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'Revenge travel' is surging. Here's what you need to know

The airline industry is struggling to keep up with spiked demand for air travel.
Patrick Semansky
The airline industry is struggling to keep up with spiked demand for air travel.

If you feel like everyone is on vacation without you right now, you might be right.

The data shows travel is surging — despite high plane-ticket prices — as many countries loosen their COVID-19 restrictions and reopen borders.

Analysts say vacation-starved Americans are making up for lost time during the pandemic, and there's even a new term for it: revenge travel.

Here's what's happening and what you should know if you want to join in.

What do the numbers show?

The short answer is that everything is going up lately: airfares, fuel costs and trips taken.

Travel insurance company Allianz Partners analyzed more than 40,000 trip itineraries planned for this summer and concluded that American travel to Europe will jump 600% from last year.

This sharp uptick is not limited to Europe. This month during an industry conference, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said that "demand is off the charts," while the airline industry is struggling to keep up.

The Greek island of Mykonos is one of the many tourist destinations that are seeing an influx in visitors.
Derek Gatopoulos / AP
The Greek island of Mykonos is one of the many tourist destinations that are seeing an influx in visitors.

This boom is yet another consumer reaction to the pandemic, said Steve Trent, a research analyst for Citi who focuses on airline travel.

"Maybe 18 months ago, everybody wanted to buy a Peloton because people were still locked up, and now we're kind of in a different phase of the pandemic," he said, noting that infection rates were rising but hospitalizations hadn't reached the levels of previous waves.

So now, people are buying airline tickets.

"There's a shift from consumers purchasing goods to consumers purchasing services."

He said the data shows the prices of tickets sold so far for this July were 35% higher than tickets sold in July 2019 (the last summer before the pandemic started). Meanwhile, the industry as a whole isn't operating at the same level as it was before the pandemic. Fewer flight routes, fewer crew members and less equipment mean that capacity is down 15%, Trent said.

What exactly is "revenge travel"?

There's no dictionary definition yet, but industry professionals say the term "revenge travel" is starting to catch on.

They broadly describe revenge travel as a huge increase in people wanting to make up for time and experiences lost to the pandemic.

Eric Hrubant, the owner of CIRE Travel, a luxury travel agency in New York City, said that while the idea of travel as revenge didn't necessarily resonate with him, he saw it more as an attitude within the customers.

It's a proclamation of "Screw you, COVID, I can travel and I'm going to," he said. In his own words, Hrubant describes it as "revenge against 'rona."

If travelers have any animosity, it might be toward the idea of staying home this summer. Hrubant, who has been in the business for more than two decades, said the past few months have been the busiest he has ever seen, given the mix of limited staff, limited contacts abroad and plenty of new customers.

What should you keep in mind?

If you're one of those people who wants to get out and see the world, Hrubant's advice is to stay realistic.

"I'm definitely a person who should promote travel. But I would say if you haven't planned your trip to Europe for July or August, forget it," he said.

Hrubant said that if you are set on that European fantasy trip, try to wait until September or even October. That way you'll get a much better value, you'll deal with fewer crowds and you'll have a much wider variety of options for where to stay and what to do.

He also suggested keeping an open mind about where you might want to go. Many countries in South and Central America, as well as parts of Asia, have slowly started reopening.

"This also could be the time to maybe do something more adventurous, where it's still not overrun with tourists," Hrubant added.

His final tip: Remember that everyone has had a rough past few years. Trying to return to normal has put a lot of stress on the fewer workers in the hospitality industry.

"Everyone is beat down and overworked right now," he said. "Be nice, be patient and just know that you're gonna have the best experience if you go into it with the best mindset."

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Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.