Summer air travel picks up as revenge travelers ignore high prices


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  • Airlines have been taking advantage of strong consumer demand to pass on some of the additional costs of oil and inflation with higher airfares.
  • Consumers have turned away from discretionary goods, but they’re not willing to give up travel even as airfares surge.
  • But if you’re a budget-conscious traveler, there are steps you can take to get you better prices.

Summer’s heating up and so is inflation. But even with airfares soaring, people are determined to take what they see as a much-needed vacation after two years of pandemic stress. 

Air travel bookings turned sharply higher in March after the omicron wave faded and many destinations eased entry requirements, especially if you were fully vaccinated. Consumers were so eager to travel again, they did so even after oil prices rose to their highest level in about 14 years and faced the highest overall inflation in 40 years.

Fuel is the second-largest expense for airlines at around 30% of operating costs and has doubled in price from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration. And airlines have been taking advantage of strong consumer demand to pass on some of those additional costs with higher airfares.

“My coach ticket from Chicago to Phoenix was $1,300, which is over three times the usual fare,” said Tom Blew, who took his trip last month to visit family and friends. “I guess pent-up demand isn’t price-sensitive, and there are very few options unless you want to fly in the middle of the night.”

Travel: No longer optional but a necessity 

Consumers have recently turned away from discretionary goods amid surging inflation to afford everyday necessities like groceries and rent, but there are no signs they’re willing to give up travel even as airfares surge. In April, airline tickets jumped by 8.6 %, the largest one-month increase since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking this in 1963.

In the first three months of this year, travel spending exceeded spending on general merchandise (think stuff you can buy on Amazon), which is tapering off. In March, consumers spent $1,290 on average for travel compared with $819 on general merchandise, data from wealth management firm Personal Capital showed. 

“In March, we saw what’s possible, with surging demand brought on by reduced infection rates, relaxed restrictions and tremendous pent-up demand for people to travel,” said Robert Isom, chief executive officer at American Airlines in its earnings conference call. “Demand is as strong as we’ve ever seen it.”  

Delta’s President Glen Hauenstein agreed, saying in an April earnings call profit margins are looking good “as fuel prices have continued to run up and demand continues to remain strong.”

That’s because people want to spend time with family and friends, a Deloitte survey of 4,233 Americans fielded March 23-30 showed. That desire is likely to boost travel above both 2021 and pre-pandemic levels, with six in 10 Americans planning trips, up from 50% last year, Deloitte said. Of those, half said they planned to fly and 28% expected to pay “significantly more” for their trips than they did in 2019 due partly to inflation and more savings.  

“After two years of the pandemic, we were long overdue to make up for lost time with family,” said Andres Olarte who recently returned with his family from a five-week trip to Costa Rica. It was his first trip back to his hometown since 2019 and the first time many of his family and friends got to meet his youngest son, born in 2021.

“We booked our flights months in advance but did splurge getting direct flights,” he said.

POST-PANDEMIC LIST: 100 things we can’t wait to do when the pandemic ends: Hug friends, go to concerts and more

BRIGHTER SUMMER: What will COVID-19 look like this summer? Health experts say the virus won’t be endemic, yet.

Price insensitivity 

Airfares are also likely to continue rising, boosted by ongoing strong demand and elevated oil prices. World benchmark Brent crude was last above $117 per barrel, and JPMorgan analysts see prices above $120 this year. 

But none of that has deterred consumers. 

“They’re planning and anticipating for it and paying the higher price,” said Matthew Howe, senior manager of travel intelligence at research firm Morning Consult. “Revenge travel is definitely a real thing. People have been waiting and are ready to get back out and experience the world.” 

RECOVERING TIME: Didn’t travel at all during COVID-19? How to make up for lost time and lost opportunities

FLIGHT BOOSTS: Southwest is changing its in-flight experiences: 5 things coming this year and next

Although Ed Bastian, Delta chief executive officer, is optimistic air travel will stay strong into the fall, he warned on the earnings call he’s always on the lookout for consumer price resistance.

