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Five Bright Spots for Travelers in 2009

Sure, there were enough new fees, delayed planes, and other travel frustrations to fill a book this year. But not all the news was bad in 2009. In fact, the squeeze brought on by the recession yielded some traveler-friendly trends that made this year a pretty good one for hitting the road or taking to the skies.

Fewer Fees from Online Travel Agencies

Airlines in the U.S. and Europe have been adding fees like they’re going out of style, tacking on everything from baggage charges to airport check-in fees. However, online travel agencies (OTAs) have been bucking that trend by actually waiving some of the fees they’ve historically charged. In June, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity permanently waived flight booking fees. Late in the summer, Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline did away with hotel change and cancellation fees. Orbitz and Travelocity sweeten the deal even further by offering generous low-fare guarantees on hotel rates.

2010 Outlook: Fewer fees looks like the future of OTAs, at least for a while.

Lower Fares

With fewer people traveling, airlines had to work harder to entice would-be flyers this year. In January, there was already a noticeable surge in airfare sales. By June, airfares were down 21 percent over last year. Even travel at peak times has been more affordable: Recently, Priceline reported that average airfares for holiday travel were about 10 percent less this year than last.

2010 Outlook: Some travel experts are proclaiming 2010 as the year of the deal, while others are confident in tourism recovery that would boost prices again. We’re not going to predict the future, but we will keep you updated on the current deals whenever you decide to travel.

Hotel Sales

The hotel industry has responded to the drop-off in tourism by scrambling to entice those who are still traveling. Discounted rates have been a big part of the strategy, especially at higher-end hotels. But additional amenities, room upgrades, resort credits, and deals offering a free night after a certain number of paid nights have also become standard at many properties. Meanwhile, hotel loyalty programs have spent the last six months rolling out bonus offers and discounted award stays.

2010 Outlook: The rebound will likely be slow for hotels, so expect to continue seeing good, if not great, deals in 2010.

Air Delay Reductions

A string of capacity reductions—airlines flying fewer flights—cut down on the overall air traffic in the U.S. The downside of this was fewer flight choices for passengers, but the upside was a reduction in delays and improved on-time numbers. In February, the Bureau of Transportation (BTS) said that the country’s largest airlines reported an on-time arrival rate of 80 percent. In July, airlines posted the best on-time rates in six years. Overall, the airline industry is operating at the third highest on-time rate since 1995. Airlines started paying public heed to their numbers too: Last winter, US Airways celebrated its on-time performance while American vowed to do better.

2010 Outlook: Has the airline industry turned a new leaf? Probably not. Whenever travel demand rises again, airlines will increase the number of flights, which will likely drive late arrival numbers back up. But as long as fewer people continue to fly, 2010 will likely be similar to 2009.

Better Service

Those capacity reductions have had another beneficial effect as well. With fewer passengers to serve, airlines have done a better job keeping them happy. A University of Michigan survey earlier this year showed the first increase of airline customer satisfaction in six years.

Some airlines have publicized their efforts to improve the passenger experience. American and United rolled out new cabin cleaning programs early in the year, boosting passenger ratings for cabin cleanliness and reducing complaints about dirty planes. Delta and Continental both launched new customer service initiatives.

2010 Outlook: Whether airlines will continue to clean up their acts in 2010 is yet to be seen, but as our 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards show, the issue continues to be important to consumers, so we certainly hope so!

Know another travel bright spot for the year? Share your ideas with other readers below!

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns

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