Here’s a little uncommon sense about traveling in 2015

It’s the time of year when everyone churns out their annual predictions, quoting the same experts on 2015’s travel trends. Or, if they’ve been doing this long enough, they just cite themselves.

Not this consumer advocate. No one really knows what will happen next year, even someone who’s been trend-watching as long as I have.

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All we can do is guess. And according to the best guesses, here’s what to expect: Air fares, car rental rates and hotel prices will rise by at most a few percentage points. That doesn’t automatically mean you’ll pay a reasonable price for your trip. Leisure travel will remain safe, as long as you take reasonable precautions. And watch for those junk fees, because more are on the way.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the forecasters are saying about prices:

• Air fares will get a modest bump. A recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group, looks for a 2.5 percent increase in domestic ticket prices in 2015.

• Car rental rates should stay more or less flat, according to an American Express prediction. Prices should rise no more than 1 percent next year.

• Hotel room rates will jump 5.7 percent next year, hotel analysts at PKF Consulting predict.

In other words, with the possible exception of your hotel rate, travel should cost about the same as this year. That’s good news, if it’s true.

So where’s everyone headed? Lonely Planet commissioned a survey that named the most desirable destinations for 2015. Number one is Washington, D.C., followed by (I’m not making this up) El Chaltén, Argentina; Milan; and Zermatt, Switzerland. That stands in sharp contrast to the most-visited cities of 2014, and the likely front-runners for 2015, according to a survey conducted by MasterCard — London, Bangkok, Paris, Singapore and Dubai.

Maybe a more interesting question is: Will leisure travel be safe?

Health and safety experts say it will be, but it’s a qualified “yes.” Any pre-trip planning checklist should include a scan of the State Department’s Alerts and Warnings page, which is a good predictor of future flare-ups. And that list says you might want to avoid such places as Lebanon, Syria and the Central African Republic.

Same for health issues. Apart from the usual problems, such as flu outbreaks in the spring or the occasional norovirus problem on a cruise ship, you’ll have to mind one or two hot spots. Topping the list in 2015: Tourist destinations including Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore, where travelers are at risk from dengue fever; Haiti, Ghana and Nigeria, where cholera is a problem; and India and several African countries, where malaria can end your trip. That’s according to Ronald St. John, founder of, a site that tracks infectious diseases and identifies the problem areas using an algorithm.

How about Ebola? “Even for travelers going to the affected countries, the risk is low,” St. John says. “Remember, among the three most affected countries, there are about 20,380,000 people who do not have Ebola.”

So it’s safe to travel, with some exceptions. But is it affordable? If the predictions come true, 2015 is shaping up to be a good year for deals. But seemingly great deals can sometimes be deceptive, says Courtney Scott, a senior editor for Travelocity. Published prices don’t reflect some of the hidden costs of travel. These include charges for extras like mandatory resort fees or checked-luggage surcharges, often referred to as “ancillary” fees. Those are on the rise.

“Ancillary fees for other aspects of travel will continue to impact travelers in 2015, including fees for snacks on board, priority boarding, extra leg room and phone reservations” used to book a flight, she says. These fees combined can almost double the cost of a flight or a hotel room, which can make budgeting for your next trip challenging.

In 2015, experts say ancillary fees will be everywhere. Even JetBlue Airways, which had shunned surcharges for years, announced a few weeks ago it would begin charging for the first checked bag on some tickets, Scott notes.

The work-around? Avoid checking luggage, or, if you travel often, join a company’s loyalty program, she says. They often grant waivers for their most frequent guests.

Perhaps the hardest question of all to answer is whether taking a vacation is worth it, given the challenges. If you believe the research, the answer is “absolutely.” A recent study commissioned by Expedia concluded that vacations make Americans happy. Eight out of 10 respondents said vacations make them happier than marriages, religion, cats and birthdays. That’s a lot of happiness. And 92 percent said they’d give up a “prized” possession, such as alcohol, video games or chocolate, for a vacation.

If that’s right, then you’re probably going to love your 2015 vacation — if you bother to go. The same survey found that about one-third of Americans have never taken a vacation that lasted more than a week. Slightly more than seven in 10 respondents say they’ve never vacationed more than 14 days in a row. Indeed, an earlier survey noted that Americans use only 10 of the 14 vacation days allotted them every year.

On a personal note, the odds of you complaining are also on the decline. I’ve been tracking a steady decrease in the number of reader complaints against all but the large domestic airlines. Either 2014 was the year a lot of travel companies decided to start caring about customer satisfaction, or it was the year everyone gave up and stopped complaining because no one seemed to be listening. I hope it’s the former.

Bottom line: 2015 could be a good year to travel. Don’t let the low prices fool you, steer clear of the dangerous places, but for goodness’ sake, get out there. You deserve a vacation.

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29 thoughts on “Here’s a little uncommon sense about traveling in 2015

  1. I guess these experts did not predict that the price of oil would drop by about 50%. Yet they think airfares would go up.

    1. Well, air fares (and fees) will keep going up until people stop buying tickets in large enough numbers for the airlines to notice.

