More travelers are booking ‘up.’ Are you?

(Our travel trends story first appeared on NBC News in a slightly different form)

Consumers who got a taste of higher-end amenities during the last couple of years’ travel boom aren’t too keen to go back to basic economy.

And the travel industry doesn’t want them to.

“If revenge travel was then, emboldened travel is now,” said Erika Richter, a spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Advisors. The group sees customers taking advantage of the upgraded offerings operators are dangling.

With travel volumes still trending well ahead of pre-pandemic highs, “premium leisure travel is definitely on the rise,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, which analyzes the travel industry.

At the top end of the market, the most deep-pocketed consumers are still spending heavily on high-dollar getaways and exclusive experiences. Now, airlines, hotels, and cruises are prodding passengers of less lavish means to go premium, too — in some cases revising down what counts as “luxury.”

Upgrading from basic

Caleb Cash-Tobey and his husband have been springing for larger rooms and suites than they used to. Each year, the Fort Smith, Arkansas-based couple takes one major trip as well as smaller monthly ones that they’re increasingly comfortable enhancing with extra amenities, such as evening turndown service and in-room breakfast.

“We’ve learned that we should take the experience when it is offered because some experiences are no longer available in the post-Covid world that we may have really enjoyed,” Cash-Tobey. One example: a Champagne-augmented tour of the British crown jewels that a favorite London hotel discontinued.

Kristin Winkaffe, a travel adviser with Avenue Two Travel in Columbus, Ohio, said customers are becoming “more inclined to treat themselves to experiences that they may not have considered a few years ago. They’re now prioritizing the quality of their vacations over budget constraints.”

The travel industry is happy to oblige

Both international and domestic airlines are increasing their premium cabin capacities, a pre-pandemic trend that shows no sign of letting up. Major carriers have been adding extra legroom in premium economy and expanding some business and first-class cabins, looking to nudge more flyers out of their cheapest seats and into pricier ones.

Delta Air Lines President Glen Hauenstein told investors in October that revenue from premium offerings jumped 17% from the prior year, “outperforming the main cabin by five points.” Its premium select tier for long-haul flights, situated between economy options and the upscale Delta One, was revamped in late 2022 and has performed “above expectations,” he said.

“The airlines have realized that if they price these products in the right way, they can coax enough people to trade up,” Harteveldt said. His firm found last year that 1 in 3 travelers either booked a premium option or considered one, down just slightly from 38% in 2022, “when we were still in the throes of revenge travel and when people still had more savings.”

Some consumers are shelling out on upgrades that are more about practicality than self-pampering.

“Since the pandemic, I now only book changeable airplane tickets and hotels,” said Cathy Raines of Washington, D.C. That typically adds about 15% to her bills, Raines said, but she thinks it’s worth it for the added flexibility.

Kristin Chambers, founder of the Boston-based luxury travel agency Travellustre, said many of her clients now ship their luggage ahead of arrival and book VIP services like airside pickups, expedited service at customs and immigration, or cars to hotels. “Travelers are increasingly willing to invest in aspects of their journey that will guarantee an elevated level of service,” she said.

Suitcase kids

Seattle resident Rebecca Ross and her husband have ruled out Airbnb-style accommodations without 24-hour staff. “Life is too short to be standing around with a roller bag and a double-parked car wondering how to get in. We’ve vowed that our lodging must have a front desk with a human,” she said. That sometimes means spending more but often just requires a little extra time to hunt down, she added.

Morning Consult report in September put it bluntly: “Forget first-class seats and penthouse suits — luxury travel is about customer service.” If that means redefining what counts as premium to include things like the ability to speak to a real support agent, the researchers found consumers may welcome it all the same.

First-class flights, fancy hotel stays, and fine dining hold less appeal now than simply “feeling relaxed,” “experiencing comfort” and great service, the report said, adding that brands can find opportunity by treating the latter as high end: “The experiences that comprise ‘new luxury’ don’t require the traveler to be affluent.”

The high end gets higher

Some amenities certainly do, though, and wealthy customers are scooping them up.

Many “ultra-high-net-worth individuals” ditched first-class seats on commercial flights for private jets during the pandemic, and the habit stuck, said Doug Gollan, founder of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide to these services.

“New flyers racked up record-high private flight hours in 2021 and 2022, and 95% of these newcomers have continued to fly privately,” he said — at an average cost of about $40,000 for a two-hour trip.

Lodging operators have also seen strong demand from offerings aimed at higher-dollar guests. “Booking patterns continue to overwhelmingly favor premium suites, and some categories are booked months to years in advance,” said Gebhard Rainer, the CEO of Sandals Resorts International.

