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COVID Cases, Vaccines and Travel: What We Expect Business Travel to Look Like in 2021

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You've probably seen the news: COVID cases are continuing  to climb in the U.S., triple summer case peaks and six times the spring case peaks. But with multiple vaccines nearing FDA approval and a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist recently going on the record that a successful vaccine rollout could allow us to resume social gatherings next summer, there is hope to be had that your colleagues can soon safely get back out on the road and grow your business.

While we have no crystal ball, we have a sense for which COVID travel trends will continue in 2021.

Testing, testing and more testing

Airlines are announcing COVID testing at a dizzying pace: United Airlines on Hawaii flights, their New York-London route and Latin America-Carribean routes, JetBlue in New York, Delta Air Lines to Italy and the Netherlands, American Airlines to London and on domestic routes. This comes after Hawaii, along with other states and countries, launched pre-testing programs that allow travelers to enter with reduced or waived quarantine requirements. Expect this testing trend to continue, allowing business travelers slightly easier visits to international destinations for really important business.

Interstate travel restrictions continue 

The state travel restrictions section of the AmTrav COVID Resource Center isn’t going away any time soon. From Maine to Florida to New Mexico, each time COVID cases rose in the spring, summer, and then late fall, interstate travel restrictions were imposed and expanded. States set their travel restrictions based on COVID test positivity rates and numbers of new COVID cases, so as cases rise or fall through the winter and spring, so too will travel restrictions expand or get rescinded. We’ll be navigating these travel restrictions together for a while longer.

Pack your COVID vaccine declaration, and your face mask too

Once COVID vaccines become available to the general public sometime in 2021, expect countries, states, and airlines to request proof of your COVID vaccination. Also, don’t forget your favorite face mask -- experts expect masking up to continue into 2021 as people gradually get vaccinated, and as we learn how well these new vaccines protect us and how long each dose lasts.

Unused tickets and waived change fees help you save money in 2021

Airlines extended the expiration dates of unused tickets through late 2021 and, in some cases, even into 2022 (see the expiration dates in your Unused Ticket Report). Whether you’re already traveling or thinking about a return to travel in the future, you need to use those unused tickets. Make sure travelers are using their own unused tickets first and come up with  a plan to use former employees’ tickets too. Money saved on airfare with unused tickets goes straight to your bottom line!

Likewise, major airlines removing change fees from most domestic tickets (and more recently certain international tickets on American Airlines) means that you save money when your travelers’ plans change. You and your travelers can book knowing that if plans change for any reason you won’t have to swallow a $200 change fee, and you can apply that unused ticket value to your next trip with AmTrav.

Party like it’s 2019?

More testing and a widely-distributed vaccine do not, of course, mean that business travel will immediately snap back. Offices have to safely reopen to employees first, then to visitors. Even if they’re vaccinated, conference and meeting attendees may prefer Zoom to in-person for a while longer. But vaccine developments give us hope, and we’ve learned a lot about how to travel safely under the circumstances. Whenever you’re ready to get back on the road, we can’t wait to see you and we’re ready to help -- and bring your mask, just in case!

Did we miss anything? Please let us know in the comments!

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