“When we start to see pricing, particularly with high input costs like fuel, starting to challenge our demand and supply assumptions, then we’ll take the next step up,” Bastian said.

To ensure operations go smoothly this summer, airlines have trimmed their flight schedules to give themselves some wiggle room if something goes awry. On Thursday, Delta joined American, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Air and JetBlue in cutting some flights to its summer schedule so it could “minimize disruptions and bounce back faster when challenges occur,” it said in a statement on its website.

While consumers may benefit from better service, fewer seats will likely mean more competition for existing seats and even higher prices.

Don’t want to pay up? Tips for finding lower airfares 

For those who want to fly but avoid chasing ever-increasing prices this summer, Expedia travel expert Christie Hudson offers some tips: 

► Timing travel

Of all the summer months, August is the cheapest. The “sweetest spot” is the last two weeks of the month as some schools go back in the south and it’s right at the end of summer before Labor Day, she said. 

Mid- to early-week travel days are the least expensive with Fridays the most expensive. 

Avoid traveling on summer holidays like the 4th of July, which tends to be the most expensive. 

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SAVE BIGGER: The battle for Spirit Airlines just got more interesting: Airline says it will entertain JetBlue’s $3.6 billion offer

► When to book

Usually, booking airfare is the cheapest two weeks to a month in advance of your travel days. If you’re a planner and that seems too close for your comfort, Hudson suggests booking further out while using a price match guarantee service. 

► Package booking 

If you’ll also need a place to stay, Hudson recommends booking all your travel in one place to get a package rate. These are deals on airfare and lodging that are only available through packages, she said.

The bonus is that you can still get your airline miles and rewards. “So, you’re saving money and collecting rewards,” she said. 



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More Memorial Day Travel Expected, Despite High Gas Prices | California News


By STEFANIE DAZIO, CHRISTOPHER WEBER and TERRY TANG, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — To drive, or not to drive? This Memorial Day weekend, with surging gas prices that are redefining pain at the pump, that is the question for many Americans as a new COVID-19 surge also spreads across the country.

For Marvin Harper, of Phoenix, his family’s weekend travel plans are a double punch to the wallet. His college-age son and daughter each have a soccer tournament in Southern California and Colorado, respectively. He and his daughter will fly to Denver, rather than drive, because of the cost of fuel, while his wife and son will go to California in her SUV.

“My mother-in-law’s going with my wife and son to split that cost because it’s just too much on our household,” said Harper, as he filled up the tank of his truck at a Phoenix QuikTrip. “We can’t afford both of us to drive. That’s the bottom line … Gas prices are killing our household.”

For some, that’s exactly what’s caused them to rethink their holiday plans, making them opt for a staycation in their backyard to limit the damage to their wallets.

Political Cartoons

Laura Dena and her sons would typically go to Southern California around Memorial Day weekend to escape Arizona’s scorching heat. This year, because it takes at least $100 to fill up her truck, they’re staying home.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Dena while waiting in line in 90-degree heat for a pump at a Costco in Phoenix. “It’s upsetting, but there’s not much we can do. We have to pay the price.”

The average gas price in the U.S. on Thursday was $4.60 per gallon, according to AAA figures. In California, it topped $6. The high price of oil — largely because many buyers are refusing to purchase Russian oil because of its invasion of Ukraine — is the main cause of the steep gasoline prices.

Rising prices coincide with a COVID-19 surge that has led to case counts that are as high as they’ve been since mid-February, and those figures are likely a major undercount because of unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections.

Still, 2 1/2 years of pandemic life has many people hitting the road or taking to the skies, despite the surge. AAA estimates that 39.2 million people in the U.S. will travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from home during the holiday weekend.

Those projections —- which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation like trains or cruise ships — are up 8.3% from 2021 and would bring Memorial Day travel volumes close to 2017 levels. The estimates are still below pre-pandemic 2019 levels, a peak year for travel.

