Price outweighs pandemic fears as Americans look to book travel again

Fifty-six percent of travelers told Discover they’ll use contactless payment methods more often while on trips this year.

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Most news about travel may have focused on health and safety since the pandemic hit over a year ago. However, cost and booking flexibility are now even more top of mind for Americans looking to finally get away again, according to Discover Financial Services.

The credit card company’s latest annual travel survey, released Tuesday, finds that the 70% of consumers willing to travel again place price and flexibility ahead of the spread of Covid variants, infection rates at destinations or accommodations’ cleanliness ratings when considering a trip. Additionally, 87% of those surveyed said cost was an important factor in booking, and 86% cited flexibility of cancellation policies.

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Health and safety concerns, meanwhile, lagged price, but not by much: 80%, meanwhile, pointed to news of Covid variants and/or the number of new infections at a destination, and 74% said they’d prioritize sanitization efforts when making an accommodations choice.

 “It’s clear consumers have a strong desire to travel again as we head into the summer months and the economic recovery continues,” said Jacob Ayoub, vice president of consumer and competitive insights at Discover, in a statement. “We know travel trends and consumer needs are going to continue to shift, but it’s important to note that, right now, U.S. consumers are considering costs, flexibility and the spread of Covid-19 while traveling.”

The survey also addressed which Americans are traveling and why (see chart below).

Who’s traveling … and why

Sixty-six percent of consumers are planning trips of 1 to 6 days, and they’re traveling:

  • To relax: 37%
  • To visit family and friends: 18%
  • For a change of scenery: 10%

Among generations, here’s how interest in family trips vs. adventure travel compares:

  • Baby boomers: 28% family, 7% adventure
  • Gen X: 18% family, 10% adventure
  • Millennials: 12% family, 12% adventure
  • Gen Z: 9% family, 21% adventure

Source: Discover Financial Services/Dynata survey, April 2021

In some cases, willingness to spend more is related to health and safety concerns. Half of all respondents, for example, told Discover they’d be more likely to splurge on pricier trips if they include stricter Covid-19 hygiene protocols, and 49% would invest in priority travel passes to avoid crowds. Two out of 3 travelers surveyed said they’d continue to wear masks while traveling — even when not required — with 62% saying they’re hesitant to use transportation where they’ll be in close proximity to strangers.

When it comes to paying, 55% of travelers told Discover that credit cards are the preferred method — a 16-point jump from 2019. That may be tied to another survey finding, that 56% will use contactless payment options more often while on the road.

“For many consumers, the pandemic may have shifted how they pay for items,” Ayoub told CNBC. “Consumers may feel more comfortable using digital payment options like contactless credit cards because they are fast, easy and safe.”

Speaking of credit cards, about a third of respondents also said they planned to redeem card loyalty points for vacation-related expenses. “Consumers may have also seen their credit card points stack up during the pandemic and may be looking to redeem those rewards as the world reopens,” noted Ayoub. “In our travel survey, 34% of consumers say they plan to use credit card points and rewards on vacation-related expenses during the next six months.”

Research firm Dynata conducted the survey for Discover Financial Services April 23 to 28 among 2,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older.

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