Because of the coronavirus pandemic, air travel came to a virtual standstill in the United States. In early April, the TSA processed about 100,000 passengers per day. In the same week of 2019, airports saw nearly 2.5 million travelers daily. On the other hand, plane tickets have virtually never been cheaper.
Travel has started to tick up, but it’ll take a while before we’re at pre-pandemic flight numbers again. According to Scott’s Cheap Flights, which releases an annual report on the state of cheap flights, 2021 will be another great year for inexpensive airfare but slow for airlines overall. The report offers an in-depth look into how we traveled last year, and how we might travel in the future.
2020 In Review
Before getting into what 2021 holds for cheap flights, Scott’s reviewed the year behind us. As we all know, 2020 was not a great year for flying. Only 32 percent of Scott’s members took an international flight last year, and 45 percent flew once or not at all domestically. About three-quarters of people had flights canceled, showing just how many plans were derailed.
Scott’s members indicated that some airlines handled the pandemic better than others. Scott’s rated airlines across seven categories, including mask enforcement, wipes, and capacity limits, and Delta was the best-reviewed in the country. Alaska and JetBlue also earned high marks, while American, Spirit, and Air Canada struggled to implement effective safety measures. For those that did travel this year, these differences could seriously shape how they fly in the future.
Scott’s did see an overall dip in deals offered in 2020 compared to 2019 but shifted its strategy early in the pandemic. As most major airlines eliminated cancelation and change fees, Scott’s started offering more deals that were months and months down the line.
Interestingly, Scott’s noted that the pandemic didn’t just drive down ticket prices across the board. In fact, some destinations like Africa and Europe were more expensive on average. Instead, the strange situation created a number of incredibly valuable deals, like a $23 round trip to Puerto Rico that Scott’s found.
Looking ahead, the company is optimistic that travelers should be able to find great discounts next year too.
Cheap Flights Galore in 2021
“We said in our 2020 report that we’ve been in the Golden Age of Cheap Flights for several years now, and that’s still true,” according to the 2021 report.
Scott’s found that most people are optimistic about their travel prospects. A whopping 93 percent of members plan to travel domestically, and 84 percent are planning an international trip.
“Travel may have taken a backseat in 2020, but travelers’ collective wanderlust is still front and center,” the Scott’s report says. People are excited to get back out there in 2021, and they’re hopeful they’ll be able to do so safely.”
However, uncertainty still reigns. Only about 15 percent of respondents have booked their tickets for a 2021 trip, and 89 percent of members reported being at least a little bit worried about the potential for disruption.
As people plan out their flights, finding deals remains their top priority. Many members planned to travel to see family, to make up for a trip missed, or to a place with strong COVID precautions, but 56 percent of respondents still said a good deal was most important.
The Bottom Line
If you were worried about missing out on crazy flight deals last year, don’t sweat it. 2021 should offer a similar array of super cheap flights, as long as you’re willing to look for them. Scott’s finds tailor-made deals for its members with a free 14-day trial and then, for a limited time, it’s just $24 for one year. (It’s typically $49 a year). You can also choose to continue being a limited free member. Otherwise, other free comparison tools like KAYAK and Orbitz can also help with cheap tickets, as long as you don’t mind doing the extra legwork and feel safe flying.