2024 Travel Predictions: Airline Prices, Destinations, AI and More



    An illustration of a commercial jetliner with a red price tag with a dollar sign hanging off its fuselage. The border of the illustration is a black airplane cabin window.
    Credit…Chanelle Nibbelink

    A record 4.7 billion passengers are expected to fly globally in 2024, up from the previous record of 4.5 billion in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. Analysts at American Express Global Business Travel say that average ticket prices across all regions are not expected to change significantly. But in the United States, domestic and international airfares are expected to move in opposite directions.

    Hayley Berg, lead economist for the booking platform Hopper, anticipates that for the next six months, domestic airfare will cost less than in 2023 and prepandemic years. Travelers booking domestic flights in February can expect to pay an average fare of about $276 round-trip — an 8 percent decrease from the same month last year. Reasons for the falling prices include increased airplane capacity — the number of seats on a given route — and a drop in the cost of jet fuel.

    “January will be the cheapest month of the year to book travel until the fall shoulder season in September and October,” Ms. Berg said. “Airfare will rise into late spring as the spring break and summer travel period heat up.”

    International airfare departing from the United States is up 10 percent for 2024 compared with 2023, according to Kayak, a travel search engine. But airline capacity, Ms. Berg said, is rising and might eventually dampen that increase in prices.

    Overall, the outlook for airfare this year is a return to normalcy, said the aviation analyst Robert W. Mann Jr.

    “Revenge travel” and the volatility in airfare that has characterized the last few years are “basically in the rearview mirror,” he said. And ebbing demand for leisure travel might mean more excess capacity, further driving prices down.

    It is hard to believe that it has only been about a year since travelers started dabbling in ChatGPT-created itineraries. This year will bring even more experimentation and innovation. “A.I. is like a teenage intern,” said Chad Burt, co-owner of the travel adviser network Outside Agents, “better, smarter, faster than you, but you need to lead them.”

    The expanding use of A.I. could influence how we book online, what happens when flights are canceled or delayed, and even how much we pay for tickets.

    “In 2024, we will see a new breed of intelligent travel agents built on top of chatbots,” said Oren Etzioni, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Washington. That means travelers will begin interacting with sites like Airbnb, Expedia and Priceline by typing out questions in addition to ticking boxes to search for lodging, restaurants and amenities like swimming pools.

    A.I. will also power what happens behind the scenes at airlines and airports, said Gilbert Ott, director of partnerships at Point.me, which helps travelers find flights to buy with rewards points. For example, it could improve automatic rebooking onto new flights when customers miss connections or weather snarls runways. At United Airlines, for example, smarter software can offer rebooking options and issue food and lodging vouchers when a flight is canceled, rather than just rebooking a flight.

    On the ground, A.I. software will be able to inform more human-made decisions, like how to most efficiently reposition baggage carts and staff in response to tight connections or flight delays.

    Finally, A.I. systems trained on bigger and more up-to-date data sets will let airlines’ dynamic ticket-pricing algorithms better use data like weather predictions and customers’ searches to charge as much as they can while still filling planes. At the same time, companies like the online travel agency Hopper, which says it uses 70 trillion data points in its pricing prediction model, continue to work the problem from the other side, in a kind of A.I.-powered arms race between the airlines and customers.

    In the year ahead, the use of biometrics — an individual’s unique physical identifiers, such as fingerprints and faces — will be expanded at airports in the United States and abroad, a shift to enhance security, replace physical identification such as passports and driver’s licenses, and reduce the amount of time required by travelers to pass through airports. Biometric technology will be seen everywhere from bag drops at the check-in counters to domestic security screening.

    In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration is expanding its program allowing passengers to opt in for a security screening relying on a facial recognition match with their physical identification — a photo taken in real time is compared against a scan of a license or passport and assists the T.S.A. officer in verifying a traveler’s identity. This program is currently available at 30 airports nationwide, including Salt Lake City International Airport and Denver International Airport; the T.S.A. said it will expand to more than 400 airports in the coming years.

    T.S.A. PreCheck travelers who are flying on Delta Air Lines may not even need to show their identification at all during bag drop and security, if they opt in to Delta’s digital ID program.

