Inside Flyer magazine recently surveyed more than 27,000 frequent travelers about travel in the age of coronavirus. While it is not exactly breaking news that this novel coronavirus has severely impacted nearly every aspect of life, it is interesting to see what this group thinks it will take for travel to make a comeback and when that might happen.
Inside Flyer is a monthly publication specializing in frequent flyer news. The magazine was founded in 1986 by frequent flyer guru Randy Petersen. It conducted the survey over a ten-day period in early April. Most responses, 83%, came from North America and Europe. Two thirds of respondents made six or more round-trips annually, and 9 out of 10 belonged to at least one loyalty program. Full survey results are here.
The most interesting parts of the survey pertained to opinions on when and under what conditions travel will return and the best measures loyalty programs can take to support members while travel is on hold.
When Will Travel Revive?
Sixty percent of respondents think it will take at least four months for travel to return to normal. Just 9% think it will be less than two months.
I will be pleasantly surprised if travel will be close to normal within one year. In yesterday’s quarterly earnings call, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian stated it could be up to three years before Delta sees a sustained recovery. I hope travel resumes before then.
Bastian also stated that domestic travel would recover sooner than international travel. I agree. Countries will experience outbreaks at different times and with different abilities to handle them. Restrictions on flights to various countries will continue. Restrictions may be lifted and reimposed when flare ups occur. Travelers will be more confident in and knowledgeable of the steps their own governments are taking. The possibility of getting sick in a foreign country where health insurance may not apply should be a major concern if there is any doubt about the safety of foreign travel.
How Will We Know We Can Travel?
The survey asked how people will know travel is returning to normal. Most responses related to lifting government travel bans and significant decreases in the number of new Covid-19 cases.
However, people will not travel just because governments lift travel bans, no longer require social distancing, or say the number of cases is decreasing.
Irrespective of what governments say, people will travel again only when they feel it is safe. That requires success in controlling and treating Covid-19 with a prophylactic vaccine or with minimal cost and discomfort post infection. If successful treatment requires a hospital stay, that is not something I’m willing to gamble on.
Equally important will be conducting enough testing to provide confidence that we know the amount of disease in the population. Decreasing numbers of new infections alone are meaningless.
How Can Loyalty Programs Best Support Members?
Extending status and waiving cancellation fees top this list.
Several of the programs I participate in have extended status earned for 2020 to 2021. I really appreciate it, but simply having status won’t encourage booking new trips. Waiving cancellation and change fees is more important when thinking about making travel plans in these uncertain times. If I’m certain I can cancel and get my money, miles, or points back, I would be more likely to book trips six months to a year in advance. Generous cancellation policies can work to the benefit of an airline or hotel since they could enjoy the use of my money for months and ultimately not have to provide any services.
As a confirmed traveler, being able to see new places, meet new people, and experience different cultures can’t come soon enough.
When do you think you will travel again? What conditions do you require to make travel feasible again?