What to expect when you’re traveling in 2016

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By Christopher Elliott

2016 will be a great year to travel. And expensive. Maybe frustrating, too.

But don’t take my word for it. I asked eight of the smartest people in travel for their 2016 predictions, and that’s what they told me. Fortunately, they also shared their secrets for traveling smarter.

If you line up their forecasts for next year, you’ll find a roadmap that warns you of the hazards ahead, tells you when and how to travel, and helps you manage what’s left of your loyalty portfolio.

But first, let’s talk money. NYU professor Bjorn Hanson says 2016 will bring the highest hotel occupancy levels and room rates ever. “And record fees and surcharges,” he adds. “Look for more early check-in fees, and charges for surface parking in suburban locations.”

Not all of the surcharges will stick, though. Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League, predicts mandatory hotel resort fees — nuisance surcharges added to your room rate for items like pool towels and wireless Internet — could die next year.

Consumers will become increasingly fed up and vocal

“As more hotels insert more resort fees, consumers will become increasingly fed up and vocal,” she says. “A coalition of advocates are pushing to have these fees banned.” That could mean the price you’re quoted on your hotel will be the price you actually pay, which will lead to fewer frustrated guests.

Flying somewhere? “The news is even better,” says Tim Winship, who edits the site Frequentflier.com. He sees dramatically lower fares in 2016. The reason: Airlines have added too many new flights, which translates into a excess seat inventory. They won’t be able to keep their prices high.

“Demand for those extra seats won’t keep pace with the added supply, resulting in fare skirmishes, if not all-out price wars,” he says.

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You may even be able to afford to fly in style. “JetBlue and Virgin America have pioneered the concept of a more affordable first-class seat,” says Jeff Klee, the chief executive of CheapAir.com. “I would not be surprised to see additional entries into the affordable premium category from other airlines next year,” he says.

What about loyalty programs?

“I expect to see airlines, hotels and other travel providers begin to rethink their loyalty and membership programs next year,” says Dave O’Flanagan, CEO of Boxever, a predictive marketing company. A recent survey conducted by Boxever found that a surprisingly low percentage of travelers — less than one-third — believe that being a member of a frequent-flier program leads to a better customer experience. This year, several major airlines have already significantly devalued their programs, alienating many once-loyal customers. More changes are on the horizon.

The rock-bottom fares could take a toll, pushing some airlines to merge and others into bankruptcy, according to Paul Hudson, president of the advocacy group Flyersrights.org. Business travelers are already migrating to corporate jets while budget travelers choose to drive. He expects only Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines to survive the storm, but also predicts one new airline will emerge next year, creating a more competitive industry.

Other experts point to the ongoing shift to the sharing economy, with companies like Relayrides, Airbnb and Uber getting discovered by mainstream travelers. Andrew McConnell, the co-founder and CEO of rented.com, a vacation rental site, says 2016 “will be shaped by sharing.” Only a fraction of travelers know these options exist. But he believes they’ll be discovered next year. (Related: Why you’re stealing from your travel company.)

Mobile apps

How? It’s all happening on your phone, predicts Henrik Kjellberg, president of Hotwire. “Mobile apps and browsers enable instantaneous travel plans from anywhere, at any time.”

Lower fares, more lodging options and more opportunities to share will add up to one thing: even more travelers. You know those travel forecasts by the likes of AAA for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July? Expect them to set new records. (Here’s everything that you need to know about travel and money.)

“Everyone will have the joy of traveling more,” says Clem Bason, CEO of the recently launched hotel search site goSeek.com. “But they’ll also have the stress of … well, everyone traveling more.” (Related: Why you’re stealing from your travel company.)

Smart travelers will skip the loyalty games, remain open to alternative lodging and transportation and shop even harder for the bargains. And in 2016, they’ll go to great lengths to avoid the crowds. Oh well, there goes my summer vacation.

Do this in 2016

Burn your miles. Experts agree that 2016 is the year to spend those miles you’ve been accumulating, not collect them. Travel companies, and especially airlines, will probably move to devalue their points even further.

Upgrade your phone. The hottest new apps will be designed for the newest phones, using technology like Apple’s Force Touch to bring you a more immersive experience. Plus, the new devices will be faster, allowing you to book that dream trip in a snap.

Zig when everyone else zags. The crowds will be worse than ever. Head in the opposite direction for the most hassle-free trip. Red-eye flights, road trips and off-season vacations will keep you and your family on speaking terms. (Sure beats gridlock and long waits in the terminals.)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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