Travel tips

Lessons from the pandemic: don’t wait

We’ve learned a lot of things during this pandemic.

Some of those things are way too personal to share here. Others we’re going to file under “do this going forward.”

For example, when spending days working and drinking coffee, we’re going to use the smaller mug and try to keep a lid on the caffeine.

And instead of putting away so many things for ‘the right time’ or ‘that special day,’ we’re going to use them.

Case in point: the one-way travel pass the folks at Seaport Airlines handed out at an event I attended more than five years ago. It may have been longer ago than that.

The small commuter airline was based in Portland, OR, and operated from 2008 through 2016 with service from Portland and Memphis to a handful of cities. One of those flights was between Portland International Airport (PDX) and Seattle, leaving from King County International Airport (BFI) – also known as Boeing Field. I was going to fly to Portland on Seaport Airlines, spend the weekend visiting friends and taking advantage of buying things with no sales tax, and take the train home. I put the pass away because I waiting for just the right time. And I let it slide.

The pass fell out of a folder today when I was looking for something else. And I felt sad about that lost opportunity.

But after I shared a snap of the pass on social media, Scott McMurren of the travel newsletter AlaskaTravelgram.com forwarded the post to Kent Craford, one of the founders of Seaport Airlines. He’s now with Alaska Seaplanes and he sent me an email saying he’d honor my pass up there. And he said, “I’ll even upgrade your pass to round-trip.”

Making plans now…

Travel on the rebound? Bookings say yes.

[This is a slightly different version of the story we prepared for NBC News]

As the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations is ramping up, so is consumer confidence — and with it, a surge in travel bookings.

“Many travelers are feeling optimistic that they will be able to vacation abroad this year. Many people are already actively planning their next big trip; even for trips more than four months out,” said Shibani Walia, senior research analyst at Tripadvisor.

2020 was the worst year in history for air travel demand, according to the International Air Transport Association, with global passenger traffic falling more than 65 percent, compared to 2019. The hotel industry also tanked, surpassing 1 billion unsold room nights, according to hotel industry research firm STR. The story was much the same for cruises, attractions, and tours, with the World Tourism Organization calling 2020 the worst year on record.

Pent up demand fuel bookings

With a comprehensive vaccine schedule and pent-up demand for leaving home, vacation planning and bookings are on the rise for late 2021, 2022, and beyond.

Spirit Airlines announced Thursday it would start training new pilots and flight attendants as of next month, in preparation for a spike in leisure travel.

“We just got our first shot. So maybe we could plan a trip this summer or later this year,” says Vicky Stein of New York. “I’d love to visit my son in Vancouver, B.C. But that depends on the regulations in Canada. At this point, I’d be happy to go to Vermont.”

A recent Tripadvisor survey found that 80 percent of U.S. consumers planned to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021. Just over one-third of respondents planning at least three domestic trips this year. Popular destinations such as Orlando are already seeing a hopeful booking rebound.

“The region expects 2021 spring break travel to mirror the Christmas and New Year holidays, when occupancy reached 50 percent,” said Daryl Cronk, senior director of market research for Visit Orlando. “This would be a significant improvement over last year’s 12 percent, one of the lowest points of the year.”

Tripadvisor’s survey also found a strong interest in international travel planning. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents said they are planning to travel internationally in 2021.

Already, the majority of hotel clicks for trips taking place from May onwards are to international destinations, Tripadvisor noted. “This is an early signal that travelers are feeling increasingly confident they will be able to travel abroad in 2021, at least in the back half of the year.”

Italy, France, Japan, Australia, and Greece are at the top of most travelers’ lists, said Misty Belles, managing director at Virtuoso travel network, citing customer planning.

Cruises may make a comeback

Travelers are also eyeing cruises, a good sign for the many cruise lines that had to abandon entire sailing seasons.

“We’re seeing growing confidence from cruisers as vaccines begin to be distributed,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief at Cruise Critic. “Both because they see it as a step in the right direction for the return of travel, and because they’ll feel most comfortable sailing knowing that they and their fellow passengers have been vaccinated.”

