What Holiday Travel Will Look Like This Year, According to the Latest Research

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Including how many people are flying versus staying in state this year. 

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The holiday travel season is officially upon us, and with it comes a deluge of seemingly unanswerable questions. Will the airports be crowded on December 20, or completely empty? Should I still arrive three hours before my flight because of holiday crowds, or is it best to spend as little time in the airport as possible? Should we book a vacation in the state to avoid crossing state lines? Because we’re in completely uncharted territory, the easiest way to prepare for holiday travel is to consider recent (and projected) travel trends. To that end, Amex Trendex, a trend report from American Express, examined what holiday travel will look like as compared to past years.  

Related: What Does the Future of Luxury Travel Look Like in a Post-Coronavirus World?

Amex Trendex found that in booking staycations or last-minute trips, consumers will pay more to ensure privacy and get more space; 61% are likely to pay a premium for a hotel with private amenities (like a private pool), 80% are more likely to book a vacation with fewer crowds and private accommodations, and 53% are keen on hotels with a socially distant spa. And booking last-minute hotel stays is almost a given at this point. In looking at American Express Travel data, it seems 81% of U.S. Card Members are booking hotels within the next 30 days. That number is up from 71% following that behavior in September 2019.


Courtesy Langham NYC

“While many consumers are planning to stay home for the holidays this year, our global American Express Travel booking data shows that those who are traveling this holiday season are looking to do staycations or booking last-minute trips to satisfy their appetite for travel,” said Audrey Hendley, President of American Express Travel.

Further, American Express Travel is seeing global Card Members book staycations not just in driving distance, but in their own state. In fact, 27% of U.S. Card Members booked hotels in their state of residence, compared to 15% in September 2019. It’s clear that this allows consumers to avoid not only flying but navigating state-by-state quarantine rules.

And on the subject of flying—what about air travel? Going off American Express Travel’s data, it seems that travelers are waiting until the last possible minute to book flights; 69% of U.S. Amex Card Members made air bookings within 30 days of the flight—compared to 54% in September 2019. 

Related: How to Travel Safely in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Hendley also introduces an interesting revelation when it comes to experiential gifts for the holidays. “In lieu of traveling for the holidays, consumers are dreaming of future travel with many saving up to buy 2021 trips or hoping to receive a 2021 domestic or international trip as a gift this holiday season,” she explained.


Courtesy Dunton Hot Springs

Sure enough, half of the travelers surveyed for this month’s Amex Trendex report said they were very interested in receiving a domestic (58%) or international (54%) trip as a gift this season. Furthermore, three in five people said their 2021 resolution would be to make more time for vacation, and an even greater percentage said that, as a result of the pandemic, they are saving more for future travel.