The U.S. is welcoming back international tourists

Last Updated:Yahoo! Sept. 20, 2021


Foreign tourists will be able to visit the U.S. once again later this fall, a move that could cause travel prices to increase for Americans just ahead of the busy holiday season.

The Biden administration is set to replace the series of travel bans that the Trump administration enacted in the spring of 2020 to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, the White House said. The bans apply to foreign nationals from China, Europe, Brazil, South Africa and India.

International travelers will be allowed to fly to the U.S. from those locations beginning in early November, according to the new policy, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, visitors from abroad will be required to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 and proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of their departure to the U.S. in order to travel.Advertisement

The news was widely celebrated by the travel industry, which has been pressuring the Biden administration to update its policies, especially as travel demand has softened with the uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant and the end of summer.

‘If you haven’t booked your Thanksgiving or Christmas flights yet, you’ll want to do it now, as flight and hotel prices are likely to rise based on increased demand.’— Caroline Teel, managing editor at SmarterTravel

“This is a major turning point in the management of the virus and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said in an emailed statement following the White House announcement.

For Americans still looking to book trips this fall and winter — including to visit family for Thanksgiving and Christmas — the new policy could have major ramifications.

“Over the past 18 months we have seen continued interest in U.S. routes from both the U.K. and large European markets such as Germany,” said Hugh Aitken, vice president of flights at travel company Skyscanner. “We now expect this interest to turn to action, driving booking volumes as leisure travel is once again possible for those fully vaccinated.”

Here’s what travelers need to know:

Airlines will add planes and seats

The more relaxed travel policy is almost certain to pave the way for airlines to bring more planes back into service and add more flights each day between the U.S. and international destinations such as the U.K. and Europe.

“What we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is when a country reopens for tourism, a predictable cycle happens: flight search interest spikes, and airlines follow suit by adding many more (and larger) planes on those routes,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel website Scott’s Cheap Flights.

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This summer, seat capacity for transatlantic flights was still down, even though Europe had already allowed U.S. travelers to make the trek overseas, said Adit Damodaran, economist at travel company Hopper.Advertisement

“This suggests airlines still have grounded long-haul wide-body jets that they can pull back into service for trans-Atlantic flights, especially since trans-Pacific travel is still a fraction of what it used to be,” Damodaran said.

One potential side effect: longer lines at airports

Even if a family isn’t traveling overseas, the new policy could have an impact on their upcoming travel plans.

Lines to check-in for flights and check luggage at airports will likely be longer, because international travelers might need to have their vaccination and test records verified before return flights. The new policy could also lead to pressure for American lawmakers and regulators to mandate vaccinations for anyone who flies, said Caroline Teel, managing editor at SmarterTravel.

Most importantly, the timing of the policy change could affect how expensive it is to book a flight to visit grandma and grandpa for the holidays. For the most part, international travel demand will be focused on major destinations — places like New York or Orlando. Depending on whether someone can fly directly to their domestic destination, prices could go up.Advertisement

“The new rules will take effect in November, just in time for the holiday season — so if you haven’t booked your Thanksgiving or Christmas flights yet, you’ll want to do it now, as flight and hotel prices are likely to rise based on increased demand,” Teel said. “Even if you’re only traveling domestically, prices could spike at popular hub airports.”

Airfare could get cheaper — but there’s a catch

The additional capacity airlines are expected to add will likely keep prices even or cause them to drop slightly over time, travel experts noted.

“Added capacity has tended to add more downward pressure on fares than the upward pressure from increased demand,” Keyes said. “I see little reason to expect differently from today’s news.”

Keyes noted though that European-based airlines might have more room to add capacity than U.S. carriers do, meaning that prices could vary significantly from airline to airline. Similarly, flights from Europe might become more expensive if demand grows considerably. But that’s not a given.

“Demand from Europe to the U.S. may take longer to show — compared to U.S. demand to Europe earlier this summer — given the current delta variant wave,” Damodaran said.

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