‘Tis the season for booking holiday travel. Or, is it? Earlier this month, we asked more than 1,500 U.S.-based travelers about their travel plans: Of those planning to travel in the next year, 63% plan to do so in the next three months, suggesting a busy holiday travel season ahead.
But when it comes to booking travel—for the holidays and otherwise— American travelers are practicing cautious optimism. More than a quarter (26%) of travelers said they have made plans they are prepared to cancel or change. And a quarter (25%) said they’re holding off making plans due to the Delta variant. Our data also points to many Americans waiting to book holiday travel plans, with the majority of those planning to travel for Thanksgiving, for example, planning to book only one month out.
Perhaps past experience lends to this behavior—more than a quarter (28%) of travelers said they have canceled or changed plans due to the Delta variant. Of those who changed or canceled plans, 27% lost money, some up to $5,000.
So, is the Delta variant making Americans more cautious about booking travel plans? What precautions are they taking—and what makes them feel comfortable—when they travel? What else do travelers consider before planning a trip? We look at the answers to these questions, and more, below.
One third of Americans book vacations six months out; business trips one month in advance
The top three reasons why Americans plan to travel in the year ahead have remained mostly consistent over the course of 2021. This time around, 77% said they’re planning a vacation, 60% are planning to visit family and friends, and 41% are planning a business trip.
Other reasons include the winter holidays (27%), a special occasion (25%), a rescheduled trip (22%), and Thanksgiving (19%).
As for when Americans are planning to book these trips:
- Nearly one third (31%) of travelers planning a vacation will book six (or more) months in advance. More than a quarter (26%) plan to book three to six months out.
- Half (50%) of people taking a rescheduled trip (re)booked it six months in advance—or more.
- Unlike vacations and rescheduled trips, business trips are most likely to be booked closer to the date of travel: 34% of those planning a business trip will book one month out; 28% book three weeks out.
- As for the upcoming holidays, 28% of those planning to travel will book plans for Thanksgiving one month in advance; 20% of those traveling for the winter holidays plan to book one month out, as well.
Would-be travelers grapple with the Delta effect
When we released survey data back in August, we saw that those comfortable flying in current conditions increased. And while remaining a top need, the relative importance of airline safety measures dropped.
But the Delta variant has changed what travelers need to feel comfortable flying. Our recent survey data shows that nearly half of travelers (47%) said in order to feel comfortable flying they would need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test required for passengers. Forty-two percent of travelers would like to see airlines continue or increase their safety measures, such as mask requirements and COVID-19 testing mandates. In addition, more than a third (38%) of travelers said requiring vaccination or COVID-19 testing for airline employees would make them feel comfortable flying. (Soon after this survey was fielded, many U.S. airlines began doing just that.)
Travel-related concerns looked a bit different this time around, as well—and we’re positing the Delta variant is why. Back in August, we saw some familiar travel concerns return: overcrowding and long lines were the top concern, meanwhile unruly passengers and the costs associated with travel appeared in the top five.
Now, more than a third of travelers (37%) said their top concern was whether they might need to cancel or reschedule a trip due to COVID-19 restrictions, requirements, or illness. Staying up to date on travel restrictions, guidelines, and requirements came in second, with 35% of travelers expressing concern about this. Overcrowding and long lines dropped to number four in the list, but more than a quarter (27%) still say this is a top concern next time they travel.
Travel plans - check! Now what?
Keys, wallet, phone, passport, vaccine passport. The list of things you need to travel in the new normal has lengthened—for most people.
According to our survey data, of those who traveled in the past six months:
- 60% carried their CDC COVID-19 vaccination card with them on a trip
- 29% took a COVID-19 test for their trip
- 15% used a vaccine passport app for their trip
- Only 4% had to quarantine upon arrival or when they returned home
- Just 1% of travelers had to reschedule or change their trip plans due a positive COVID-19 test; likewise, just 1% of respondents contracted, or traveled with someone who contracted, COVID-19 during a trip
That said, 30% of people told us none of the above applied to them.
Millennial travelers are twice as likely to consider environmental impact of their trips
After a hard reset, many Americans are reshuffling their priorities when it comes to travel. Whether it’s ascribing to the slow travel movement or being more conscientious of their carbon footprint, travelers are rethinking how they travel—and why. Indeed, more than half (57%) of travelers said they consider political, environmental, and social issues when they travel.
The top issues or values on travelers’ minds when planning a trip include the political environment or social unrest at their destination (43%), the ethics of traveling to their destination, e.g., vaccine equity/access or overtourism (23%), and the impact to the local community at their destination (15%).
When we looked at the differences between generations, we found that:
- Millennials and younger are twice as likely (16%) to consider the impact of their travel-related carbon emissions than Gen Xers (7%) or baby boomers and older (8%).
- Millennials and younger are more likely (25%) to consider the impact to the local community than Gen Xers (17%) or baby boomers and older (10%).
- Gen Xers (9%) and baby boomers (11%) are more likely to consider potential threats based on their political views than millennials and younger (4%).
Because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Americans are taking a cautiously optimistic approach to planning—and booking—trips. While some book flexible travel plans they know they might need to change or cancel, others are holding off booking until the last minute.
These behaviors are understandable. Some travelers have lost money on canceled travel plans; others have had to reschedule trips—and then reschedule them again.
Nonetheless, our data shows travelers persisted. They’ve done what it takes to travel, whether it’s carry their CDC-issued vaccine card, take a COVID-19 test for their trip, or book a spontaneous trip.
We appreciate that changing travel restrictions and requirements can sometimes feel confusing and hard to predict. But with just 1% of travelers contracting (or traveling with someone who contracted) COVID-19, we’re glad to see caution paying off in keeping travelers safe.
Methodology: TripIt surveyed more than 1,500 U.S.-based users to understand their travel plans for the year ahead. The survey took place in late September to early October 2021. For the purpose of this research, TripIt defined generations as follows: millennials (1981-1996); Generation X (1965-1980); and baby boomers (1946-1964).