More than half of Americans are gearing up for a summer of travel — with many willing to go into debt to do it, according to a ValuePenguin survey of more than 2,000 Americans.
Here's what else consumers revealed about their summer travel plans.
- Summer vacations are back. This year, 53% say they'll definitely take at least one trip, and an additional 32% are considering it. Only 15% say they won't travel at all, compared to 72% who said in a previous survey that they didn't travel last summer.
- Travelers are ready to spend. Consumers plan to spend around $2,400 on summer travel, taking an average of three trips.
- Cost constraints are more likely to deter travelers than coronavirus worries. Of those who won't take a summer vacation, 43% cite a lack of affordability as the main reason, while 41% blame the pandemic.
- Nearly half of travelers may add debt from summer travel. This includes 27% who definitely expect to incur debt and another 20% who might. Millennials and parents of younger children are more likely than other respondents to incur summer travel debt.
- Road trips remain popular, while the percentage planning to fly more than tripled from last year. Last summer, just 13% flew, compared to 40% who plan to fly this year.
- Consumers are still iffy on some types of travel. Cruises are still a no-go for 47% of respondents, while 44% aren't up for international travel and 29% are hesitant to fly.
Americans are ready for summer vacations
While 72% didn't travel according to last year's survey, only 15% of Americans say they're staying put this summer, too. Instead, 53% have definite plans for at least one trip, while 32% more are considering a getaway. The most likely groups to travel this summer: Consumers earning $100,000-plus (70%), parents with kids under 18 (62%), and millennials and Gen Xers (58%).
"It's not surprising that Americans are gearing up to travel post-pandemic now that more people are able to get vaccinated and the world is starting to reopen," says Sophia Mendel, travel writer at ValuePenguin.
In fact, 55% of respondents say that wanting to travel was a major motivator for getting vaccinated.
As for the type of travel planned, over 2 in 3 consumers prefer a bunch of small trips over a couple of big getaways.
"I think the types of summer vacations people will take this year will reflect how comfortable they are with pandemic-related concerns, and what type of financial shape the pandemic left them in," says Mendel.
Half (50%) of workers say they'll take more PTO than they did last year, though 13% say they don't plan to use any this summer.
Cost constraints deter some consumers from travel
Of course, not everyone will be traveling this summer, with 43% citing the lack of affordability as the main reason. The next most popular deterrent was the pandemic, at 41%.
"This seems more reflective of pre-pandemic times, when time and money were the primary factors in whether people planned to take a summer trip," says Mendel. Then again, it's likely that the pandemic is still the culprit, having taken a serious toll on many people financially. "It may have wiped out the vacation funds they had been saving," she added.
The other big factor is vaccine status: 16% of parents of younger children who aren't traveling say it's because they have unvaccinated kids, while 12% of consumers say they aren't traveling because they themselves aren't vaccinated.
Summer travelers expect to shell out thousands, and some will take on vacation debt
On average, people plan to spend $804 per trip, and get away three times this summer. But nearly half may have to add debt to fund their travel: 27% definitely will, and 20% say they might. Parents of younger children and millennials are most likely to incur summer travel debt.
"People are ready to travel now and worry about debt later," says Mendel.
Specifically, she says she's not surprised that those who are most desperate to get away (i.e., families with younger kids who've been stuck at home all year) and those who may have less serious health risks (i.e., young and healthy millennials) are more willing to go into debt to fund summer adventures (48% and 35%, respectively).
That debt will most likely be the plastic kind, as 52% of travelers say they'll rely on credit cards to pay for their trip. Still, the good news is that 19% are using travel rewards or points, while 9% are cashing in on a travel voucher from a postponed trip.
"Travel rewards and points are incredible tools and can make dream vacations possible," says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at ValuePenguin. "The right card, used the right way, can save you a fortune in vacation costs, and it can also help prevent a lot of headaches if that vacation doesn't quite go as planned."
He's referring to the 17% of people who have travel insurance through their credit card — a perk that's gaining more attention this year. In addition, 23% of travelers say they're also willing to shell out a few extra bucks on a separate travel insurance policy.
Mendel notes this as a smart move — especially this year — but cautions travelers to read the fine print: "Some [insurers] have their own specific COVID policies; some don't cover pandemics [and] epidemics at all, so it's important to check ahead of time," she says.