      Yes, fuel prices are way down and profits are way up, so let’s raise prices even more! Perfect airline logic.

      1. Unless the airline companies notice that their planes are full all the time so they could add more flights/seats and increase their profits with a slightly lower price per seat. Then fares would not go up, the airlines would make more money, and the free market will have worked at least a little bit.

        1. Unless you increase capacity fuel costs mean nothing. If your planes are flying at capacity then 200 PAX paying $X generate the same revenue regardless of how much fuel costs, the difference is how much profit you make, and I’ve never known an airline to turn down profit or “pass the saving on to the customer”.

        2. We would need a quantitative analysis not qualitative to support that conclusion. The airlines hire very smart people with access to real data and great statistical tools. I doubt if we are likely to have better knowledge about what the airlines need to do in maximize revenue.

      2. (a) Supply and demand: Less competition means less supply of flights, particularly as airlines choose to fly smaller planes.
        (b) TonyA’s experts may have expected prices to rise. Airlines do not bring the planes to pumps and watch the ticket increase; they make medium/long term contracts to purchase fuel at fixed prices. I’d guess right now airlines are paying more for fuel than it is worth because they’re on these prior fixed contracts. As they come up for renegotiation, they may get lower prices.

          1. What are they going to do walk? Drive? There is a whole HUGE group of travelers that HAVE TO fly, called business travelers, and they’re the ones that spend the real money. Leisure travel fares are priced at cost, and most PAX in FC are upgrades.

            Business travelers can’t NOT fly, they can’t stay home.

          2. If I have to be in a far away city for court or to meet a client, I have to be in that city. Not flying is not an option. I just brought in 2 attorneys from DC. They had to come to meet me. Not showing up would mean losing my business.

          3. People who have to fly always have and always will, no matter what the price. In your business, face-to-face is required, so you will continue to fly.

            But there are several things that don’t need to be done face-to-face in many businesses. Back in the 1990’s, we always flew to meetings. “Lunch in Dallas today? Sure, why not!” and then off to the airport to hop on the next Southwest flight to Dallas. After 2000, we started doing video meetings because airfare prices took a jump up and the unbundling frenzy began. Travel went way down, productivity went way up (at least at my company). We still don’t travel anywhere near what we did.

            If prices for airfare drop, we would probably begin traveling more again. If prices go up noticeably, we will shift even more to video chats.

          4. The airline industry compensated by dropping flights and routes, thus reducing costs. No every plane fly’s at capacity. Costs and revenue shift, profit stays the same.

          5. Except we are flying. Planes are crowded. We also learned that video conference wasn’t nearly as good as an in-person. Video works for routine matters, but not nearly as well for important matters, high level meetings, and service recovery.

  2. In terms of places to visit, the UK will be more expensive in September/October than usual — they are hosting the Rugby World Cup.

  3. My prediction for 2015: Since airfares are high, oil prices are low and used aircraft are readily available, it is once again profitable to get into the airline business. Look for one or more new domestic carriers to begin giving the legacy carriers some competition. The same factors may make it easier for existing smaller carriers like Jet Blue and Virgin America to borrow money, purchase more airplanes and begin serving new routes. The effect of the new competition will be reduced ticket prices in some markets.

  4. My predictions:

    1) Airfare/Air Travel will rise. Tariffed fares will remain flat, but more and more airlines will unbundle services to maintain those advertised fares, resulting in either spending more for the same comparable service or simply getting less.
    More international carriers and foreign carriers will embrace unbundleing, if Americans will pay more so will everyone else.

    The sticking point with fees this year will be an increase in ticketing fees. Either use an app or print your boarding passes, etc at home, more airlines will add a fee for printing anything for you.
    In the not too distant future, I foresee “loyalty” programs (and the points) being linked to your credit and bank accounts and the COC’s will be updated such that your account (or your card) will simply be linked to your travel journey as you move through the experience. Want an assigned seat, your card/account will just be charged or debited X amount or points. Want that water or soda on the flight another charge, want to board early, another charge. These will be transparent transactions, disclosed in the COC but otherwise processed without explicit communication. Decide to board early, the POS system will simply show your boarding pass was processed in the first X number of minutes when boarding started and your charged for that boarding time frame. Want a soda, a QR code or bar code is scanned above your seat and the charge automatically processed to your card or account on file.

    2) Loyalty perks will continue to creep back, upgrades and loyalty tickets will cost more in real currency to use and or redeem. Perks will continue to be scaled down, to the point where being a loyalty member means having nothing more than a shiny plastic card to keep track of.

    3) Pre Check services (Global entry) will continue to grow to the point that security and screening is so uncomfortable and inefficient, that pre screening will become the norm in practice if not a defacto standard “What do you mean your pre checked, what are you hiding?)

    4) Business level Hotel costs will go up, as a result of unbundleing and the increased use of more junk fees, resulting in an increase of alternative lodging for savvy or budget travelers. Expect to see more capsule and hostel like accommodations in the future, as well as an increase in sharing accommodations.

