Travel bans are extended indefinitely in many parts of the world, but indefinite doesn’t mean forever. It just means until we know more. Will air travel return in June, July, August – or not until a much later date? One thing is for certain: society has cabin fever right now, and it will return.

The question du jour is: what will it take to get you to book a flight?

Defining Safe

Current advice is to stay home, embrace social distancing and save lives. Until further notice, do that. But borders will re-open, and many expect this summer to be a time when that will happen, perhaps as early as May or June.

Just because a border opens and advice against non essential travel disappears, doesn’t mean the world has seen the end of the current crisis, but defining safe is always impossible. Health resources need time to recover, but once they do, people will need to define what means “safe” to them.

And is anything at all in life entirely safe?

There are always risks associated with travel, and even now this is just one of them, albeit a great one. At some point, when government advice is that travel is ok, and the health crisis has passed its greatest challenges, people will need to show faith to the world again and get out there.

After all, descending the stairs in your apartment carries risk of death.  It’s all about how you personally define safe, and for my family and I, the reopening of national borders and the return of flights will be good enough. Until people are advised to leave home, we’ll be home waiting like the rest of the world.

Is It About Price?

Laying my travel cards on the table, I’ve booked travel in the last 30 days. I booked Hawaii for October, and Los Angeles for January 2021. I did so believing in my heart both will go ahead as scheduled. Would I have booked at normal prices? No, but these weren’t normal prices.

The thing we’re beginning to see airlines test, which they will test more once a more definite end date is in sight, is whether woes can be alleviated with great bargains. Whenever there’s fear, it’s always a challenge to crack the code of bringing people back inside, and humanity loves a bargain.

This is precisely why it will be an amazing year for those who keep track of travel flash sales. And yes, you really should set your own Google Flights and Google Hotels alerts too…

Will Loyalty Offers Help?

Assuming the price is right, but even that’s not enough – what’s the next step? Airlines must reach into the loyalty promotions department to find compelling reasons for travelers to return. Will they reach deep enough to get you back into the skies?

Too generous and an airline might need another bailout, but not generous enough and travelers may defect to an airline that is popping out super promos. This will be the space to watch as the recovery begins. That likely won’t be for another couple months, but we’re already seeing this materialize with extensions to loyalty perks.

Air Canada found arguably the best solution to encourage people to travel in 2020, once its advisable to do so, with a clever elite status offer. Everyone who currently has Air Canada elite status already gets to maintain it through 2021, but if you manage to earn it this year anyway, whatever status you earn you can gift to someone.

In other words, you’re all set, but you could get a travel companion hooked up too. Who wouldn’t want extra upgrades or lounge access for more guests?

Imagining a year of incredible fares and the best loyalty offers since 2008 makes the recovery period of this awful crisis feel a lot better. Airlines need the support, and with the right combo, everyone can be happy about doing so.

What About The Experience Itself?

If prices were equal and you deemed travel to be safe – what would make the difference to win a booking? Is it just loyalty and price – or do other things now enter the conversation?

Will you prefer airlines with better cleaning scores, or with more width between seats? Airlines were heavy into densifying planes with more and more seats, but is that sustainable, or even safe in a post crisis world?

Nothing Until A Vaccine?

The pessimist approach here is that even if global cases virtually disappear, travel will not reappear until a working vaccine is delivered. By current (realistic) estimations, that’s well into 2021. If we can’t travel until late into 2021, cancelling tickets or getting points refunded will be the least of our worries.

Once things have stabilized and health resources are no longer inundated, the world will need travel again. It may be different, and that’s not entirely a bad thing either, but a world without travel, even if that means domestic travel, isn’t a whole lot of fun.

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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23 Comments

  1. What?

    I’m flying every week – right now.

    Off to do a road trip through the South this week. Next week to the MidWest. Then back to the South the week after. Then two trips to the east coast, then a final Midwest trip at the end of May.

    June heading to the South Pacific for a month for island hoping.
    Then a month in Iceland/Greenland.

    So, uhm, people with cognitive ability still remaining – don’t need any incentive. We’re out there each week enjoying the world. I’m certainly not the only one – contrary to what most travel bloggers are saying.

      1. Lol, not all of us are sheep dude 🙂

        I’m paying for business class, staying in hotels, paying money in taxes, restaurants and helping people feed their familes.

        I am getting thanked *constantly* by people on the front lines for traveling and spending money.

        I’d say 90% of people tell me I am making the world a better place. 10% don’t know why I am traveling. Twice TODAY, after I explained why, I was thanked graciously. So, I’m at 100% currently.

        Comments like yours just make me want to book more trips. So, I booked a one way to Europe in J just for you a few minutes ago. Thanks!

        Flying out Sunday, road trip around the east coast. Doing that 5 times in the next 5 weeks. It’s lovely once you realize not everyone is a sheep waiting to be fleeced.