Many cruisers are making their bookings further out.

“Our 136-day 2021-2022 Viking World Cruise sold out more than a year in advance,” says Richard Marnell, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Viking. “And we have had such strong demand for our new Mississippi River cruises that we opened additional dates for sale in 2023 sooner than expected.” 

Rich and Suzi McClear of Sitka, Alaska, whose 2020 Holland America Line world cruise was cut short due to the pandemic, are anxious to go back to sea. “We’re rebooked for a 2022 world cruise. We’re also booked for the 2023 world cruise, which we view as an insurance policy in case the 2022 cruise does not go,” they said in an email.

Should you book a trip too?

Most travel companies now have flexible and more generous booking and cancellation policies, and prices are historically low. So, it can be a good time to book future trips.

Airfares, for example, are 20 percent lower compared to last year, said Adit Damodaran, economist for travel app Hopper. “Domestic airfare prices are expected to rise in mid-to-late March and gradually return to 2019 levels over the course of the year. And it is not too early to book for 2022, especially if you’re booking with trip protection or flexible booking options.

Planning where to go in 2020?

Resolved to travel more in 2020? Experts offer tips on where and when to go.                

If you plan to travel to more charming and culturally diverse destinations in the new year, this story should come in handy.

For CNBC, we reviewed a handful of the many “Best places to go” lists issued this time of year and asked travel industry experts for advice on the best times and reasons to visit certain cities.

When to go

Your vacations may be ruled by school vacations and crunch times at work, but, “If budget is your number one priority for travel in 2020, it behooves you to consider flying in winter months as nearly all major US cities boast their lowest median booking price in either January or February,” said Kelly Sunderland, travel trends expert for travel site Hipmunk.

Where to go

The mighty fortress of Festung Hohensalzburg overlooks the city. Getty Images.

On its Best in Travel 2020 list, Lonely Planet picked Salzburg, Austria as the number-one city to visit next year, ranking Washington, DC second and Cairo, Egypt third.


“The Salzburg Festival [July 18 – August 30] is turning 100, and this heart-stealer of an Alpine city is singing about it at the top of its voice,” said Lonely Planet writer Kerry Walker, “One of the world’s greatest classical music shindigs, the festival is always a riotous feast of opera, classical music and drama–and never more so than in 2020.”

Bhutan topped Lonely Planet’s list of countries to visit in 2020, with England in second place and North Macedonia in third.

“A dozen nations vie for the title of real-life Shangri-La, but Bhutan’s claim has more clout than most,” said Lonely Planet writer Joe Bindloss, “This tiny piece of Himalayan paradise operates a strict ‘high-value, low-impact’ tourism policy, compelling travelers to pay a high daily fee [$250] just to set foot in its pine-scented, monastery-crowned hills.”

Bhutan also topped the Rough Guides list of the 4 Best Countries to visit in 2020, followed by Ethiopia, Austria (where Vienna will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven) and Montenegro.  

Luxe travel

In its 2020 Luxe Report, global luxury travel network Virtuoso shares trends already influencing bookings for next year.

Courtesy Virtuoso

“Italy continues its reign as the global favorite, as well as the top spot for solo travelers,” the report notes, “while Croatia heads the list of emerging destinations, attracting buzz due to the Game-of-Thrones effect as well as its rich history and convenience to other major European hubs.” 

In Virtuoso’s survey, Antarctica takes the top spot for adventure travel in 2020, with Greece showing up as the top destinations for Millennials as well as second on the global destinations list and a third-place for honeymoons.

2020 also marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. Events are planned in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States.

In Plymouth, MA, “Plimoth Plantation is actually a really fun experience, with or without kids,” said Lindsay Taylor-Lauer of Takfiri Travel, a Virtuoso Agency, “And in New England there is something for everyone to do and explore, from the Azorean Restaurant in Gloucester, MA to the gilded mansions in Newport, Rhode Island and minkes [whales] popping from the water as you ferry from Dennis Port to Martha’s Vineyard on Cape Cod.”

