Travel will be both tougher, eas­ier in ’16

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Christopher El­liott is ed­i­tor at large for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Trav­eler. Con­tact him at chris@el­liott.org or el­liott.org. Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY 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.

“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.

You may even be able to af­ford to fly in style. “JetBlue and Vir­gin Amer­ica have pi­o­neered the con­cept of a more af­ford­able first­class 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 oth- er 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.

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.

“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.”

GE­ORGE FREY, GETTY IM­AGES

More air­line and lodg­ing op­tions next year will add up to one thing: a whole lot more trav­el­ers.

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