About 88% of those 39.2 million travelers — a record number — are expected to go by car over the long weekend even as gas prices remain high, according to AAA spokesperson Andrew Gross.

In California — despite being home to the nation’s highest gas prices — the state’s nonprofit tourism agency also predicts a busy summer for the Golden State, beginning this weekend.

Ryan Becker, Visit California’s spokesperson, said his agency is seeing a lot of “pent-up demand” because of the pandemic: “I want to get out, I want to travel. I’ve had to put my anniversary trip on hold, I’ve had to put my 40th birthday trip on hold.”

Outdoorsy, an online rental marketplace for RVs and camper vans, is noticing that its renters have changed their plans over the course of the pandemic. Early on, people would rent an RV to travel cross-country safely to visit family. Now, they’re back to using the RVs as a cost-effective way for a vacation tethered to nature.

“I think everyone needs a vacation, I really do,” Outdoorsy co-founder Jen Young said. “Have we ever lived through a more stressful, challenging — mentally and physically and spiritually — time in our lives?”

Others shrug off the stress of the added travel costs because it’s out of their control. At a Chevron station in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much the $6.49 a gallon price would run him in total for his Nissan work van.

“I’ll go with between 60 and 70 bucks,” the heating and air-conditioning technician speculated, eyeing the display as the price went up and up.

Estrada — just missing his guess when the pump registered $71.61 for 11 gallons of regular grade — has been forced to raise his business fees for customers to overcome the gas prices. He’ll be working over the holiday weekend but has a vacation planned in Arizona next month.

He’s flying, but only because of convenience, not cost.

But with airline tickets prices up, too — AAA found that the average lowest airfare for this weekend is 6% higher than last year — that’s not a sure bet, either.

Tang reported from Phoenix. Associated Press video journalist Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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High gas prices not stopping holiday travel


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At this point, we’ve all probably realized we’re paying more at the pump. However, AAA told KSHB 41 News although prices are higher this year than they were last year, people are still going on their Memorial Day weekend trips.

“AAA is still expecting more Americans to travel for this Memorial Day holiday than last year, and this puts us pretty close to where we were in 2019, in terms of travel figure just prior to the pandemic,” Nick Chabarria, spokesperson for AAA Missouri, said.

Chabarria said people are likely feeling much more comfortable taking trips this year, especially since COVID restrictions were lifted.

And, they might not even care about how much gas is; they just want to travel.

“If they want to travel, they still will and they’ll find ways to save money in their trip elsewhere, and that may be eating out less while on vacation or finding more economic accommodations,” Chabarria said.

Gas prices are just under $4 a gallon in Kansas City, compared to around $2.75-2.85 this time last year.

However, our area still has some of the cheapest gas prices in the country. The national average is $4.59.

Before you hit the road for the holiday, AAA has a gas cost calculator on its website. You enter a starting and an ending destination, your vehicle make and model and it will average out what it’ll cost to get there with current gas prices.

Some of the biggest travel destinations this year are beaches and places with outdoor activities, according to AAA.

Let’s say you’re driving to Rocky Mountain National Park in a Toyota Corolla. AAA says it’ll cost you about $153 roundtrip.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina will cost about $264 roundtrip.

Orlando, Florida will cost about $289 roundtrip.

But, that’s a lot of driving.

If you booked a last-minute flight today, May 23, for a trip Thursday through Monday, you’d be looking at around over $300 to Denver, over $500 to Charleston, and over $500 to Orlando.

AAA says we shouldn’t expect gas prices to go down this summer.

“We know there’s a lot at play right now with global oil and gas industries and unless something dramatic changes, prices are going to remain where they’re at or continue to go up,” Chabarria said.





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Gas prices hit record high as travel ramps up for Memorial Day weekend


COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Gas prices across the country are hitting record-highs just in time for the travel-heavy Memorial Day holiday.