  2. Have booked 4 roundtrip flights in the last 10 days for wife and me, all 6 months out and into february 2021. All booked with points on american and southwest. Nothing to loose if they have to be cancelled when the time comes. Hopefully flying to Aruba at the end of October. I have cancelled and rebooked four times in the last week because the price keeps dropping, crazy good point redemptions. Even stingy American was throwing out tons of saver and web special awards on good flights.Booked RT Milwaukee – Grenada in february for 22,000 points. Delta wanted 68,000 points for the same trip and a cash price of over $700. There are some great deals to be had, just being optimistic that we will eventually get past these dark times. This too will pass .

  3. I’ve only booked award flights for late 2020/early 2021. Right now I still have a job so am grateful for that…… but after all this is over I think the US will still be in a recession and I just hope I won’t be laid off. The job uncertainty is what’s holding me off from booking paid flights at the moment.

  4. Ditto. Booking great Flight deals (Miles or cash) for August or later. Really want to book June vacation travel but not ready to pull the trigger as I don’t want $$$ locked up if hotels are closed and visitors are quarantined (eg Hawaii). Not afraid to travel at all.

  5. Open borders and I will fly to be with my wife and kids. I’m trapped until the canadian border opens

  6. Hi,
    I would need a really good deal – eg business class at economy prices – to book.
    Also I would not book in the future for a long way off with any airline I suspect could go bankrupt – eg in Australia where I live Virgin Australia is in a terrible position, Government has refused a bailout request and just now has cancelled all domestic flights except for Sydney-Melbourne – so high risk of losing money.

    But even more importantly I would want the travel insurance companies to provide cover again – at the moment nearly all of them exclude Corona Virus or a related illness or cancellation, so again too much risk. I have been investigating and still some good international health insurance options but most people won’t know about this option.
    And travelling to USA, Spain, Italy is off at the moment as they will really need to show they can get things under control.

    Conversely I will be quite happy to go to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc far more quickly as they have handled the virus really well and I would feel much safer there.

    Dale.

  7. Nothing. And that’s why I am not booking anytime soon. Why ? Lack of secure income for me and my family means my priority for some time to come is roof over our head, food on our table, basics and more. Furthermore based in the UK I want to support Independent UK businesses in their recovery. Will I return to LH travel and more flying ? Probably. Will it happen in the next 2 years ? Highly unlikely. And there’s part of the issue for airlines. I love travel, have spent a significant amount of my free time and disposable income in airlines and travel in the past 30 years and worked in airlines and airports for a similar time …. but I cannot book, our family continues to have zero income and the world economy is about to take a massive hit. This is about survival first.

  8. I booked American business class US to Germany in November for 84,000 miles r/t which is a great price (787 DFW-FRA). If no restrictions I’m going since not going to let fear rule my life. US deaths are tracking well under the 100,000 estimate and we don’t shut down travel (and the economy) every year when we know up to 60,000 will die from the flu. Uncertainty is the issue w COVID. Agree likely no vaccine in widespread use until 2021 but there are over 260 different drugs in testing for treatment and many have already been through full clinical trials since they are approved for other illnesses so I expect a reasonable treatment well before the fall (30 years in healthcare and pharma is basis for this estimate). Once the uncertainty is down life will return to normal.

    Worst case I cancel and redeposit the miles for $200 which is a small price to pay to lock in this price so no downside. $200 is a rounding error in what I spend so would never miss it. Offer is way too good to pass up!

  9. All being well we might see you in Hawaii in October 😂
    Booked reward flights months ago so fingers crossed the travel ban is lifted.
    Should be in Vegas right now and when BA cancelled our flights I rebooked for mid August which is now looking less and less likely to happen. If they cancel again, we’ll just need to reschedule a second time.
    Happy to stay at home until things are more settled.

  10. I’ve booked a trip 27 May – 04 June 2020
    MAN/CDG/KBP//MUC/SIN//KUL//KUL/SIN/MUC/LHR/LBA
    Some of us need to travel for work, I’m self employed so reality sets in..No work = No money.
    Before anyone takes the moral ground here remember we all have to do what we have to do to make ends meet.
    I will have been in lockdown for weeks and weeks..life needs to get back to normal as soon as possible.

  11. I just booked mileage tickets on AA to the Philippines in January 2021 and have tickets there for August 2020. We have a home there and need to check on it periodically. I cancelled Booked trips to Spain and New Mexico and we decided not to go to Japan. early next year. Being very careful. I was lucky and got all my prior tickets refunded or cancelled with no fees providing vouchers.

  12. Tim S to each his own however your comments are uncalled for. How long are you going to stay locked up? 1-2 years ? than what, when the next crisis occurs. My wife works at the local hospital and has been put on call for the past month due to a lack of patients. The world needs to start back up or we will enter a depression not just a temporary recession. Open your eyes and look at the big picture.

    1. I commented on someone who is traveling today for a vacation, not sure how that relates to 1-2 years down the line. Open your eyes and read the comments.

  13. I am 65. Only a vaccine as I just finished remodeling my house and I am happy to chill out at home until the vaccine comes!

  14. I agree with Tim. No one should be travelling for fun just now. The world is on hold/isolating for a purpose. You could be asymptotic when flying and spreading the virus. Surly we all understand this by now. We are all responsible for each other.
    My first flight will be to see family in Asia, hopefully and probably booked with miles or refundable ticket. I might even consider wearing a mask for the first time!!

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