Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Staycations

With a term sure to make 2009's annual Banished Words List, the mass media has glommed onto the only way to describe the country's response to the current state of the economy for summer travel: the "Staycation."

With airfares going through the roof, and the nickle-and-diming by the airlines becoming dollar-and-quartering, the prediction of a major downturn in summer travel is not unlikely. As expected, United announced today that it will be matching American's $15 charge each-way for the FIRST checked bag on flights. While I understand that the airlines have taken a huge hit on fuel prices and are hemorrhaging money, it's understandable that luxuries once commonplace on flights should be eliminated or require an extra charge. However, CHECKING A BAG IS NOT A LUXURY! These charges amount to nothing more than extortion of the customer. Most customers will have no choice but to pay the extra $30 roundtrip fee, or if they have the option choosing to fly on a different airline.

Of course, I'm one who usually takes my chances and checks a bag, even though my suitcase is technically suitable to carry on the plane. For $30, I would certainly change that viewpoint (as would many others, I expect) and attempt shove my bag in the already non-existent space in the overhead bins. I predict congestion at the gate, necessitating many bags to be checked gateside, thereby holding up flights and costing the airlines more than they're taking in from the increased baggage charges. But what do I know? If anything, this may help increase flyers on those lower-cost airlines who don't need to charge the extra fees. Seems to me the MBAs at American and United who determined this is a money-making plan may have the foresight of a mosquito just moments before it encounters my cars windshield at 60 MPH.

On the other hand, I think this increase in cost for air travel may actually come out in the wash for consumers. Resort destinations are predicting the trickle-down from a downturn in air travel hurting their bottom lines, with their only resolution being to reduce rates accordingly. A bit of creative planning and flexibility on the airfare side (or cashing in some of those frequent flyer miles) could easily equal an overall cheaper time to vacation travel than we've seen in the past few years. Las Vegas casinos are becoming desperate for visitors, and other resort destinations such as Disney parks in California and Florida are expected to be increasing their discounts and promotions to fill their lacking capacity. Empty hotel rooms don't make anyone money.

The one thing still working for the travel industry is international visitors, who are certainly capitalizing on the lousy US Dollar. But if that alone is enough to overcome the increased difficulty navigating airports and increased border security remains to be seen.

Roadtrips don't do much better, with gas over $4/gallon. Perhaps it's time to enjoy what there is to see and do around home. Enjoy your Staycation.

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