AAA said Thursday that gas prices in Missouri are hitting new records every day since May 11. The nationwide average on Thursday is $4.59 and Missouri’s average is $4.19 — up $1.38 from this time last year.

Missouri has the fifth-lowest gas prices in the county; a few months ago it was battling for the lowest with Kansas.

“High demand for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel is putting upward pressure on oil prices which is causing prices to rise at the pump,” said AAA spokesperson Nick Chabarria.

However, AAA still expects Memorial Day travel to increase 5% from previous years.

“Despite record-high gas prices, AAA anticipates Memorial Day Weekend travel to be busy with 34.9 million Americans hitting the road,” Chabarria said.

AAA recommends safe driving to save on fuel prices. Speeding, accelerating and stopping quickly, idling the engine and not maintaining tires can result in using more gas than necessary.

Air travel is also expected to increase over Memorial Day weekend. Airline sales have been down since the pandemic began in 2020, but AAA expects Memorial Day this year to see levels close to 2019.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”

To save money on flights and hotel bookings, AAA recommends planning ahead. The best time to book a flight is two weeks ahead, according to AAA, when prices will be an average of $445 per ticket. Last-minute bookers may be paying nearly double that, at an average of $845 per ticket.

American Airlines expects more than 5,700 customers daily through Memorial Day weekend. Spokesperson Gianna Urgo said the busiest day at Columbia Regional airport will be Thursday, May 26 with 5,761 scheduled flights.



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High gas prices and summer travel


INDIANAPOLIS — Right now Hoosiers are paying more for gas than they ever have before. In Indiana, the average gallon of gas costs more than $4.50 on Tuesday, according to AAA’s gas price tracker.

With Memorial Day Weekend and summer break coming up, many families are getting ready to pack their bags to hit the roads or head to the airport for vacation. Lisa Wall with AAA said they do not expect these high gas prices to impact travel.

“Everything that we’re seeing is nothing is deterring travel resurgence,” Wall said.

AAA expects more than 39 million people to travel for Memorial Day Weekend, a would-be increase of 3 million people compared to 2021.

“Ninety percent of people are going to drive this Memorial Day Weekend, so that still seems to be the primary way that people are going to get to where they’re going,” Wall said.

Locally, Visit Indy isn’t expecting any drops in tourism in the Circle City.

“As a drivable, centrally located destination we typically do stay healthy even during rise in gas prices,” said Nate Swick, a spokesperson for Visit Indy.

The hope is high gas prices could even lead more people to taking the staycation route or choosing a shorter drive from home for a summer trip.

”There’s definitely a chance we’re going to get more visitors this summer because people might not be making that extended road trip,” Swick said.

Swick said tourism in Indianapolis is about 80 percent of what it was in 2019. They expect that number to continue to grow, especially with exposure from the championship sporting events Indy has hosted in the past few years.

“Our sporting events happened in the winter and early spring and Indy is a completely different place in the summer,” Swick said. “We’re hopeful some of those fans are coming back to give Indy another shot.”

Local travel agent Victoria Fricke said prices for flights are definitely up right now, but she can’t directly tie that to high fuel prices.

“An average trip to Mexico, from my perspective looking for my own tickets, was probably 200 to 250 more dollars than I would typically spend,” Fricke said.

Still, she said her clients are set on taking trips this summer, regardless of the cost, to get where they’re going. 

”They would rather make some sacrifices with the length of the trip or what they’re doing activity-wise,” Fricke said.

Wall said Memorial Day Weekend travel is expected to be 92 percent of what it was in 2019.



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CDC: British Virgin Islands at ‘high’ travel risk for Covid-19


(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added one destination — a relaxed Caribbean playground — to its “high” category for Covid-19 risk.

The British Virgin Islands moved up to Level 3 on Monday; it previously had been at Level 2.

The islands are known for the famous Virgin Gorda Baths (a bay dotted with giant granite boulders); water sports such as diving and sailing; and a pace that is more casual than some of the Caribbean’s hot spots.