    This year “reservation” fees will be the big surprise. Chain and business properties will begin charging a fee for making a reservation.
    In the not too distant future, real time opaque bookings in major transition cities will aggregate capacity. Individual properties in a chain will pool their capacity, and sell rooms based on size and amenities, the names and locations of individual properties (within a chain) will be pooled into one large virtual hotel. The Marriot Airport Courtyard will no longer be distinguishable from the Marriot Grande, low end (cheaper) bookings will be placed at the Courtyard, and higher end (expensive) bookings placed at the Grand.

    5) Auto rental costs though not fees will increase. Agencies will become more and more aggressive in pursing fees and costs for damage, loss of use, depreciation, etc. To the point that a new insurance product will be offered, the “No Worries” protection plan will cover everything from vehicle damage, to cleaning, road side assistance, vehicle malfunction, etc, but the price will be significantly reduced to a percentage of the daily rental rate, that the vast majority of renters will take it. Those who accrue increased losses and claims will have higher percentages, and those who don’t will have lower percentages. Anyone who doesn’t take the policy should just expect to have their card charged $200-$300 for “damages” shortly after returning the rental.

    6) Safety wise US standards will demand that more and more foreign aviation authorities increase security procedures. if you want to fly your plane into the USA, your going to have to create your own TSA.
    I also predict an increase in medical and infectious disease screenings though for most passengers they wont even notice any changes. FLIR scanners will read traveler body temperatures at screening and those with elevated body temperatures will be selected for “secondary medical screening”.

    7) Costs will fall only for a select group of “road warrior” travelers who don’t need anything except any random seat, or any random available room. Those individuals will find lower costs this year. Everyone else who needs advance seat assignments to checked baggage, to bigger seats and more pitch, etc will be paying significantly more. I see costs for baggage increasing this year. If you need baggage, you’ll pay just about anything to bring it. Expect the first piece of luggage to cost around $50, the second around $100 and three or more to about $200 each. I also anticipate that the 1 carry on and 1 personal item will be reduced to “1 item” period.

    1. You’re probably right about many of these things. They will just continue to “corner” people and have us by the short-hairs. The “haves” and “have-nots”; the options will be fewer for those that can’t or don’t want to get to the “higher” end options. The whole thing rots. Anybody under age 50 couldn’t even fathom what air travel was like 30-40-50 years ago.

    2. I agree with many of your predictions, but there is no way they happen in the span of 1 year. If we are talking about multy-year broadcast, the boldness of travel providers directly correlates with the economy.

      Good economy–pllanes are full–costs are rising. Bad economy–revenue falls–their ability to fleece a PAX for every dollar gets impaired. Right now, they are riding high, knowing too well that this business is cyclical. 2-3 years from now, some airlines might once again find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy.

      Another thing that I think is wrong in your calculations is that you believe loyalty programs are a burden to airlines. They are not. Forget about loyalty for a second and try to picture all their business partners they sell their miles and points to. FF programs were profitable even when the airlines weren’t, so I don’t really think they will be reduced to a shiny plastic card.

      1. I don’t believe loyalty points are a burden to airlines at all. They love them, and they will continue to use them, WE as consumers just will be able to do less, and less, and less with them.

  5. I am confident of one thing … every kind of extra fee will be trotted out and tested in every part of travel. If the customers don’t revolt, they’ll become permanent and management will go on to think up a new one. I applaud corporate management for creativity; this is really a genius way to make money.

  6. I voted “worse” to be expected in 2015. I firmly believe airlines, travel companies, hotels, etc. are only as good as the tools and empowerment they give their employees, and that is not happening. We constantly read of examples where something that goes wrong can be “fixed” (usually with more than one option) yet people continue to be jerked around and fobbed off (especially by airlines) to fend for themselves. Or they get referred into a endless loop of departments or employees that find it easier to say no or are too afraid to take on the problem. Again, passengers are “on their own”. They (airlines) seem more concerned with technicalities and applying rules to the letter of the law instead of giving their employees training on how to take on (own) real and repetitive problems that will arise. Employees, without training and support, are afraid to make decisions – “is it right?, is it wrong?, am I going to get in trouble?, will I lose my job?” I don’t know why this fear is pervasive. I could count on the fingers of one hand the times a supervisor inquired of or critiqued a decision I made.

    I have worked in (airline) customer service for close to 40 years and I have friends/relatives who also work for other airlines that say the same thing.

    What I think could help is if airlines had frequent classroom training (like every three months) going over and over the examples of problems that happen and how they can be solved as well as the benefits of using common sense and empathy (because common sense and empathy, unfortunately, doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people). And this needs to be far-flung – Reservations (even in call-centers across the world), all customer service (public contact) employees); a big challenge to say the least. Not all problems have to end with total disappointment and the word “no”. Sometimes it even requires putting passengers (gasp) on another airline or waiving that bag fee or change fee as a gesture of goodwill. Amazingly, the problems ARE solvable, because they have been the same over decades of time, there’s really nothing new.
    Will this happen? Forgive me for my pessimism, but probably not; We are in a world of kiosks, paperless, cashless, e-this and e-that; who needs humans ? Nobody, according to big business; and even if you’re lucky enough to get help after that 12-step phone menu, you will probably reach someone clear across the world who has no clue.

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