Eight Things to Know
About Travel Right Now
THURSDAY, AUGUST 19, 2021 -- Moments after midnight yesterday, my infrequent-flying niece, who was making her way back to New York from a short holiday in Phoenix/Scottsdale, shot me a text: As someone who doesn't travel--this is not the time to travel. And you can quote me there.

I have yet to hear the details of the horrors my niece and her girlfriend experienced, but does it really matter? This has not been the time for any of us to travel. Nothing has gone right. Worse, nothing is likely to go right for months more.

Let me explain what's happened and what little we can do to make our lives a little better in the months to come.

WE HAVEN'T BEEN IN CONTROL
The revival of airline traffic this year--we reached about 80% of 2019 volume--is almost totally leisure travel. They're everywhere--clogging ticket counters, checking too much luggage, stuffing overhead bins, hanging around the boarding gate before their time, not knowing anything about anything about how travel works. It's one reason the road has been so dour and depressing this year. It's not that leisure travelers are bad people. They're not. (Besides, my niece might be reading this.) It's just that they don't know the ropes and their inexperience is gumming up the system we know like the back of our hands.

WE WON'T BE IN CONTROL FOR QUITE A WHILE
Business travel is at historically low levels and no one now thinks it'll be back anytime soon. There are reasons for that. Without meetings and conventions to drive volume, a lot of us are rooted to our office chairs. With big companies reluctant to push the button on their return-to-the-office plans, you cannot take a business trip to visit a client or a prospect in the office. Best current guess as to when most of us will get back on the road in substantial numbers? Next spring. Maybe.

THE WORST MAY BE OVER
No, not the pandemic. But the travel boom is slowing as leisure travelers exhaust their interest in flying to domestic destinations or the few European locations open to us. Besides, school is starting so family summer holidays are pretty much done. That should make life on the road a little better. Airports will be less crowded, flights won't be packed and rates should moderate for rental cars and most flights and lodging. And, yes, the Delta variant is scaring some otherwise willing travelers off the road. We've had back-to-back days below 1.7 million daily flyers this week, the first time in months volume has been so low.

AIRLINES REALLY RIPPED US OFF
We handed over perhaps $80 billion in bailout funds to the airlines--and the money was specifically earmarked to keep employees working. But, of course, the carriers cheated. They bought out tens of thousands of their most experienced front-line workers and laid off thousands more. And despite this year's travel surge, the airlines haven't hired many back. In June, for example, U.S. airlines employed 709,678 full-time staffers. That was just 48--yes, 48--more than in May. But in June, there were 9.8 million more passengers than there were in May. Do the math. That means each of those 48 extra staffers had to service 204,166 additional flyers. How did that work out for us?

DO IT ON THE WEB--OR DON'T DO IT
JetBlue Airways, among other carriers, has disabled its "press 1 for a call back" feature. Why? Waiting times have gotten so long that you might end up getting a callback at 3 in the morning. Wait times at airlines have extended to double-digit hours at the worst moments this summer. Trying to deal with any carrier by phone is lost. If you can't get it done on the Web, give up. You won't get phone help.

HOTELS ARE RIPPING US OFF, TOO
This may surprise you--it sure surprised me--but hotels had a record-setting July. According to STR, the lodging statisticians, the nationwide average daily rate reached $143.30, the highest number on record. RevPAR--that's the revenue a hotel generates for each guestroom it operates--reached a record $99.71. In other words, lodgings are raking it in. And how have they treated us? With closed restaurants, pools, spas and fitness clubs; no housekeeping; room-service trays left in hallways for hours or even days; and all-around understaffed effort. The answer for their failings is always: Covid. Covid is why everything is closed. Covid is why we're not cleaning your room. And Covid is why we're charging you record-high rates.

GET MORE LODGING FOR LESS
The break-out star of the lodging world during the pandemic has been extended-stay hotels. Demand for extended-stay lodgings is actually 11% higher during this year's second quarter compared to 2Q 2019. And why not? You get more space, full-kitchens and (usually) a free breakfast. Better yet, you're not paying for full-service hotel amenities that full-service hotels aren't currently providing: bellmen, restaurants, daily housekeeping and other accoutrements. Right now, extended-stay properties are your best bet in lodging because you're getting more for less.

USE YOUR BIG PLASTIC STICK
I've heard horrific tales from you and other travelers--Who knows what my niece encountered?--about high travel prices and low travel products this year. Don't put up with it. If an airline, hotel or car rental firm has screwed you, turn the screws on them. Contest your charge with the credit card company. The travel industry hates chargebacks, especially since they have to justify their policies and behavior to a third party. You'll be surprised how flexible an inflexible travel provider becomes when you bring the credit card company in to question the charge.