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What’s the outlook for 2018 travel? More choices and technology (and fees aren’t going anywhere, either)

  • Author: Scott McMurren
  • Updated: December 30, 2017
  • Published December 30, 2017

Was "more travel" at the top of your holiday wish list? Will I see you on my next flight in 2018? I hope so.

Let's clean up the wrapping paper and check out what's in store for the coming year.

More choices

When travelers make their flight arrangements for the coming year, they'll likely have more choices. That doesn't necessarily mean more flight choices. Rather, you'll have the opportunity to pay separately for things like meals, seat assignments and baggage.

Alaska Airlines has held the line against charging travelers for seat assignments or for bringing their full-sized carry-on bags aboard the plane.

Delta's "basic economy" does not permit advanced seat assignments, but does allow travelers to haul their carry-on bags on board.

United's basic economy precludes full-size carry-ons. You have to pay extra to bring anything that resembles a roll-aboard suitcase into the cabin. In fact, unless you pay extra in advance, United won't let you use the online check-in.

Travelers can assume that the advertised price is just a starting point. From there, you can start shopping for meals, checked baggage, drinks, internet connectivity, in-flight entertainment and for seats with extra legroom.

If this sounds confusing, it's really not. It's just different from the old days, when one price included everything. The trade-off is that on competitive routes, the basic fares are lower than ever. For example, you now can fly from Anchorage to Boston for as little as $194 one-way on Delta ($204 one-way on Alaska). Or, fly from Seattle to London for $155 one-way on Norwegian.

More technology

Whether it's travel-related applications on your phone or online resources for travel planning, smart travelers are using technology to get the best deals on travel. But sometimes, the new technologies can be disruptive.

– Uber can be a great alternative to local taxis if you have the app on your phone. Last week in Mexico City, I found it was the best way to get around. But a year ago, they were having riots over the ride-hailing service.

– Airbnb is just one of several vacation-rental services available to travelers. Flipkey, Home Away and VRBO also are available for travelers to find non-hotel accommodations. We've used these services to stay in Paris, Budapest, Prague, Rome and Barcelona. Usually, the rentals offer more room at a much lower cost than comparable hotel accommodations. Still, in some cities these services are controversial.

Trip Advisor: This service is the grandaddy of user reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions and destinations. But it's not the only one. Other sites, including Facebook, Google, Kayak and Open Table offer travelers tips on destinations and attractions.

More 'gamification' of travel

I know people who traveled this week just to get their Alaska Air MVP Gold status for the coming year. Some folks go to extraordinary lengths to "level up." But if you're a frequent traveler, the benefits are compelling:

– Extra mileage credit on each flight

– A better chance for getting upgrades

– Better seat selection in coach, including free access to "premium" seats

– Special reservations phone number

– Fees waived for changes

Another side of the games-travelers-play coin is the miles and points. Airlines, hotels and banks have teamed up to take advantage of the large appetite for earning and redeeming frequent traveler points.

For example, Alaska Airlines' credit card, issued by Bank of America, provides a 30,000-mile bonus for cardholders when they pay the annual $75 fee and spend at least $1,000. Also, there's a companion pass included in the package. For the first year, the companion pass is available just for the taxes and fees (from $22 to $145). After that, it's $99 plus the fees.

Delta teams up with American Express to offer several levels of their SkyMiles card. The annual fee ranges from $95 to $450, depending on how many bonus miles you want, whether you want lounge access or several other benefits.

The Starwood Preferred Guest program is also teamed up with American Express to offer free hotel stays when you charge enough on your card. I used the bonus points last week at the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City.

All of these trends are accelerating in 2018, which means we may see more changes in how travel bargains are offered to travelers. Sometimes only those travelers who are plugged in to certain applications will see the best deals. Already, Alaska Airlines uses its "Club 49" list to advertise sale fares each Tuesday. Other hotels and airlines routinely have specials on Facebook or through their own proprietary apps.

January and February traditionally are slow months for travel. That means more deals will be available, even though you may have to look more than one place to find them.

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