The company’s newest resort, Sandals St. Vincent and the Grenadines, won’t open until March, but its beachfront butler villas that start at $1,111 per person per night, and two-story overwater units starting at $1,570 per person per night, have already sold out dates well into 2025, Rainer said.

The Westin Poinsett Hotel in Greenville, South Carolina, put together a “Home Alone” themed holiday package with prices ranging from $599 to more than $1,000 a night — over-the-top rates for the local market during what’s usually a slow holiday season there. It sold out with 93 bookings and many guests asking about reservations for next year.

“I have been in the industry for 25 years between Washington, D.C., and Greenville, and by far this was the most successful package I have ever seen,” said John Geddes, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. “Guests were spending a minimum of four to five times the amount they would generally spend.”

Tour organizations and cruise lines report much the same.

“Travelers are willing to pay more for exclusive experiences,” said Terry Dale, CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association. As a result, organizers “are curating itineraries to include personalized services and experiences with more exclusivity, going beyond the standard offerings.”

Holland America, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Line, is seeing more guest bookings for premium spa services like its thermal suites and hydropool, said spokesperson Bill Zucker. “Our private cabanas are selling out regularly. And our new direct luggage service, where guests can have their luggage shipped directly to and from their home, is proving to be very popular,” he said.

Lindblad Expeditions, which operates National Geographic-branded cruises, replaced its Islander I luxury yacht with the more luxurious Islander II for Galapagos voyages in 2022, raising the average fare by 45%.

“Some nail-biting ensued,” said Lindblad Chief Commercial Officer Noah Brodsky, but the Islander II is already 78% booked for this year. That’s well ahead of historical trends, he said, “and an indication of the uptick in premiumization.”

Floating bus tours now operating at Schiphol Airport

In July, and many other outlets shared news of the Floating Dutchman tours being offered at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Well, we all jumped the gun. The service was supposed to kick off in July, but was delayed for about a month waiting for paperwork to fall into place for marine and road licenses.

Now everything seems to be in order and this week the first paying customers were able to climb on board.

Here’s my Floating Dutchman story from’s Overhead Bin:

If you’ve got a long layover between flights, your choices at most airports are to eat, drink, shop or attempt to nap while sitting up − and without drooling.

But passengers with at least five hours to wait at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport now have a new, entertaining and amphibious option.

On Wednesday, after a month-long delay, the Floating Dutchman welcomed aboard its first paying customers. The service is a cross between a bus and a boat and drives tourists from the airport to the city, enters the water at a specially-built ‘Splash Zone’ to give passengers a floating canal tour and then returns, via the highway, to the airport.

Speaking to Overhead Bin during the canal tour portion of the tour on Thursday, Annette Fatael of Toronto, Canada, said: “We have a nine-hour layover on our way from Toronto to Tel Aviv and chose this from several tours offered at the airport. It’s a huge tour bus and it was hard to believe that it was going to go into the water.”

Floating Dutchman Amsterdam

The amphibious bus carries 48 passengers, cruises the canals on battery power and is a partnership between the airport, the city of Amsterdam and a local cruise company.

The swimming boat concept is much like the Duck Tours offered in many U.S. cities. “But our floating is different because it is a luxury touring car and a fully equipped boat,” said Freek Vermeulen, managing director of Great Amsterdam Excursions. “We have a license plate and a marine certificate, so we can go everywhere. Duck Tours often use old army vehicles, are very noisy and only have permission to operate on a certain route.”

Tours last two hours and 45 minutes and are offered three times a day. Tickets cost about $56 (39 Euros) for adults and about $28 (19.50 Euros) for children. Booking online offers a 10 percent discount.

“It may prove to be one of the best ways to explore Amsterdam during a connection,” Cristian Petre of Romania wrote in the Flying Dutchman guestbook after the first day of tours on Wednesday. “We’ve now got an idea what the city is about and would return for more exploring,” noted the Kireta family of Australia.

It’s not as if Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is such a terrible place to spend a long layover. To serve the 40 percent of passengers making connections through Schiphol, the airport offers amenities that include a casino, in-terminal hotels, a library, more than 100 shops and restaurants and an outdoor observation deck. There’s also a park (with trees) inside the terminal and a branch of the Rijksmuseum.

A few other airports, including Incheon in Seoul, South Korea, and Hong Kong International Airport also offer transit passengers organized city tours. Singapore’s Changi Airport offers complimentary tours of the city. Turkish Airlines passengers stopping over at Istanbul Airport also receive free tours.