Travel trends have changed manifold since covid entered our lives. With more countries removing travel restrictions and more people getting fully vaccinated, life seems to be returning to normalcy, to an extent. Executives in the aviation and hospitality industry are surprised how quickly, over the months, demand has returned for travel, both domestic and international.
International air travel restrictions, lifted about two months ago for India, have seen the return of significant carriers to the subcontinent. The likes of Emirates and Singapore Airlines have also commissioned their A380s to fly people to/from India again. Close to 400 international flights operate daily, and some 70,000 passengers depart from India every day. That is over 80% of pre-pandemic bests.
As opposed to earlier times, one key difference now is that more people prefer to fly in the premium cabins. In fact, many airline executives claim business cabins are selling out faster, even before the economy seats start to fill. So, if you are planning to head out of the country to Europe or the US, the time to plan your itinerary is now, not three weeks before departure.
Statutory warning: be ready to pay almost double the pre-pandemic price because airlines have limited supply, and the demand is high. So, they no longer feel the need to run discounts or promotions, at least for now.
Sixty-eight per cent of travel leaders in a recent survey conducted by Sabre, a travel technology company providing core backbone solutions for airlines, say they are forecasting higher spending from customers on their future travel plans.
Revenge travel seems to be a real phenomenon.
If you still wish to look for a deal, your American Express Platinum or Centurion card might have hope for you. Amex works with all sorts of airlines, and the current members of their International Airline Programme include the likes of United, Qatar Airways, Air France and British Airways. If you hold one of their top-tier cards, it will not hurt to ask for a quote because sometimes they have some good deals on international airfares.
The other reason to put your pen to paper right now is visa processing. Last August, I spent a couple of weeks getting a new Schengen Visa for a business trip. That was when demand was picking up. Now, as demand has returned to a more wholesome level, it is a challenging task just to get an early appointment to submit papers for visa processing.
Appointments frequently take 15-20 days, and the processing takes up to a couple of weeks, stretching the whole process to a month.
And if, like many others, your US visitor visa expired during the pandemic, tough luck. The US Embassy and Consulates across India are witnessing a big rush for new visa applications and renewals. What’s more, throughout 2022, the US Embassy and Consulates in the country intend to operate only at two-thirds of the usual capacity. To address the rush, the US has waived requirements for an interview for US Visa (B1/B2, and some other categories) as long as your visa expired no more than four years ago.
Called the US Visa Dropbox, the waiver is only applicable if you are applying for renewal in the same country where your original visa processing was done and for the same class of visa. But such is the rush that appointments are available no less than three months and at some consulates, not before December 2022. And once you submit your paperwork, it could take anywhere between one to three weeks to get your passport back. More reason to take a long view on that vacation or business trip.
Finally, let’s look at booking and planning hotels and experiences. I recently tried getting a reservation at two Michelin-starred restaurants and they informed that they were fully booked till August. You might be able to get a room at prominent hotels, but it is expected to be quite the summer for them. This means rates will be high unless you make the booking now.
In a nutshell, luxury travel is back with a bang. So, if you don’t want to settle for the second-best options or pay through your nose, you shouldn’t push off planning that summer trip.
Also read: Travel confessions of a chaotic packer
Business of Travel is a column for travellers by a frequent traveller on all things air travel, hotels and loyalty.
Ajay Awtaney is the founder and editor of LiveFromALounge.com, an India-focussed frequent-travel website.