    The program, which compares a photo taken at the airport to one in a database of trusted travelers (compiled by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency), takes about 40 seconds, said Greg Forbes, Delta’s managing director of airport experience. The pilot program is now available at five airports, including La Guardia Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

    Internationally, Singapore’s Changi Airport plans to adopt facial recognition technology for departing passengers, no longer requiring them to show their passports.

    Neville Pattinson, head of North America business development for biometrics for Thales, a global technology company, said travelers will start to get increasingly familiar with using biometrics.

    “We see much less interaction needed by the traveler, making it less stressful and more seamless,” Mr. Pattinson said. “We’re seeing biometrics really help the travel industry cope with the volumes of travelers going up and the need to really process people quicker.”

    Credit…Chanelle Nibbelink

    London, Rome, Tokyo, Cancún and Las Vegas, some of the most visited destinations in 2023, are still among the top places travelers are searching to go to this year, according to the travel sites Kayak and Hopper.

    Beach destinations like the Cayman Islands and French Polynesia are also trending destinations for 2024.

    “Americans are looking for fun in the sun,” said Laura Lindsay, a global travel trends expert at the travel search engine Skyscanner. “Our data shows that they are seeking out destinations with equal opportunities for relaxation and outdoor adventures.”

    After the extreme weather events of 2023 and overcrowding at popular destinations, travelers are also looking for cooler, less crowded spots.

    Those hoping to avoid the kind of crippling heat that struck southern Europe last summer are showing interest in Scandinavian countries like Norway and Denmark, say travel advisers, and airlines like Air Canada and American Airlines are adding new routes to meet the demand.

    “Two of my favorite places in the region are Bergen and Flam in Norway, with some amazing food, markets and landscapes,” said Joshua Smith, the founder of Global Citizen Journeys, a travel company that caters to millennials.

    While interest in Scandinavia is rising, Mr. Smith said the priority for most of his clients is to book major destinations like Italy and France while there are still accommodations. Once places are sold out, he expects rapid growth in Scandinavia bookings.

    Mr. Smith is also recommending Malta. “From its history and architecture to the food, Malta maintains the comfort of Europe with solid tourism infrastructure, but without the crowds.”

    Another alternative that travel advisers recommend is Slovenia. “Because it’s less known, it is much cheaper and less crowded,” said Laurel Brunvoll, the owner of Unforgettable Trips, a Maryland-based travel agency.

    While Ms. Brunvoll’s clients are eyeing destinations off the beaten path, they are also booking popular places like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Britain. More distant destinations, including Egypt and India, are also gaining traction as well as polar excursions and world cruises, she said.

    In North America, one of the most anticipated events is the total solar eclipse on April 8. Popular places to view the path of totality include the Mazatlán coast of Mexico; Cape Girardeau, Mo., with its hiking trails, bike paths and nature center; and scenic Niagara Falls, N.Y.

    Texas is also expected to be an epicenter for the event and, with its range of scenery, festivals and other activities in places like Burnet, Sulphur Springs and Lampasas, could draw up to 700,000 visitors, according to the eclipse cartographer Michael Zeiler, who has been keeping track of visitation probability in various areas.

    In cities from New York to Vienna, new short-term-rental restrictions — designed to improve housing availability for residents — are poised to boost the bottom lines at hotels. In New York in November, shortly after Airbnb and the like were limited to stays of 30 days or longer, hotel occupancy was up 6 percent and rates were up 8 percent, according to the commercial real estate firm CoStar.

    However, travelers working remotely continue to favor rentals, which remain strong in rural areas where there are more rentals than hotels.

    “We’ve seen the strongest demand in small and midsize cities, coastal and mountain locations and areas outside of major urban centers,” said Jamie Lane, the senior vice president of analytics and chief economist at AirDNA, a market research firm that specializes in short-term rentals. “Hotel supply is primarily in larger urban centers or along interstates,” he added.

    Though rentals are expected to account for just over 15 percent of lodging demand in 2024, compared to about 12 percent before the pandemic, they have profoundly challenged hotels. In response, hotels have adopted more residential features.

    “Hotels have taken a page from the short-term-rental playbook and said, ‘We want our restaurants open to the public and we want rooms not to be beige boxes,’” said Jan Freitag, the national director for hospitality analytics at CoStar. “On the amenities side, the room that used to be a place to crash now has to serve as an office.”

    With features such as kitchenettes and expanded living spaces, extended-stay hotels are booming. New brands expected to debut this year include MidX Studios from Marriott, LivSmart Studios by Hilton and Hyatt Studios.