Airports and hotels will be busy this summer
The percentage of summer travelers planning to fly this year is more than triple last summer.
This is good news for the airlines that suffered last year. According to our analysis of Bureau of Transportation data, of airports with at least 100,000 arrivals in 2019, not a single city saw an increase in passengers between 2019 and 2020. In fact, airports in the Northeast, Hawaii and California had the largest drops in passengers last summer amid the pandemic, including a 92% drop in Kahului, Hawaii, an 89% decline in Long Beach, Calif., and an 87% decrease in New York City. Florida fared better, perhaps due to its "open for business" nature: The five airports with the smallest drop in summer passengers amid the pandemic were located in the Sunshine State.
Airports that experienced the biggest drop in passengers last summer (2019 vs. 2020)
2019 summer passengers arrived
2020 summer passengers arrived
|1||White Plains, NY||230,651||6,220||-97%|
Source: ValuePenguin analysis of Bureau of Transportation data.
In addition to more people flying this year, nearly 6 in 10 respondents say they'd choose a hotel or resort for their stay. Others will stay with family (40%), or book an Airbnb (21%).
"Hotels and resorts provide an easy, hassle-free option for vacation accommodation," says Mendel. Plus, people may feel more confident about hotels that are promoting their health and safety measures — not to mention the great deals and promotions being offered to encourage people to start staying with them again.
Americans may be eager to travel, but there are some things they're not ready for
Cruises and international travel are still on pause for many people — although the younger the cohort, the less hesitant they feel. For instance, just 25% of Gen Z wouldn't cruise yet, versus 63% of baby boomers. Women also seem to be more risk averse with 47% saying they wouldn't travel abroad just yet, versus just 40% of men who say the same.
"I think there is still a significant fear of COVID-19," says Mendel. "These types of concerns include health risks, the possibility that a trip could be canceled at a moment's notice, and that travel destinations' restrictive measures are too complicated to deal with."
Virtual reality is an option for travel-hesitant consumers
For consumers not yet comfortable traveling, virtual reality may be an alternative, as 34% say they would "definitely" be interested in using VR, and another 32% say they'd like to learn more about it. Then again, only 16% would pay $300 or more on the technology, which is how much top-rated headsets cost.
6 tips for summer travel
For those planning to get away this summer, keep these planning strategies and precautions in mind.
- Research the rules. "This is the number one most important thing for travelers to do before booking their trip," says Mendel. Sort out whether you need to bring your vaccination records or have COVID testing before you leave and before you return home, as well as any special regulations for each mode of transportation and stop in your itinerary. (As an example, Mendel notes that each Hawaiian island has its own complex COVID-19 restrictions in place.) It's important to plan accordingly.
- Be mindful of capacity limits. You really can't wing it this year. "Make all the necessary reservations for restaurants, shows, events, amusement parks and any other activities you plan to do on your trip ahead of time," says Mendel. You should also check the indoor and outdoor dining rules for your destination, as this may affect your trip plans and packing selections.
- Have backup plans. "Research outdoor activities to do in case of COVID-19 complications. Especially if you're traveling with kids, you'll want to make sure to have plenty of activities lined up to keep them entertained regardless," says Mendel.
- Use a travel agent. According to Mendel, booking your trip through a travel agent can not only help keep their business going during these trying times, but they can provide advice and assistance before, during and after your trip.
- Go for the insurance. Especially for larger trips, the peace of mind is worth it. Just be sure the policy or credit card benefit you're counting on covers COVID-related trip interruptions.
- Examine change and cancellation policies. Though many airlines and hotels established flexible cancellation and rebooking policies this past year, as the pandemic eases, some may return to more stringent pre-COVID policies, warned Mendel.
ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to field an online survey of 2,192 Americans; it was conducted April 8 to April 15, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:
- Generation Z: 18 to 24
- Millennial: 25 to 40
- Generation X: 41 to 55
- Baby boomer: 56 to 75
While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.
To find out which airports experienced the biggest drops in passengers last summer, analysts used data from the Bureau of Transportation to estimate the number of passengers arriving at airports for summer 2019 and summer 2020 and ranked the airports by percent difference over the two periods. Analysts analyzed airports that had at least 100,000 arriving passengers in summer of 2019 (defined as June, July and August).