Overall, this week’s CDC travel risk update saw little in the way of the dramatic shifts in status that characterized this past winter and early spring during the original Omicron variant surge.

The CDC recently overhauled its ratings system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers.

The Level 3 “high” risk category is now the top rung in terms of risk level. Level 2 is considered “moderate” risk, and Level 1 is “low” risk.

Level 4, previously the highest risk category, is now reserved only for special circumstances, such as extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern or health care infrastructure collapse. Under the new system, no destinations have been placed at Level 4 so far.

Level 3

Customers sit on a terrace alongside a canal in Amsterdam, on April 28, 2021,

Amsterdam is blessed with urban biking and canals, but the Netherlands is still ranked “high” risk for Covid-19.

FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP via Getty Images

In the CDC’s new system, the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category applies to countries that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Much of Europe is still lodged there with the summer travel season getting ever closer. As of May 9, some popular European destinations remained at Level 3:

• France
• Germany
• Greece
• Ireland
• Italy
• The Netherlands
• Portugal
• Spain
• United Kingdom

It’s not just European favorites that find themselves at Level 3. Other popular travel spots around the world still ranked at the high risk level:

• Brazil
• Canada
• Costa Rica
• Malaysia
• South Korea
• Thailand

There are almost 110 destinations at Level 3 this week. Level 3 locations now account for nearly half of the roughly 235 places monitored by the CDC.

The CDC advises that you get up-to-date with your Covid-19 vaccines before traveling to a Level 3 destination. “Up-to-date” includes not only the full initial vaccinations but any boosters for which you’re eligible.
The CDC does not include the United States in its list of advisories, but on its color-coded map of the world, the CDC had it at Level 3 on Monday.

Level 2

The Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel. Jordan was moved to "moderate" risk by the CDC.

The Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel. Jordan was moved to “moderate” risk by the CDC.

Maurizio De Mattei/Adobe Stock

Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation reported 50 to 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Seven destinations — spread all around the planet — were moved to this level on Monday:

• The Bahamas
• Fiji
• Jordan
• Mongolia
• Namibia
• Paraguay
• St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The move to Level 2 was a step back for the Bahamas, Namibia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which had been at Level 1.

But the move was good news for tourism-dependent Fiji, along with Jordan and Mongolia, which had been at Level 3. Paraguay was previously “unknown.” Almost 25 places are now at Level 2.

In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.
If you’re concerned about a health situation not related to Covid-19, check here.

Level 1

The Plaza Murillo and Bolivian Palace of Government in La Paz. Bolivia became a Level 1 destination on Monday.

The Plaza Murillo and Bolivian Palace of Government in La Paz. Bolivia became a Level 1 destination on Monday.

diegograndi/Adobe Stock

To be in “Level 1: Covid-19 Low,” a destination must have had 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. Two landlocked destinations were added to the category on May 9:

• Bolivia
• Kosovo

South America’s Bolivia had been at Level 2, while Kosovo, part of Europe’s Balkans, dropped all the way from Level 3, making it the biggest mover of the week.

This level is dominated by destinations in Africa, including Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. Level 1 had more than 50 entries total this week.

Unknown

Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing warfare or unrest. Only one addition was made on Monday to this category: Angola.

The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown. Also attracting their fair share of visitors in this category are the Azores, Cambodia and Tanzania.

A medical expert weighs in on risk levels

Transmission rates are just “one guidepost” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

We’ve moved into “a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

There are other factors to weigh in addition to transmission rates, according to Wen.

“Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there.

“Are you planning to visit a lot of attractions and go to indoor bars? That’s very different from you’re going somewhere where you’re planning to lie on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. That’s very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”

Vaccination is the most significant safety factor for travel, since unvaccinated travelers are more likely to become ill and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.

And it’s also important to consider what you would do if you end up testing positive away from home. Where will you stay and how easy will it be to get a test to return home?