    “We’ve never seen ourselves as in competition with hotels,” said David Whiteside, the global chief operating officer at Onefinestay, which rents high-end homes and apartments with concierge service. It was acquired by Accor Hotels in 2016. “There will be times when a hotel is the perfect fit for a family or individual, and times when a home, villa or chalet would be the better option.”

    Meanwhile, hotels are leaning into what distinguishes them most: the human element.

    Makarand Mody, an associate professor of hospitality marketing at Boston University, noted that “certain travelers appreciate the service of hotels, which is where they outshine rentals.”

    The question of whether to save or to spend miles takes on new urgency this year as lawmakers consider the Credit Card Competition Act. The legislation targets transaction fees — usually 2 to 3 percent of a sale — that retailers pay to credit card companies such as Visa and Mastercard. The fees are partially used by the companies to run loyalty programs that award points to cardholders that can be redeemed for things like flights and hotels.

    The act proposes allowing retailers to choose a cheaper system that would reduce the fees. Critics, including banks and airlines, which make billions selling co-branded credit cards, maintain that a cheaper system, backed by retail giants like Walmart and Target, would upend rewards programs.

    Whether the legislation will succeed is unknown.

    “This has been one of the biggest lobbying battles of all time, pitting two huge industries, retail versus banking,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of the Points Guy, a travel site that helps users maximize reward points and opposes the act.

    Does the legislation threaten your points? Not immediately, said Leigh Rowan of Savanti Travel, a personal travel management service. “Assuming it passes, we still have a long runway ahead between then and when the bill will be enacted,” he said. “There’s not a rush to do anything in 2024.”

    Still, experts perennially advise spending over saving points.

    “Never hoard,” said Mr. Kelly, explaining that airlines and hotels have the leeway to change their redemption values overnight, and to keep up with the growth of points, they tend to increase the total needed to get a flight or hotel room. “Over time, the points you have today generally lose value.”

    Mr. Rowan suggests diversifying your credit cards by switching from one airline card, for example, where you can only redeem points with that airline, to a more robust card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card that has redemption partnerships with multiple airlines, hotels and rental car companies.

    “Diversification will help regardless, but especially if this act goes through,” Mr. Rowan said.

    Credit…Chanelle Nibbelink

    Train lovers and travelers concerned about their carbon footprint have a lot to choose from this year — especially in Europe. While some European governments are mulling short-haul flight bans, many passengers are already opting for rail, where new connections are numerous.

    Nightjet, part of the Austrian federal railway, ÖBB, started running a sleeper train between Berlin and Paris in December, while the French rail operator, S.N.C.F., started overnight service between Paris and Aurillac, in south-central France, the same month. Sleeper trains between Paris and Vienna and Paris and Nice are also already in service. And the Italian rail operator Trenitalia has recently started running a weekly high-speed connection between Rome and the station serving the Pompeii archaeological park.

    Other new European connections include a sleeper service between Brussels and Prague, coming in late March, and an overnight train between Brussels and Bratislava, Slovakia, expected late this year or early next. Trenitalia is also working on high-speed service between Paris and Barcelona, with a possible connection to Madrid, as well as a direct link between Milan and Ljubljana, Slovenia; no start date has been set for either service.

    Looking for a luxury experience? The Orient Express La Dolce Vita will offer itineraries through Italy beginning in November. Backed by the French conglomerate Accor, the service will emphasize design and fine dining, and will take visitors to places like Palermo, Portofino, Rome and Siena.

    Asia-bound travelers also have luxury options with two new itineraries on the Eastern & Oriental Express. Each route starts and ends in Singapore and takes travelers on a three-night trip through Malaysia. In March, Japan will offer extended bullet train service from Tokyo to Fukui prefecture, home to a 13th-century Buddhist temple, coastal cliffs and a dinosaur museum.

    In the United States, Amtrak’s new fleet of high-speed trains could soon enter service in the Northeast Corridor, although no start date has been set. The trains will reach 160 miles per hour, up from the current 150 m.p.h.

