As we approach year three of the pandemic, it's safe to say we've learned to be more cautious and flexible with our plans. And with the omicron variant dominating headlines, travel rules and COVID-19 concerns will likely continue changing month to month in 2022.
That said, vaccines and boosters are widespread, international borders are opening (even when some are also closing) and countries, airlines and hotels now have systems for safely welcoming visitors despite frequent pivots.
We're adapting to living in a world with COVID-19, and the travel and tourism industry is mostly open to those who are ready.
2022 travel outlook
If you've been to the airport lately, you've noticed people are on the move again. Even with the rise of the omicron variant, air travel is seeing an uptick every day, with travel numbers getting close to what they were before the pandemic.
Despite rising concern due to new variants, research shows travelers are still feeling positive about the future. Destination Analytics -- a research firm studying how the coronavirus impacts people's perception of travel safety -- recently reported Americans' travel outlook for 2022 as "promising," with 76 percent of American travelers in a ready-to-go state of mind. One-third of American travelers report they will take more leisure trips in the next year, and nearly 25 percent say they are planning to increase their international travel.
And it's not only individuals who are feeling optimistic. Many airlines are finally removing aircraft from storage and relaunching the international routes we've all missed. With Australia finally opening after two years of border closure, Qantas has restarted many of its long-haul flights, including their most popular routes to Sydney from London and Los Angeles.
How to take advantage of 2022 travel deals now
With more routes reopening and airlines scrambling to fill their planes, now could be the right time to book a flight, especially if you can get your hands on a coveted deal for international summer travel.
Domestic travel is lower risk
It's unlikely travel will be restricted between states, so it may make sense to snag domestic tickets when you find a reasonable price. If you're planning to hit a popular destination like Florida, New York, Las Vegas, California, Hawaii, Texas or a national park, you'll want to book early. The same goes if you're booking with points; award availability will be competitive for flights and accommodation.
Research international travel requirements
While international travel in pandemic times is unpredictable, booking a 2022 trip outside of the U.S. is possible. Just do your research and make sure you're protected.
While more and more countries are "open" to travelers, each has its list of rules and requirements, and they're all subject to change. Most countries require some proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test before entry, and many require you to complete government-issued travel attestation forms.
It's certainly easiest to travel internationally if you're fully vaccinated. If you're not vaccinated and are planning to travel anyway (despite the current CDC guidance to delay travel until fully vaccinated), you'll need to do double due diligence on your transit and destination and be prepared for a lot of nasal swabs. Some countries will not allow any unvaccinated visitors to transit or enter, while others will require quarantine or a more rigorous testing requirement for those not fully vaccinated.
Prepare for the worst
Above all, you must be prepared to pivot your plans at a moment's notice; you never know when an illness or shutdown may prevent you from taking flight. If you can afford to tack on travel insurance to a non- refundable flight, doing so can give you peace of mind; just be sure the insurance covers COVID-related cancellations.
Booking trips you can cancel or reschedule
For 2022 travel, never forget that change is our new normal. Organize your trip like you're going to have to cancel it at the last minute -- or even change it midway through.
Read the fine print
Make sure any flight or hotel room you book is flexible, changeable and refundable. If you're booking with your credit card points, look up the rules of the credit card, hotel or airline program through which you're booking to make sure you can get your points back and adjust your itinerary. And if you're shelling out a lot of money for an organized tour, cruise or another prepaid adventure, do your homework and get yourself some travel insurance.
Book directly with airlines
If you can, book directly through the airlines or hotels where possible, rather than a third party (like Expedia or Kayak). It isn't that third-party sites don't have great deals -- they just make it more complicated to get a refund or make a change cancellation.
Most airlines still have flexible change policies for domestic tickets and international tickets originating in the U.S. -- unless you're booking the basic or saver fare. Of course, the rules will likely keep changing, so make sure you check before you buy.
The bottom line
COVID-19 is still with us and is likely here to stay. Yet, airplanes are still full, business travelers are back in the skies and there are offers to be had as travel and tourism returns. If we've learned anything, we all know we can never know for certain what the new year holds.
Review your travel credit card strategy
After a long travel hiatus, it makes sense to ensure your travel credit card rewards strategy is optimized. An end-of-the-year rewards audit is a good way to refresh your memory of where you've stashed all those points you've earned.
Also, it may be time to upgrade those cards you've let lapse because you weren't using the lounge or baggage benefits. I'm personally back to enough domestic travel that I'm ready to re-up The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. I downgraded the card in 2020, but I'm ready to access the American Express Centurion Lounge network once again.
Trust your gut
Traveling in 2022 is possible, but it isn't the best choice for everyone. Always put your health and safety first and recognize your comfort with risk. If you're not ready for international travel, domestic travel is great. And if you aren't ready to get on a plane yet, it's still good to take a road trip and stay close to home. Do what is best for you as we adapt to what the new year brings.