Top image: BVI, now at Level 3, has plenty of beach escapes. (Matt/Adobe Stock).



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CDC adds a Caribbean getaway to its ‘high’ risk travel category


By Forrest Brown and Marnie Hunter, CNN

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added one destination — a relaxed Caribbean playground — to its “high” category for Covid-19 risk.

The British Virgin Islands moved up to Level 3 on Monday; it previously had been at Level 2.

The islands are known for the famous Virgin Gorda Baths (a bay dotted with giant granite boulders); water sports such as diving and sailing; and a pace that is more casual than some of the Caribbean’s hot spots.

Overall, this week’s CDC travel risk update saw little in the way of the dramatic shifts in status that characterized this past winter and early spring during the original Omicron variant surge.

The CDC recently overhauled its ratings system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers.

The Level 3 “high” risk category is now the top rung in terms of risk level. Level 2 is considered “moderate” risk, and Level 1 is “low” risk.

Level 4, previously the highest risk category, is now reserved only for special circumstances, such as extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern or health care infrastructure collapse. Under the new system, no destinations have been placed at Level 4 so far.

Level 3

In the CDC’s new system, the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category applies to countries that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Much of Europe is still lodged there with the summer travel season getting ever closer. As of May 9, some popular European destinations remained at Level 3:

• France
• Germany
• Greece
• Ireland
• Italy
• The Netherlands
• Portugal
• Spain
• United Kingdom

It’s not just European favorites that find themselves at Level 3. Other popular travel spots around the world still ranked at the high risk level:

• Brazil
• Canada
• Costa Rica
• Malaysia
• South Korea
• Thailand

There are almost 110 destinations at Level 3 this week. Level 3 locations now account for nearly half of the roughly 235 places monitored by the CDC.

The CDC advises that you get up-to-date with your Covid-19 vaccines before traveling to a Level 3 destination. “Up-to-date” includes not only the full initial vaccinations but any boosters for which you’re eligible.

The CDC does not include the United States in its list of advisories, but on its color-coded map of the world, the CDC had it at Level 3 on Monday.

Level 2

Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation reported 50 to 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Seven destinations — spread all around the planet — were moved to this level on Monday:

• The Bahamas
• Fiji
• Jordan
• Mongolia
• Namibia
• Paraguay
• St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The move to Level 2 was a step back for the Bahamas, Namibia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which had been at Level 1.

But the move was good news for tourism-dependent Fiji, along with Jordan and Mongolia, which had been at Level 3. Paraguay was previously “unknown.” Almost 25 places are now at Level 2.

You can view the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on the agency’s travel recommendations page.

In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

If you’re concerned about a health situation not related to Covid-19, check here.

Level 1

To be in “Level 1: Covid-19 Low,” a destination must have had 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. Two landlocked destinations were added to the category on May 9:

• Bolivia
• Kosovo

South America’s Bolivia had been at Level 2, while Kosovo, part of Europe’s Balkans, dropped all the way from Level 3, making it the biggest mover of the week.

This level is dominated by destinations in Africa, including Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. Level 1 had more than 50 entries total this week.

Unknown

Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing warfare or unrest. Only one addition was made on Monday to this category: Angola.

The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown. Also attracting their fair share of visitors in this category are the Azores, Cambodia and Tanzania.

A medical expert weighs in on risk levels

Transmission rates are just “one guidepost” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

We’ve moved into “a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

There are other factors to weigh in addition to transmission rates, according to Wen.

“Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there.

“Are you planning to visit a lot of attractions and go to indoor bars? That’s very different from you’re going somewhere where you’re planning to lie on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. That’s very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”

Vaccination is the most significant safety factor for travel, since unvaccinated travelers are more likely to become ill and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.

And it’s also important to consider what you would do if you end up testing positive away from home. Where will you stay and how easy will it be to get a test to return home?

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Top image: BVI, now at Level 3, has plenty of beach escapes. (Matt/Adobe Stock).



