By the Numbers: 5 Signs Travel Is Bouncing Back to New Heights

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Travel resurgence

By the Numbers: 5 Signs Travel Is Bouncing Back to New Heights

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Everybody loves a good comeback story, and we might be on the precipice of yet another one in the travel industry.

Travelers, airlines, and the entire travel industry have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with twists and turn and an unpredictable future ahead. When will travel return to something close to normal? And what does normal even look like anymore?

Of course, it’s not happening overnight – and you need only think back to the worst of the Omicron wave at the start of the year to see how fast things can change. But for the latest time, we’re seeing signs and plenty of data points showing something similar: A renewed hope for returning to travel … perhaps for good, this time.


COVID-19 Cases are Trending Down Again

We have to start with the single most important indicator – the numbers upon which this whole industry and our lives hinge: The COVID-19 pandemic.

This deadly respiratory illness has cost so many so much, the least of which was their travel plans. After a scary surge in both cases and hospitalizations over January that rivaled the worst of the pandemic thanks to the new Omicron variant, things turned  around rapidly. COVID-19 cases are declining across the U.S. – and in many other countries, too.

Data from the New York Times shows daily COVID-19 cases have plummeted since mid-January, dropping to their lowest point since summer 2021.

nytimes covid cases 

That has helped stabilize the unpredictable and constantly changing international travel restrictions – especially in Europe. After Omicron spooked the globe, we’ve seen a new trend emerge: International travel is getting easier.


Countries Loosen Entry Requirements

Throughout much of the pandemic, international travel has been tricky. Mandatory quarantines, pre-travel testing, and proof of vaccination requirements have become commonplace for travel around the globe.

Oh, and you still need a COVID-19 test to fly back to the U.S., no matter your vaccination status or where you’ve gone abroad … at least for now. But lately, the trend is clear: As the worst of the pandemic fades, countries are softening their entry requirements in order to usher in a return to normal travel.

Here’s a small sample of changes we’ve seen in recent weeks:

All that in just a few weeks. All around the globe, pressure is on for countries to soften the entry requirements that have kept travel at bay. And that includes the U.S., where testing to return from an international trip has scared off many travelers from heading somewhere abroad.


Spring Break Will Be Big

Spring break is coming. And by the looks of it, it could be the biggest travel surge we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic.

The travel planning app TripIt has crunched the numbers of flight reservations logged into its system and come to a jawdropping conclusion: Users are taking nearly four times as many flights this spring break as compared to the same period in 2021.

And while domestic flight reservations are up 354% compared to last year, here’s the biggest change of them all: International flights are up a whopping 507% compared to 2021, according to TripIt. That’s massive.

tripit spring break data
Courtesy of TripIt

If 2021 was the year that travel started to make its comeback, this data suggests 2022 could be the year it finalizes its return.

And people aren’t just traveling for spring break…


Flight Searches on the Rise

The smartest travelers all turn to the same tool when they’re ready to start looking for cheap flights: Google Flights, by far the best search engine for finding a deal on airfare.

So throughout the pandemic, we’ve tracked something we call “The Google Flights Index”: How many people are searching for Google Flights (and therefore for a vacation), as measured by Google Trends? Take a look at that data and you can almost feel the surging confidence in travel.

google flights results 

Searches for Google Flights have hit their highest point since the start of the pandemic. In fact, those searches have inched closer to the pre-pandemic norm – if you throw out that massive spike in March 2020, when everyone and their mother searched for a spring getaway for after the first lockdowns ended.


Planes are Getting Fuller & Fuller

We’ve warned travelers throughout the last year that the days of empty planes are over. If you’re flying these days, you should assume your flight will be full. And that’s truer now than ever.

Here’s a look at average load factors in the U.S. from the Airlines for America, which measures how full planes are, on average.

average load factor 

That’s right: The blue line shows that planes in the U.S. are more full, on average, than they were back in 2019. That may seem like bad news – who wants a full plane, after all?

But as seats fill up, it gives airlines more confidence to pull their final planes out of the desert and restore flights they cut over the last two years. It’s all part of how air travel gets back to normal.


Even Business Travel is Coming Back

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of business travelers to the travel industry.

Airlines and hotel chains alike have built their business models around corporate travel. Those pricey first class seats and last-minute tickets may occupy a small piece of the plane, but they make up a majority of airlines’ revenue. As companies big and small shut off corporate travel when the pandemic struck, they all but disappeared, leaving industry watchers to wonder whether the rise of Zoom could leave business travel in the dust.

Data from the business travel management company TripActions from last month shows that as COVID-19 cases have dropped, business travel bookings have exploded again.

tripactions business data
Graphic courtesy of TripActions


Reasons for Caution

Predictions during COVID-19 can be tricky. If we’ve learned one thing during this pandemic, it’s that COVID-19 is unpredictable and can always get ahead of us.

Last spring we thought we were emerging from the pandemic for good only to be sucked back in by the Delta variant. The Omicron variant gave us all another gut punch this winter. Is that the end of it, or is another variant waiting? We just don’t know.

While it’s OK to read this data and be optimistic about your travel future, it’s still as important as ever to book travel smarter during uncertain times.

Make sure you book fares that can be changed or canceled for free. Book directly with the airlines and use a credit card. Be flexible, and expect changes to your travel plans so you can stay ahead of the curve.


Bottom Line

It’s still far too early to declare the pandemic over, and a return to normal in travel remains months away or more. But after a grim summer and a rough start to winter, things seem to be trending in the right way once again.

After months of fits and starts, we think this data means you can be optimistic about your future travel again.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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