Due to the pandemic, most Americans spent some of 2020 exploring small towns, quick road trips to nearby lakes, and beaches, or in some cases, their own backyards. Expedia.com recently released its 2021 Travel Trends Report, analyzing traveler data to uncover the biggest takeaways from the year and what travelers can expect in the year ahead.
If you ask anyone what they are looking forward to in 2021, most people will say, vacation! And hopefully, we will return to traveling or somewhat to a new normal that includes traveling overseas. Read on to see the report’s highlights, including the top travel destinations for 2021, air travel trends and tips, and all the islands (and other dreamy destinations) on travelers’ 2021 bucket lists.
Airfare Booking Hacks for 2021
For six years running, travelers have relied on the annual Expedia ARC report, which analyzes billions of flight segments, to provide insider tips and tricks for getting the most out of air travel. Considering the atypical year, a new cheat sheet is needed now more than ever.
Based on ARC data, average ticket prices (ATPs) for domestic flights hit their lowest in late April 2020 but have since started to recover. From May to October, prices were between 25-35 percent lower year-on-year but followed the usual seasonality curve. Meanwhile, ATPs for international flights briefly spiked in April before normalizing to 2019 levels in mid-June and finally settling between 30-35 percent lower year-on-year during the fall months.
What this means for travelers is that while average ticket prices are historically low for both domestic and international flights, prices rise during peak travel periods such as spring break, summer, and the holidays. To get the best deal, travelers need to know when to book and start their trip.
- Best day of the week to book: Sunday
- For domestic flights, book on Sunday, not Monday, to save around 15 percent.
- For international flights, book on Sunday, not Friday, to save more than 20 percent.
- Best day of the week to depart: Thursday or Friday
- For domestic flights, start your trip on Friday, not Monday, to save around 20 percent.
- For international flights, start your trip on Thursday, not Sunday, to save nearly 25 percent.
Traveler Priorities in 2021
- Flexibility isn’t a “nice-to-have.” It’s required: In 2021, flexibility will continue to be top of mind for travelers, who booked refundable rates 10 percent more often this year compared to last. Luckily, flexibility is more affordable than ever: Expedia lodging data show that average daily rates for refundable bookings were 20 percent cheaper in 2020 than in 2019.
- Health and safety advancements: In the year to come, concerns about staying safe while traveling will continue to impact every aspect of trip planning, from what type of accommodations to choose to where to go to to who to travel with. Since May, nearly 300,000 properties have added health and cleanliness information on Expedia.com, including enhanced cleaning, contactless check-in, social distancing, and other guest safety measures.
- Majority of travelers booking less than a month out: According to ARC data, in 2019, the average U.S. traveler booked flights around 35 days in advance of their departure date, but during the onset of the pandemic, that window lengthened to 46 days. The new normal (since August) is just 29 days out – the average advance purchase dropping below the 30-day mark for the first time in years – and illustrating how travelers have adapted to the rapidly changing environment. However, with airlines eliminating change fees, travelers may feel more confident booking further out, knowing they can always change their plans down the road.
- Growth in alternative accommodations: While the most popular lodging type in 2020 was hotels, the types of accommodations showing the biggest growth compared to last year were castles, ranches, cabins, chalets, and cottages.3 These types of retreats, typically found outside of big cities, were the perfect getaway spots for travelers searching for wide-open spaces, nature, and privacy. This trend is expected to continue as people look to travel safely amid the pandemic. Whether it’s a hotel, vacation rental, or chalet, Expedia lodging data shows the cheapest days to stay are Sunday through Tuesday, so try scheduling a long weekend trip at the start of the week instead of the end.4
- Maximizing the trip: During the lockdown, many travelers relied on virtual tours and activities to satisfy wanderlust. But once able to roam again, whether it was just within their own cities or on a proper getaway, travelers resumed looking to activities as a way to get the most out of their trips. These are a few of the top trending activities booked on Expedia.com: the nation’s largest and longest-running flower show, this boat tour in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, and this ATV and ziplining adventure in the Cenotes.
2020’s Trending Destinations
If you’re wondering where people traveled this year, it definitely looks different from previous years as people stayed closer to home.
- Lake Havasu, Arizona
- New Bern, North Carolina
- The Hamptons, New York
- Ocean City, Maryland
- Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
- Panama City, Florida
- South Padre Island, Texas
- Lincoln, New Hampshire
- Sun Valley / Central Idaho
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The Next Big Trip: Top-searched destinations for 2021 and beyond
While nearby escapes and road trips are likely to remain popular as travelers navigate the ongoing realities of life amid a pandemic, search data proves that aspirations persist for grander, far-flung vacations. Most Americans are dreaming of their next vacation with Cancun topping the list at number one.
- Cancun (#1)
- Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum (#2)
- Punta Cana (#5)
- Oahu (#6)
- Maui (#7)
- Los Cabos (#9)
- French Polynesia (#10)
- Maldives (#11)
- Montego Bay (#12)
- Aruba (#13)
- Puerto Vallarta (#14)
- Key West (#16)
- Nassau (#18)
- Bali (#20)
Still, search results make it clear that travelers are eager to return and enjoy all the culture, activities, and experiences that you can only find in these iconic U.S. cities.
- Las Vegas (#3)
- Orlando (#4)
- Miami (#8)
- New York (#15)
- Los Angeles (#17)
- New Orleans (#19)
With COVID-19, it’s important to stay safe and up to date on the latest travel guidance and restrictions. Find out what to expect, how to find flexible travel, and other information on the Expedia COVID-19 travel guide.