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National gas prices at all time high, travelers make changes around MA


More than half of Americans are planning to make travel changes because of rising gas prices, according to a recent AAA survey. But when it comes to summer vacations, many people are not letting those prices get in the way.

“When gas prices get this high, we definitely see behavior changes in people,” said Mary Maguire, AAA director of Legislative and Public Affairs in Massachusetts.

She added regular gas is at an all-time high average cost of $4.39 per gallon, while diesel is also at an all-time high at $6.27 per gallon.

“People will be driving less, working more from home and consolidating trips, among other things,” Maguire said. “They are finding they have no choice but to make adjustments.”

National average at all time high

“Americans felt gas prices were too expensive just a few weeks ago at $3.53 per gallon,” according to a statement from AAA. “Now with the national average at an all-time high of over $4, Americans may have reached a tipping point. Over half (59%) said they would make changes to their driving habits or lifestyle if the cost of gas rose to $4 per gallon. If gas were to reach $5, which it has in the Western part of the country, three-quarters said they would need to adjust their lifestyle to offset the spike at the pump.

“While many Americans may adapt their daily habits to make up for higher gas prices, it likely won’t have as much of an impact on summer travel. AAA’s survey found that 52% of Americans have plans to take a vacation this summer. Of those, 42% said they would not consider changing their travel plans regardless of the price of gas.”

As for how high (gas prices will get this summer), “it’s basically impossible to get a good gauge on where we’ll be this summer because of the wide range of possibilities,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at fuel savings app GasBuddy. 

Pump prices rose again over the past week due primarily to the high cost of crude oil, according to AAA. The cost of a barrel of crude continues to hover around $100. With the oil price accounting for about 60% of pump prices, the national average for a gallon of regular is now $4.39, an increase of 27 cents since April 25.

“As long as the supply remains tight, it will be hard for crude oil prices to fall and consumers will in turn face higher prices at the pump,” said Andrew Gross, a AAA spokesperson. “It now costs drivers in the U.S. about $23 more to fill up than a year ago.”

All prices rising

Overall, U.S. consumers are paying 8.5% more for goods and services compared with last year. The 18.3% increase in prices for gasoline Americans experienced in March accounted for most of the increase in last month’s overall Consumer Price Index, which rose by 1.2% from February. 

There are some Democrat-led proposals in the works to remedy the problem, including the “Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax,”  levying a per-barrel tax on major oil companies “equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the pre-pandemic average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019,” according to a brief of the bill.  

Already four states – Maryland, Georgia, Connecticut and New York – enacted gas tax holidays to provide temporary relief. (Maryland’s holiday’s expired April 18 and New York’s doesn’t go into effect until June 1. At least a dozen states have considered implementing one. California, New Jersey and Delaware also are considering sending rebates.

Many Republican lawmakers are resurrecting calls to expand the Keystone XL pipeline, which they claim would lower gas prices and help the U.S. become even more energy independent.

President Biden prevented the expansion in one of his earliest executive orders citing environmental concerns. Keystone XL, which would ship crude oil from Alberta to existing pipelines and then on to the Gulf Coast refineries, would take years to construct and would not be assured to increase U.S. supplies. 

USA Today personal finance and markets correspondent Elisabeth Buchwald contributed to this article.



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Are premium travel cards with high annual fees worth the money?


When the pandemic hit, expensive credit cards tailored to frequent travelers had to pivot quickly to non-travel perks or risk losing customers who were paying hundreds of dollars in annual fees to earn benefits and rewards geared toward going places.

JPMorgan Chase, Capital One and other premium credit card issuers loaded up on partnerships with companies focused on life indoors. “When the pandemic first hit, it felt like every travel card was piling into everyday benefits — groceries and also things like streaming services, food delivery,” said Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. 

Now, with travel and entertainment booming, high-fee cards, including Chase’s Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee), Capital One’s Venture X ($395 annually) and American Express’ Platinum card ($695 a year) have returned to offering their most lucrative rewards to those who don’t stay home. 

It’s hard to know how much of the $164 billion credit card industry belongs to premium travel cards. Issuers don’t break out their data. But overall, “we’re seeing pretty sharp increases in both spending on the cards in the travel sector, as well as redemptions for travel,” said John Owens, the general manager of Elan Credit Card, a division of U.S. Bancorp that runs credit card programs for 1,300 community banks and credit unions. 

For certain frequent travelers, high-fee cards can easily pay for themselves and be worth much more than their triple-digit fees over the course of a year. The challenge for the uninitiated is to get beyond the glossy marketing, the perk sprawl and the sheer allure of spending, to weigh the benefits against the costs.  

“Reward centers in the brain that are sensitive to pleasure are specifically activated by the possibility of purchasing something with a credit card,” said Drazen Prelec, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. “If you use the card for happy experiences, that card acquires some of the associations with the purchases you’ve made. … That gives it kind of a psychological glow.”

That glow is one reason travel cards, with their promise of easy luxury, exotic locales and rich incentives, can feel a lot more enticing than getting cash back on a trip to a big box store with a no-fee card. 

The most visible and common incentives are rewards points, which are ladled on by the thousands and can be worth hundreds of dollars. American Express, for instance, is offering a signing bonus of 100,000 points for the Platinum card. The Sapphire Reserve card comes with 50,000 points. The Venture X comes with 75,000 reward miles. Certain airlines have

Rewards points are “what I like to call a buffer currency,” Prelec said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re spending money.”

Even if it did, it could be hard to determine how much. 

Points have traditionally been valued at a penny apiece, but now their worth can depend on a host of factors, and because plans have become so complicated, using points to pay for airline tickets and hotel rooms, for instance, can be like chasing moving targets. 

Credit card companies prefer to keep cardholders in their ecosystems, and typically reserve the maximum rewards points, as well as the highest possible “exchange rate,” for travelers who book through their proprietary portals. Take Venture X’s 75,000-point signing bonus, for instance, is worth $750 when used toward flights, hotels and other services booked through Capital One’s travel portal. If the cardholder wants to trade the points for a statement credit or check and spend the reward outside the portal, they’re worth $375. 

Another powerful selling point for travel cards is an annual credit for travel purchases. The Sapphire card credits users a total of $300 at the end of the year for anything that qualifies as a travel expense. Venture X also offers a $300 annual travel credit, but the travel has to be booked through Capital One’s portal, “which is a little bit of a stumbling block for some people,” said Rossman of CreditCards.com. 

This is why partnerships can sometimes be as important as points, when it comes to calculating the value of a card. Some travel cards partner only with certain hotel chains or airlines, which can affect the value of the cards themselves, as well as the cardholders’ ability to take advantage of other perks connected to particular airlines, like free baggage fees, upgrades and access to airport lounges. 

Travelers who prefer to book directly with hotels or airlines or prefer to use third-party channels like Travelocity also might not derive as much benefit from the cards as people willing to use the issuers’ travel portals, where similar discounts may not be available. 

To attract younger users, and retain existing ones, card companies have also added restaurant programs, with benefits including first dibs on reservations at certain trendy restaurants in big cities or pop-up events featuring famous chefs. “I think these cards are catering to a more affluent young professional type, the kind of people who tend to eat out a lot,” Rossman said. 

But dining perks are mainly a way to score bonus points, or to use them, and they may not directly defray the cost of the card. Also, they’re frequently available in some form with cards that have lower annual fees, or none at all. 

And for premium travel cards, the fees aren’t the only higher costs. According to CreditCards.com, the current annual percentage rate for a rewards credit card is 16.17 percent, compared to 13.28 percent, on average, for low-interest cards.  

“If people pay more for something, they are more likely to use it,” said Ali Besharat, an associate professor of marketing and co-director of the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center at the University of Denver. They see it as a “justified expense,” he said.




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