It’s the time of year when everyone churns out their annual predictions, quoting the same experts on 2015’s travel trends. Or, if they’ve been doing this long enough, they just cite themselves.
Not this consumer advocate. No one really knows what will happen next year, even someone who’s been trend-watching as long as I have.
All we can do is guess. And according to the best guesses, here’s what to expect: Air fares, car rental rates and hotel prices will rise by at most a few percentage points. That doesn’t automatically mean you’ll pay a reasonable price for your trip. Leisure travel will remain safe, as long as you take reasonable precautions. And watch for those junk fees, because more are on the way.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the forecasters are saying about prices:
• Air fares will get a modest bump. A recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group, looks for a 2.5 percent increase in domestic ticket prices in 2015.
• Car rental rates should stay more or less flat, according to an American Express prediction. Prices should rise no more than 1 percent next year.
• Hotel room rates will jump 5.7 percent next year, hotel analysts at PKF Consulting predict.
In other words, with the possible exception of your hotel rate, travel should cost about the same as this year. That’s good news, if it’s true.
So where’s everyone headed? Lonely Planet and MSN commissioned a survey that named the most desirable destinations for 2015. Number one is Washington, D.C., followed by (I’m not making this up) El Chaltén, Argentina; Milan; and Zermatt, Switzerland. That stands in sharp contrast to the most-visited cities of 2014, and the likely front-runners for 2015, according to a survey conducted by MasterCard — London, Bangkok, Paris, Singapore and Dubai.
Maybe a more interesting question is: Will leisure travel be safe?
Health and safety experts say it will be, but it’s a qualified “yes.” Any pre-trip planning checklist should include a scan of the State Department’s Alerts and Warnings page, which is a good predictor of future flare-ups. And that list says you might want to avoid such places as Lebanon, Syria and the Central African Republic.
Same for health issues. Apart from the usual problems, such as flu outbreaks in the spring or the occasional norovirus problem on a cruise ship, you’ll have to mind one or two hot spots. Topping the list in 2015: Tourist destinations including Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore, where travelers are at risk from dengue fever; Haiti, Ghana and Nigeria, where cholera is a problem; and India and several African countries, where malaria can end your trip. That’s according to Ronald St. John, founder of Sitata.com, a site that tracks infectious diseases and identifies the problem areas using an algorithm.
How about Ebola? “Even for travelers going to the affected countries, the risk is low,” St. John says. “Remember, among the three most affected countries, there are about 20,380,000 people who do not have Ebola.”
So it’s safe to travel, with some exceptions. But is it affordable? If the predictions come true, 2015 is shaping up to be a good year for deals. But seemingly great deals can sometimes be deceptive, says Courtney Scott, a senior editor for Travelocity. Published prices don’t reflect some of the hidden costs of travel. These include charges for extras like mandatory resort fees or checked-luggage surcharges, often referred to as “ancillary” fees. Those are on the rise.
“Ancillary fees for other aspects of travel will continue to impact travelers in 2015, including fees for snacks on board, priority boarding, extra leg room and phone reservations” used to book a flight, she says. These fees combined can almost double the cost of a flight or a hotel room, which can make budgeting for your next trip challenging.
In 2015, experts say ancillary fees will be everywhere. Even JetBlue Airways, which had shunned surcharges for years, announced a few weeks ago it would begin charging for the first checked bag on some tickets, Scott notes.
The work-around? Avoid checking luggage, or, if you travel often, join a company’s loyalty program, she says. They often grant waivers for their most frequent guests.
Perhaps the hardest question of all to answer is whether taking a vacation is worth it, given the challenges. If you believe the research, the answer is “absolutely.” A recent study commissioned by Expedia concluded that vacations make Americans happy. Eight out of 10 respondents said vacations make them happier than marriages, religion, cats and birthdays. That’s a lot of happiness. And 92 percent said they’d give up a “prized” possession, such as alcohol, video games or chocolate, for a vacation.
If that’s right, then you’re probably going to love your 2015 vacation — if you bother to go. The same survey found that about one-third of Americans have never taken a vacation that lasted more than a week. Slightly more than seven in 10 respondents say they’ve never vacationed more than 14 days in a row. Indeed, an earlier survey noted that Americans use only 10 of the 14 vacation days allotted them every year.
On a personal note, the odds of you complaining are also on the decline. I’ve been tracking a steady decrease in the number of reader complaints against all but the large domestic airlines. Either 2014 was the year a lot of travel companies decided to start caring about customer satisfaction, or it was the year everyone gave up and stopped complaining because no one seemed to be listening. I hope it’s the former.
Bottom line: 2015 could be a good year to travel. Don’t let the low prices fool you, steer clear of the dangerous places, but for goodness’ sake, get out there. You deserve a vacation.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from Travel: