Travelers Have Decided The Pandemic Is Over, Whether They’re Vaccinated Or Not

The two week moving average of airline passengers going through TSA security checkpoints has bumped up to 54% of comparable 2019 levels. Passengers hit a pandemic-era single day high of 69% on Sunday, March 21.

Perhaps even more telling U.S. hotel occupancy is way up. It’s the highest it’s been in a year, and down just 15% compared to the same point in 2019. And while rates are down as well, they’re nearly back to 2009 Great Recession levels.

In other words, despite recovery being entirely driven by leisure travel, the industry appears headed back towards experiencing a ‘normal’ catastrophic recession.

Overall, for the week of March 14-20, hotels saw:

  • 58.9% occupancy
  • $108.08 average daily rate
  • $63.62 revenue per available room

United is adding a bunch of domestic service to Cincinnati, Columbus, Milwaukee, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The recovery is clearly not being felt evenly. People are traveling to leisure destinations that are fully open. That means a lot of “Florida” although not only. Internationally it means “Cancun” though not only.

While the recovery is largely domestic because the biggest international destinations aren’t easily open to most Americans. And while the U.S. requirement for Covid testing in order to return by air, resorts catering to Americans are generally making it easy to get tested (often on-site and included in your room rate).

As vaccinations continue more and more people feel free to travel. And even those who aren’t vaccinated begin to feel that the pandemic is over. Ironically how close vaccines for all American adults is getting appears to be making the unvaccinated take extra risks.

Big companies that drove most business travel and mostly still at least partially work-from-home. That means their offices aren’t visitable, and remote employees aren’t traveling to home base. We’ll start to see this recover slowly in the fall. Big conferences should return in 2022. So domestic business travel will come back.

Continued recovery requires several things,

  • Destinations opening up – for entry and that activities need to be open for people who travel
  • Vaccination – to give people the confidence to travel, to go back into the office, and to do so safely
  • Managing variants – to the extent there’s concern about specific variants that might escape vaccination, we need to understand What that means does it just lead to mild disease or hospitalization, and how quickly can vaccines adapt with boosters at scale?

There’s a good chance we won’t see a fourth wave in the U.S. involving severe disease, though nothing is guaranteed. Continued growth in travel though seems reflective of people being over this and getting back to normal.

Since vaccination is such a crucial part of recovery, and with talk of a 4th stimulus check to most Americans, I’ll add that it seemed crazy to me to hand out $1400 payments without even making vaccination a requirement for the money.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What’s crazy is you thinking Americans should be forced to get a vaccine in order to receive the $1400.

  2. Fascinating; so reality and science has nothing to do with anything, and the reality is what we “decide”?

    Cool, I have decided I am rich and I am 6 inches taller. Take that ‘people’! 🙂

  3. “ Perhaps even more telling U.S. hotel occupancy is way up. It’s the highest it’s been in a year, and down just 15% compared to the same point in 2019. ”

    This is false. No really it’s false. It ignores the thousands of hotels that are not open. 200 of 700 in Manhattan are not open (!)

    Occupancy of open properties being that high also feels like a lie. Certainly it’s not true here in Seattle. But the more important reality is hotel utilization is nowhere near 85% of 2019 levels unless you just accept the massively lowered denominator.

  4. OPM flying is already happening.
    Most responsible companies are still keeping their employees away from pointless travel, but lots of corporate overlords are already sending their minions out for sales calls, etc.

  5. So this means that lockdowns in Europe and elsewhere are over? Jail time for leaving your house in some parts of the world – thing of the past? Arrested for not wearing a mask when there’s no one else in sight? No more? Owners of businesses, hotels, and restaurants not being hauled off to jail for having the audacity to try to conduct business? City centers in European and American cities no longer boarded up and deserted?
    As far as I know, all these things are alive and well and it’s my bet that “restrictions” (civil and human rights violations) won’t end until 2025, at least.
    And keep your masks if you like doing things like flying and going grocery shopping: those are permanent, as in forever.

  6. There aren’t even close to the same number of flights now vs 2019. So how on earth are they report being at 69% of 2019 levels without flat out lying.

  7. I’m all for getting back to normal; but our infection rates are justifying trying to get back to normal yet. Apparently there are just people who feel it is not important enough as a society to deal with the pandemic, and just try and take their risk (as well as force it upon others) so they can get their travel fix.

    Sad; despite all this talk about being a good citizen, looking out for one another, it is mainly more about getting what their selfish needs fulfilled. I highly doubt all those increases in flights are people who are fully vaccinated; so it means those people are possibly just willing vectors for further spread of COVID-19.

  8. This entire thing has been an exercise in panic porn from the media – and power grabs from politicians.

    I ignored it from day one. Flying all over the world each week, and having no issues.
    Ignoring all public health mandates, and living my life like normal.

    No issues, and none expected.

    It is only in the rich ‘laptop class’ that love lockdowns and panic.
    The rest of the world has work to do, and a life to live.

    So, we are living.

    Eventually, sometime this year, everyone will realize the emperor had no clothes.
    It’s gratifying to see more and more normal people seeing behind the curtain, each and every week.

  9. George – people like you are the problem you selfish jerk. It isn’t about whether you get sick. Take a wild guess how it gm gets transmitted?

  10. Filthy American idiots should not receive a stimulus check or be able to travel without a vaccine passport. Screw your freedumb, wing nuts. Go die on your own time, the Rethuglican way, without health insurance, and bankrupt!

  11. The first round of stimulus was necessary because the world was paralyzed not knowing what would happen. Everything beyond that was a waste.
    The entire purpose of the Biden era stimulus checks is to goose the economy before the massive tax increases are pushed through.

  12. @ Jimmy — Yeah, Americans just shouldn’t get the $1,400 at all. This is a massive ripoff of those who actually save money and pay taxes.

  13. @Mark — What? American leisure travellers aren’t flocking to Seattle? Why, I’m SHOCKED. Next your going to tell me the travel and hospitality business isn’t good in Portland.

  14. It was crazy to hand out any checks to people who did not lose their jobs. Apparently our government there will be no consequences to printing more money and giving it away to people.

  15. 1. There is a major issue with receiving a vaccine being a requirement for a stimulus check, or for any other government service right now. Currently, the vaccines have NOT been approved…they have only been granted an Emergency Use Authorization. Part of the grant for an Emergency Use Authorization is that the vaccines cannot be required. Once (or if) the vaccines are eventually approved, it is fair to have discussions about this type of thing, but it is problematic to attempt to require one to get a vaccine for which the FDA has not yet approved and has allowed to be used under guidelines that specifically require that they not be made mandatory.

    2. Regarding “Ironically how close vaccines for all American adults is getting appears to be making the unvaccinated take extra risks”–In many instances, this can be the smart, rational choice. It is an instance of the free rider problem. If everyone else is vaccinated (assuming they cannot spread the virus), it does not make sense for one to take the risk involved in getting a vaccination. The more other people around one are vaccinated, the more sense it makes for them to not get vaccinated. For an excellent description of this concept, I recommend listening to Dark Horse Podcast number 58 (, featuring Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying.

  16. I never stopped traveling and flying. The empty flights were great while it lasted!

  17. My covid symptoms in March 2020 were a mild headache for 3 days. I flew to California and spent several weeks touring the big cities during that time.
    I have once again tested positive, should I spend a few weeks in Colorado or Washington?

  18. This is why airlines are not prepared just to extend status for another year. In a 2 months or so many more people will be flying. Business travelers are now flying with their families and staying two or three weeks in a location and working remotely. Some business travel is returning slowly, other types of business travel will return over the summer and into fall. Airlines will wait and see.

  19. What’s crazy is vaccinating millions/billions of people with a vaccine that is not fully FDA approved and have no long term studies available.

  20. @Kenny – it has approval for use by the FDA, and full phase 3 trials were conducted, in addition there have been studies of use in the real world as well. the efficacy isn’t in doubt, and there simply haven’t been significant adverse events recorded as a result of the vaccines approved in the U.S. – and in any case the benefits clearly outweigh the significant health risks from Covid-19.

  21. Gary – Emergency Use Authorization is not the same as general approval. Yes, trials have been conducted, but there’s no long term data availability for the safety profile. To say that there haven’t been significant side effects is just not true. VAERS adverse event data for the Covid vaccine record 1739 deaths, 48 birth defects, 734 permanent disability, and it’s pretty well known that VAERS events are likely under-reported. My point is that more than likely, billions will be vaccinated before we even really know the safety profile of the drug. I won’t put too much trust in big pharma. Just do a little research on pharma companies testing vaccines in India and sub-Saharan Africa. It’s pretty horrible. VAERS Site:

  22. @kenny – you are misquoting me, I didn’t say no one that has been vaccinated had something bad happen to them, I’m saying there aren’t material adverse consequences to taking the vaccines that have been demonstrated.

    Put another way, if you get vaccinated and your dishwasher breaks that doesn’t mean the dishwasher failure is a result of the vaccine.

    And in any case Covid deaths > deaths of vaccinated people which have generally not been in any way related to the vaccine

  23. “Put another way, if you get vaccinated and your dishwasher breaks that doesn’t mean the dishwasher failure is a result of the vaccine.”

    By this logic we shouldn’t bother recording adverse events for any drug. The whole purpose of the database is to aggregate adverse events RELATED to vaccine administration.

    “…deaths of vaccinated people which have generally not been in any way related to the vaccine”

    You have zero evidence to back up this claim. To the contrary, the VAERS data show that the vast majority of adverse events recorded occurred within 0-2 days of vaccine administration.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, but you throw out generalities that are just not accurate. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Anyways, enjoy your blog. Thanks.

  24. @kenny – no, we record events that happen after people take a drug and use that data to investigate whether there’s any connection. often what you’ll find is rates of an incident that are the same or less than the general unvaccinated population. but there may be rare side effects, like we saw early on with about 1 per 100k having reactions to the lipid nanoparticles used to deliver the mRNA of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and that told us vaccination sites should be prepared to respond if that happens (and people getting shots should wait after receiving them before departing)

  25. “There’s a good chance we won’t see a fourth wave in the U.S. involving severe disease, though nothing is guaranteed. ” Umm the US daily death toll continues to hover at about 1,000 people, with confirmed infections rising in around 20 states and deaths rising in 17 states. All this non-essential travel is pushing us towards another surge. We are nowhere close to having enough people vaccinated to avoid a surge if people stop following the guidelines en masse.

  26. This is the best news ever for me. I was facing extinction, bit now have a huge opportunity to replicate and mutate further, and have a living chance to escape the current vaccine.

    Thank you Americans, and look forward to invading you for months to come!


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