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This article was last updated Jul 14, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
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, is giving Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Platinum, Gold and Blue cardholders 4X miles per dollar on U.S. supermarket spend through July 2020.
Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and at restaurants, now worldwide. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
NEW! No foreign transaction fees.
- Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- No Annual Fee.
- NEW! Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide.
- Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
- Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
- NEW! No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
NEW! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
- Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- With Status Boost™, earn 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to four times per year, getting you closer to Medallion Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
- Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
- Complimentary access into the Delta SkyClubs® for you when travelling on a Delta flight.
- Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book your Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
From now until the end of September, 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.
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
$300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- Earn 3x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services
See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®
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.