52+ more options to consider

Fodor’s Travel put together a Go List for 2020 that includes 52 places.

Destinations topping the list in the United States and Canada are Athens, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; and Newfoundland, Canada. Sicily’s Aeolian Islands top the list for destinations to head for in Europe, followed by Albania and Andalusia, in the southern part of Spain.

Destinations are broken down by region (Africa/Middle East, Asia, South America, etc.) and, as a nice bonus, there is also a Go List 2020 playlist on Spotify to help you get in the travel-planning mood.

For its Best Trips 2020 list, National Geographic picked 25 must-see destinations and travel experiences.

On the list: Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, which celebrated its centennial in 2019, and Philadelphia, PA, described as “an American classic” reinventing itself for a new generation in much the same way Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati have been doing, “but better.” National Geographic’s Best Trips list also suggests Tasmania, Australia and Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, one of the world’s few International Dark Sky Sanctuaries.

Events to travel for

January 16 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of prohibition in the United States, so 2020 may be a good time to visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky and to travel along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

And if a trip to Japan has been on your list for a while, keep in the mind that the 2020 Summer Olympics take place in Tokyo this year from July 24 through August 9 and there will be packages and tours heading that way.

Travel deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesday

Skip the things. Grab travel deals on Black Friday/ Cyber Monday instead.

Here are some travel-related deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesday to get you started on deal-shopping this season.

More deals to come!

Deals on getting from here to there

Look for Amtrak’s “Track Friday Sale,” to go live at Amtrak.com on November 29. Last year’s deal offered 30% off nationwide train travel well into the new year.

Many airlines will be offering discounts and flash deals.

To catch them, make sure to follow a few favorite airlines on Twitter and other social media sites and join their frequent flyer programs so you get email announcements sent to insiders.

Until December 2, Air France is offering current and new Flying Blue loyalty program members triple miles on most US to Paris flights purchased for travel December 7 to March 31, 2020.

Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus will offer $100 off on round trip economy fares and $200 off on round trip business class flights from the US and Canada to Europe booked between Tuesday 11/26 and Tuesday 12/3 for travel between January 1 and March 8, 2020.

Turkish Airlines is having a Black Friday “Friday Flyday” sale with discounts to various cities around the world.

According to Hopper, many other airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and TAP Portugal will likely launch sale offers on Cyber Monday or Travel Tuesday.

Airport lounge pass deal

Plaza Premium Lounges has a walk-in offer for holiday flyers.

From 5 a.m. November 29 through midnight on Monday December 2, travelers flying out of Toronto or Vancouver, B.C. can get 25% off a 2 or 3-hour lounge stay and 35% off 2 and 3-hour lounge stays in their airport lounges in Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Place to stay  

It seems that just about every hotel and resort is courting travelers with a Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesdays deals this year.

Savvy shoppers will be able to snag great lodging deals but pay attention to the fine print on the offers. Some deals are non-refundable, have blackout dates and narrow stay windows or other restrictions.

As with airlines, you can often get the best deals if you are a member of a property or chain’s free-to-join frequent-stay program. And, keep in mind that discounts often don’t apply to local and state taxes and resort and amenities fees, which can be quite steep at some properties.

Here are some offers that caught our attention:  

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort’s Cyber Deal, underway now through December 3, offers Honors Members up to 30 percent off a Hawaii vacation. Valid for stays Nov. 28, 2019 through June 30, 2020.  

For its ‘Black Friday Meets The Mile High’ deal at The Curtis in Denver, the hotel is linking its holiday booking deal to Denver’s elevation of 5280 feet. The hotel is offering discounted rates of $52.80/night for dates in December and January booked from Black Friday to Cyber Monday (11/29 – 12/2).

Virgin Hotels in Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas are celebrating Cyber Month. Discounts of up to 30% off best rates will be available December 2, 2019 through January 2, 2020 for stays between December 2, 2019 and June 1, 2020. As a bonus, each hotel will choose a winner each day to be upgraded to a penthouse suite.  