    As of last month, Brightline — a privately owned intercity operator — has been running 16 round-trip trains every day between Orlando, Fla., and Miami. Looking ahead, Brightline is planning a high-speed route between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, a project that won $3 billion in federal support late last year. Organizers hope the service will begin in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

    Travelers appear to be slowly returning to some Middle East nations despite the continuation of the Israel-Hamas conflict that all but decimated the region’s tourism since it began on Oct. 7. Travel operators said that bookings to countries including Egypt, Jordan and Oman are growing, welcome news for an area that’s dependent on tourist dollars and one that had received a record number of visitors since the height of the pandemic.

    “The Middle East was on track to be one of our biggest leaders in post-pandemic travel recovery, and with this momentum swinging back, it shows just how powerful its appeal is to travelers,” said James Thornton, the chief executive of Intrepid Travel, a global tour company.

    Intrepid’s bookings for tours in Oman — and Tunisia in Northern Africa — have experienced explosive demand, more than doubling from last year, the company said.

    Closer to the conflict, booking figures in Egypt are rising, travel operators said, with hopes pinned on Nile River tours, a tourist mainstay. Beach holidays in coastal destinations such as Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are also picking up, said Khaled Ibrahim, a Cairo-based consultant for Amisol Travel Egypt and a member of the Middle East Travel Alliance.

    And in Jordan, Intrepid’s bookings for family tours this year have increased 22 percent from last year.

    In Israel, tourism has not yet rebounded, and its absence is hurting local businesses, said Harry Rubenstein, who runs Harry’s Baked, a tour company with excursions in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramle. He said he had a few tours this month, but nothing scheduled beyond next week.

    “There aren’t any conventional tourists visiting now,” Mr. Rubenstein said.

    Eyal Carlin, Israel’s tourism commissioner to North America, said international visitors had recently begun trickling into Israel to volunteer. He added that he expected this type of travel, the majority of which is faith-based, to remain “steady” over the next several months.

    Additionally, airline service to Israel has not returned to prewar levels: The number of available inbound flights from January through March is down about 31 percent compared with the same period last year, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. In the United States, Delta Air Lines has paused flights until March 29, and American Airlines has discontinued service through April 4. United Airlines has suspended its flights indefinitely, said Josh Freed, a United spokesman.

    After the travel frenzy of 2023, all signs point to increasing interest in far-flung destinations, villa rentals, private jet bookings and personal pilgrimages in 2024.

    “The lust for luxury is real,” said Jack Ezon, the founder of the high-end travel agency Embark Beyond. But, he added, mindfulness is poised to replace heedless indulgence. “Consumers today are focused on sustainability, investment value and craftsmanship when considering a luxury purchase,” he said.

    “Travel provides the glue that pulls the family close together and unites it around a shared passion,” said Tom Marchant, a co-founder of Black Tomato, which plans pricey bespoke trips. Compared to 2019, 2023 bookings were up 64 percent, and demand remains strong heading into the new year.

    This year, travelers are expected to choose faraway places and board small ships, according to Virtuoso, the consortium of luxury travel agencies. In June, the new 264-passenger Seabourn Pursuit from the luxury cruise line Seabourn will visit the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia (10-day voyages start around $10,000 per person). Black Tomato is planning private group treks to untrammeled destinations like the Mitre Peninsula in Argentina’s Patagonia region, priced at more than $60,000 per person.

    Among luxury eco-conscious newcomers, Ki’ama Bahamas, slated to open in the fall, promises to be the first fully solar-powered residential club in the Bahamas. This month, Lepogo Lodges in South Africa will open the carbon-neutral Melote House, accommodating up to 16 guests and funneling profits back into the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, where it is situated (nightly rates from $12,000).

    Wellness travel, a market valued at over $600 billion, is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit that tracks the industry.

    “Medical wellness and longevity sciences have taken over the wellness market,” said Beth McGroarty, the director of research and communications at the Global Wellness Institute. Medical procedures like bone density testing, biometric screening and stem-cell therapies are cropping up at resorts alongside low-tech programs that focus on sleep, breathing and social connection.

    Travelers will have no shortage of new destinations to feed their hunger for health. In the spring, the new Ranch Hudson Valley will open near Tuxedo Park, N.Y., a spinoff of the original in Malibu, Calif., offering three-night-minimum stays and featuring colonics, cryotherapy and guided hikes (from $3,280 per person). SHA Mexico opens near Cancún in late January, with programs that address sexual health, stress reduction and sleep (minimum four-day stays start at $5,770).

    Source link