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There are few industries like travel that have roared back with as much consumer demand after the pandemic-related lockdowns.
Airlines predicted it would take years for consumers to fly again at pre-pandemic levels. But as vaccination efforts persisted and restrictions were lifted, Americans began to travel again. However, the airline industry has not been able to keep up with the public's appetite for flying, resulting in major flight delays and cancellations throughout the U.S..
So before you head to the airport for your next flight, keep in mind the following tips to give yourself the best chance of smooth travel.
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The travel experience right now, as cleverly put by The Atlantic, is suffering from 'nothing works syndrome.' And much of this has to do with one core issue: a lack of staffing. But with one large issue comes several smaller problems like weather, air traffic control issues and a reduced amount of available aircraft, all which contribute to an overall system meltdown.
Here's an idea of what travel demand and delays look like right now:
On June 26, TSA reported it counted nearly 2.5 million people through its checkpoints. It was the highest number since Feb. 11, 2020 — which was right before Covid-19 shut down the world.
Between 2013-2019, the total number of flight cancellations never exceeded 70,000 in an entire year. There have already been over 76,000 so far in 2022, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and we're not even halfway through the year.
Unfortunately, if you need to fly, there isn't much you can do to avoid the larger issues. But there are several things you can do to make your experience an easier one.
1. Avoid layovers when booking, and book direct
If you can avoid layovers, it may benefit you for a simple reason: the fewer flights you take, the chance for issues to arise becomes smaller.
Additionally, it may be tempting to book your next flight with a third-party travel service (i.e. Expedia or Priceline) to save a few dollars as airfare prices have skyrocketed. However, if you run into delays or cancellations, the airline may not be able to assist you directly if you booked through a third-party — you'll first have to deal with the travel booking service's customer service line to remedy your issues.
2. Show up early, and avoid checking your bag
It's the most cliché suggestion out there, but arriving early can help you avoid the panic of missing your flight and disrupting your travels. Long lines to check a bag or to get through security could cause you to accidentally miss your flight. And as airlines are packing their planes, missing your flight could leave you with few options to rebook as seat inventory remains low.
Also, you may consider packing a bit less and bringing your bag onboard with you. One of the areas airlines are struggling to hire and keep staffed is bag handlers. So not only is your bag at risk of being lost or damaged, but it could also be a while until you receive your bag at your final destination. And if you're strapped for time, the time it takes to check your luggage could lead you to miss your flight.
And Sandra McLemore, president of Travel Marketing & Media, strongly recommends using online check-in. "Just one minute after check-in closes, your seat will go to someone on a waitlist. And you won't get a credit, let alone a refund," she tells Select.
3. Enroll in an expedited security program
Expedited security perks have arguably never been more valuable. Programs like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR can save flyers a significant amount of time. And the best part is that many travel credit cards offer perks to cover the application costs.
I currently have Global Entry (which includes membership to TSA PreCheck), and paid with my IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card, which gives me up to $100 statement credit to cover the Global Entry or TSA precheck application cost every four years. Over the last five years I've flown close to 100 flights, and expeditated security has saved me anywhere from a few minutes to sometimes over an hour each trip. And since Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, I get expedited security clearance anywhere in the U.S. and can clear customs quickly when returning to the U.S. after a trip abroad.
There are several cards that include credits for expedited security programs, including the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. But if you're not interested in a rewards card, you can simply pay online to enroll in one of the programs.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Receive 60,000 online bonus points — a $600 value — after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
19.99% - 26.99% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
3% of the amount of each transaction
Foreign transaction fee
Earn 5X total points on flights and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases plus, 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2025
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
22.49% - 29.49% variable
Balance transfer fee
5%, minimum $5
Foreign transaction fee
Read our Chase Sapphire Reserve® review.
4. Use lounges rather than regular airport food options
Another area that has dramatically suffered is airport dining. Whether it's a lack of staffing, supply chain issues or outrageous pricing, airport dining has become more difficult since the onset of the pandemic.
For example, when I flew through the Detroit airport a few months ago, the Starbucks franchise was completely closed as they didn't have workers. And when I flew through San Diego, its Starbucks location was charging an extra 2% fee for "employee retention." For the restaurants that may be available, you could find yourself waiting some time to be served.
To save both money and time, you may consider visiting an airport lounge. They typically have free food and drinks available, and you can receive access simply by having one of many different travel credit cards.
For example, I'm an authorized user on the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees), which gives me access to Priority Pass lounges around the world. The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express also provide widespread airport lounge access, including Priority Pass membership and access to Delta SkyClubs and Amex Centurion lounges. Terms apply.
However, keep in mind that lounges have become busier as a plethora of credit cards have started to award lounge access.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1X points on all other eligible purchases
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
See Pay Over Time APR
Balance transfer fee
Foreign transaction fee
See rates and fees, terms apply.
5. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario
You can take as many precautions as you'd like, but sometimes the cards won't fall in your favor.
But when things go awry, the first thing to do is not panic. It's happening to many other travelers, and there are solutions available. But to protect yourself against this, you may consider doing the following:
- Give yourself extra time. For example, you may consider flying to your destination earlier than you need so if there's a delay, you have some wiggle room.
- Begin looking for alternative solutions immediately. As soon as you hear of a delay or potential cancellation, it's wise to find solutions like a hotel room or even another flight. Because it will be you and everyone else on your flight trying to find solutions all at once as well.
- Book travel with a credit card that has travel insurance. If you experience a delay or even a cancellation, some of the costs, unfortunately, will fall on you as the traveler. That can include things like food or a hotel (depending on the airline and circumstances of the delay and/or cancellation). However, credit card travel insurance will help cover the costs you may incur during a delay or cancellation — just make sure you pay for your travel with your travel credit card so the insurance goes into effect. When my flight was canceled last Christmas in San Diego, the coverage from my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card kicked in and covered the incidental costs.
Traveling is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience, but for the foreseeable future, it's more likely going to be a headache to get from 'A to B'. So if you're traveling anytime in the near future, implementing these tips and tricks can ease the pains of post-pandemic travel.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.