MGM Resorts properties in Las Vegas, including Bellagio, Aria and MGM Grand, have lined up Cyber Week deals up to 35% off regular rates, plus 5% more for M Life Rewards members, from November 25 through December 4, 2019. Look for many more offers Sin City offers on visitlasvegas.com.

Pacifica Hotels, which owns boutique properties on the Pacific Coast, will offer 40% off room rates during its Cyber Monday Sale. The hotel’s Passport Program participants get early access to the sale on Friday, November 29th. Sale covers stays from December 2, 2019 through March 14, 2020.

If you book on the HotelTonight mobile app, use the code HTDEAL25 between Monday December 2 and Tuesday December 3 (Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesday) to get 25% off one hotel stay.

And double-up on discounts at Hotwire’s mobile app with promo codes that can be used on top of discounted hotel bookings made between November 27 and November 29. Use code HWBF for $10 off $100 hotel bookings; HWBF40 for $40 off $300 hotel bookings and HWBF70 for $70 off $500 hotel bookings. On Cyber Monday (Dec 2), use promo code HWHOTDEALS for an extra 11% off $100 Hotwire Hot Rate Hotels.

Packages and tours

Botswana, Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Photographing Elephants on a Game Drive

Cruise lines and tour companies will be also be floating special offers during this holiday shopping weekend.

Travelers looking to experience bucket list cruises destinations such as Antarctica, Alaska and Norway can take advantage of Hurtigruten’s deals of up to 50% off select 2020 and 2021 itineraries. Sale dates are November 27 through December 4, 2019, and include expedition voyages aboard the line’s MS Roald Amundsen, the first hybrid electric-powered expedition ship in the world.

Abercrombie & Kent’s Holiday Sale offers discounts of $1,000 to $3,900 on a wide variety of adventures to destinations such as Vietnam, India, Peru and Kenya. Their sale runs from 8 a.m. C.S.T. December 2 through 4 p.m. December 6, 2019.

Deals on attractions

While you’re grabbing airfare and lodging deals, be on the lookout for discounts on attractions and amusement parks in cities you plan to visit.

Now through December 8, 2019, use promo code “GIFT” to get an additional 10% off the deals and discounts to more than 50 theme parks, attractions, activities and dinner shows at Visit Orlando.

From Saturday, November 30 through Monday, December 2, use promo code CYBERMONDAY to save up to 15% on Go City passes, which offer discounted admission packages at popular attractions in more than 20 cities.

And in advance of the July 4, 2020 opening of LEGOLAND New York Resort, the price of the park’s highest tier annual pass, the Gold Pass, will be on sale for $99.99 instead of $209.99 from Black Friday through Cyber Monday.

The pass can’t be activated until the LEGOLAND New York park opens but waiting will be worth it. The pass not only offers year-long admission to this new LEGOLAND resort, but admission to more than 30 other Merlin Entertainment attractions around the country, including LEGOLAND resorts in California and Florida, LEGOLAND Discovery Centers, Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE Aquariums.

(My story about Travel Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesday first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form).

Upscale travelers are just like us

Where are upscale Americans spending their travel dollars?

Should you do what they do?

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with upscale Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.  

So where are well-to-do Americans jetting off to? Here’s a story I put together recently for CNBC.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019 and shared a couple of Top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends.  

The Top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” notes Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot in the Top 10 list.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination is extending into the fall this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the Top 10 list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, Ovation’s Senior Vice President of Leisure & Independent Advisors.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard, “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard, “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted; in other cases, political fears may be subsiding.

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286 percent), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171 percent) as well as Malta (up 140 percent), Romania (135 percent) and Egypt (up 122 percent). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96 percent) round out the “Hot 10” list.

Where are upscale Americans staying?

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for Global Public Relations, “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56 percent this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, President of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, says hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” says Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.  

Upscale travelers and overtourism

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “But now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark, “Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon says upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.

Have a destination you’d like to tell us about? Please share your tips in the comment section below.