sell their toasters.

  7. BA have introduced a more orderly de-planing set-up, in which they ask everyone to stay seated and call groups of row numbers to exit. I like it. Avoids the usual scrum once the seat belt signs go off.

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