As we work on various trips for our clients, I’ve definitely noticed a change from what we were used to in the past regarding pricing, availability, response times, and service levels with the various suppliers we use around the world. While we work on mitigating those issues for our clients, I wanted to give you a perspective of what is going on in the travel marketplace so you know what to expect when dreaming of your next trip, so I share some insights today…
Travel Planning Insights in 2023
As I’ve been talking with colleagues in regard to planning travel for the last few months, we’ve been struck by the complexity and difficulty that we are seeing across the travel industry. We are thrilled that there is a lot of travel going on, but it’s much harder to plan and make dependable arrangements compared to what worked in the past.
I wanted to give you some insight into the ways that travel planning has changed so that you’re prepared when you are looking at options or you are expecting a certain price based on history.
One of the key themes is one that we’ve been talking about for years since Covid, and that is flexibility.
Flexibility is still needed because so many travel providers are still having staffing issues, whether it’s airlines or hotels or transportation or public services. Those staffing shortages ultimately create the need for last-minute changes or modified levels of service than we were used to in the past.
If you just go on a trip having the mindset that you’re excited to be traveling, expecting some potential changes with the thought that it’s all going to be okay, you’ll end up better off rather than being frustrated. Sometimes we see shore excursions or tour arrangements being canceled at the last minute because the providers just don’t have the staff. One or two people being sick can really shake up their schedule.
Transportation has been a little more difficult to arrange. In particular I’ve noticed that some of the Covid protocols that were put in place initially that really are not necessary at this point, continue on. For example, a private transfer pick-up at the airport may say ‘meet and greet’ but when you arrive at the airport, there’s no one there to greet you. When you call the transportation company, they tell you to come outside to meet the car. Now that is not ‘meet and greet’ service, but they continue those protocols because of their staffing issues and this lets them continue to provide services, although modified.
Again, just recognize that being flexible can be your friend while you’re traveling.
One of the things we’ve noticed is that hotel pricing is much higher, and that really hit home for me when I was making arrangements to go to Savannah for my mom’s funeral.
I was just looking for a hotel close to the church and the funeral home in the church, on the south side of Savannah. The area is no place special, no sightseeing nearby, just midpoint of Savannah near the old mall. Not a place that you would go to if you’re a tourist in Savannah.
When I search for hotels, the Comfort Inn and the La Quinta were over $210 a night, with other nicer options like Courtyard or Fairfield end around $250-275 a night. What the heck?
The reason I tell this story is that if it costs $200+ a night to stay at Comfort Inn near the mall in Savannah, what do you think it’s going to cost you to stay at a nice city center hotel in a European city?
So don’t be surprised that the pricing for really nice accommodations when you’re traveling is in a higher price range than before, $350 – 500 per night. It’s definitely what we’re seeing. I’m not saying you can’t get something less than that, and we look for alternatives for our clients who want a lower price point, but it is harder and harder to find reasonable pricing for popular cities. Sometimes if you’re going to a lesser-known city, something a little quieter or remote, you may find very nice pricing.
Just be aware that hotel pricing has risen and seems to be the trend – at least for a period of time going forward.
If you’ve looked at any flight pricing lately, you’ve seen that flight prices are much higher than they used to be. They really don’t seem to be too many deals out there.
Airlines continue to adjust their schedules based on load and staffing. Sometimes they are adding flights and that can provide new opportunities. On the other hand, there are also canceling flights.
Again, flexibility comes into play. We’ll say one of the benefits of that we saw from Covid is that they got rid of cancellation fees for most flights. But remember – not all flights. And some of the cancellation rules continue to evolve. You do need to check for your particular airline and for domestic versus international regarding cancellation fees.
If you fly often and you book a US-based airline, you can always schedule a flight and cancel it later with an e-credit, as long as you know that you’re going to be able to use that e-credit within a year.
If you don’t fly that often then that’s not a good strategy.
The other consideration is that if you are making a booking on an airline, that’s based outside of the US, such as a European airline or a South American airplane, you definitely want to get insurance to cover you or pay more to get a refundable fare.
Because if you have to cancel, it really doesn’t do you any good to have an air credit on TAP Portugal or LATAM that’s going to expire in six months if you’re not going to have the chance to use it up.
That is a reason to stick with US carriers for planning international flights, as you’ll have more opportunity to use the eCredits.
One thing I want to alert you to is the issue of ensuring that your passport is up to date. And you may think, oh yeah, my passport’s not going to expire until 2024.
That actually means you need to pay a little bit of attention right now. A lot of folks do not realize this, but many countries require that you have a passport that will be valid for 6 months after your return.
Not all countries require six months, some only require three months, but here’s the kicker: the airlines will not allow you to board if they think you’re not meeting the requirement.
The particular country you’re going to may only have a three month requirement, but if the airline employee you’re dealing with is used to the six month rule, they may deny you boarding. You can stand there and argue with them about three months versus six months, but they’re going to control if you get on that flight.
The best recommendation is to ensure your passport will be valid for 6 months after your return.
That means you’ve got to really be paying attention if your passport expires in 6 to 18 months, and you have international travel planned. If you have got a passport that it’s going to expire March 1 of next year, and you’re going to be taking a trip on October 1st of this year – you need to get a new passport before you go.
Part two of this message is it’s taking even longer to get passport renewals right now – the timeframe is 10-13 weeks for regular renewals and 7-9 weeks for expedited renewals.
If you have multiple international trips planned, you’ve really got to be quite strategic when you plan to renew your passport since you have to mail your current passport. Pay attention to this issue as you don’t want to forget about it. You have to plan appropriately that your passport renewal is going to take 10-13 weeks. The instructions for renewing a passport are found here: http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html
ACTION: Check that date on your passport – when does it expire?
I hope these insights have been helpful to give you a perspective of travel at this point so you know what to expect. We definitely work through all these issues on behalf of our clients to make their trip easier.