LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.
How Little Americans Are Spending on Flying Due to Coronavirus
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
Air travel internationally and domestically came to a screeching halt in April due to the spread of COVID-19. Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) estimates U.S. airlines carried 96% fewer passengers in April 2020 than in April 2019.
Despite travel picking up some since April, we have yet to see a return to even half of the level of air traffic we saw pre-pandemic. Checking through TSA at airports is down about 90% from last year, according to TSA data. Now that we’re in the thick of summer vacation season and the holidays aren’t too far off, many are left to wonder if things will return to normal — or at least a semblance of normal — in time to keep or make travel plans.
Disease experts are erring on the side of caution. When asked, a majority of epidemiologists said they wouldn’t be traveling by air for at least the next three to 12 months because of COVID-19. If consumers follow their lead, we may see people put off travel plans until 2021.
To contextualize the collapse in airline travel, we compared the number of people flying out of airports in the 100 cities that get the most air traffic. Then we estimated how little they were spending on flying this quarter compared with one year ago.
- Atlanta leads the way — people flying from Atlanta will spend an estimated $4 billion less this quarter than they did in 2019. Atlanta has the busiest airport in the country and a 90% drop in traffic would mean just 1.3 million passengers leaving the airport down from 12.4 million.
- Chicago takes the second spot with an estimated decline in spending of nearly $3.6 billion. And the lack of spending could mean tons of jobs are on the line. There are nearly 18,000 flight attendants and pilots alone in the Chicago area, not to mention all the other jobs that are directly connected to airports.
- The Dallas/Fort Worth area comes in third. We estimate spending on flying will drop by just over $2.9 billion between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020. In terms of passengers, a 90% decline in traffic leaves just 814,000 people flying through Dallas airports down from 8 million.
- Punta Gorda, Fla., takes the bottom spot. We estimate this airport will see about $31 million less spent on airfare. Overall, this area does not appear too dependent on its airport. The latest BLS data suggests not many pilots or flight attendants live nearby.
- St. Petersburg and Sanford are two other Florida cities that take the last two bottom spots. We estimate people will spend $39 million and $51 million less in the second quarter of 2020 than in the second quarter of 2019.
- Florida has a number of regional airports serving local markets. Depending on how people feel about flying that may serve as an advantage. By going to smaller airports or flying smaller planes, you may be able to limit how many people you come into contact with, potentially making flying safer.
What reduced travel means for travel rewards cards
Flying less often could mean you’ll have fewer opportunities to make use of credit card points or miles. Here are a few ways to think about adapting your credit card strategy:
Take advantage of new rewards and redemption opportunities
In response to travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, some credit card issuers added new rewards categories and perks based on where consumers are now spending more money.
American Express, for example, was giving Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card cardholders 4X miles per dollar on U.S. supermarket spend through July 2020.
From now until April 2021, Chase Sapphire Reserve® Ultimate Rewards® points are worth 50% more when you redeem them for statement credits “to pay yourself back” for spending at groceries and restaurants, which includes takeout and delivery.
Double-check for new rewards opportunities. And consider alternative redemption options — such as shopping with points or redeeming for gift cards or statement credits — while you’re unable to travel.
Take stock of your travel cards with high annual fees
Staying grounded long term could mean you won’t earn and redeem enough points to offset your travel card’s annual fee, and some elite travel cards can cost several hundred dollars per year.
In that case, it may be time to consider downgrading to a less expensive travel card. Or think about switching to a flat-rate cashback card or category card that rewards you in areas like gas and groceries if you’ve seen an uptick in that spending.
Just keep in mind that some card issuers have restrictions on the type of cards you seek to downgrade or upgrade. Call your credit card provider for details.
Protect your miles or travel rewards from expiring
Don’t assume your rewards balance stash is yours forever; read the fine print. Some rewards expire if you don’t use the card or redeem rewards within a certain time frame. For example, American AAdvantage® miles are only active if you use the card or earn and redeem points once every 18 months, and you have to pay a fee to reactivate your expired rewards balance.
The travel industry has yet to fully recover and there’s no telling when airlines will return to pre-COVID-19 air traffic. If you’re an avid traveler who’s now grounded, take a look at your cards to see if new rewards opportunities have opened up, or consider swapping your card for another one that’ll be more cost-effective during this time.
In order to rank the cities where spending on airfare will drop the most, we looked at the 100 largest cities based on the number of passengers originating from airports in the city in the second quarter of 2019. We then multiplied that number by the average airfare cost for that location to estimate the airfare spent.
To estimate how much less will be spent to fly from those airports in Q2 2020, we multiplied that number by 5.7%, which is what the TSA estimates current traffic levels are compared with one year ago. We then ranked the cities based on the difference between last year’s spend and this year’s projected spend.
Data on airfare costs and passenger totals come from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is for April 2019. Data on current passenger traffic comes from the Transportation Security Administration.