What Does the Future of Business Travel Look Like?

All travelers may benefit from increased award availability when companies revisit how they conduct business travel.

Jon Nickel-D'AndreaJune 10, 2020

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As someone who traveled over 75,000 miles for work last year and stayed in hotels well over 100 nights, I’m adjusting to a new normal of virtual meetings, conference calls and dressing up in a shirt and tie in my basement spare bedroom.

Business travel has been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with many companies rethinking how essential it is for their workers to be traveling around from city to city when in some cases, virtual meetings can achieve a similar goal.

Once things start getting back to normal, I’m fully convinced that my travels will start to slowly increase, especially considering that face-to-face meetings provide much more fruitful results in my line of work. But what if your company doesn’t feel the same way? What should we expect will become of business travel?

If many business travelers will be getting on planes less often and sleeping in fewer hotels, what will the future of award bookings look like with so many fewer miles or points being accumulated in frequent flyer programs?

Is this the future of business travel?

I recently spoke to a friend who was refinancing his home. Though the majority of the signatures required could be completed electronically, some documents needed a “wet signature” in the presence of a notary. The notary showed up to his home with gloves, a mask and a fresh, unopened box of pens for them to use.

Some kinds of travel just can’t be put off. And as much as businesses are adjusting to the idea of virtual meetings with webcams and chat programs, there are certain deals, projects, ideas and proposals that are essential to be done, or produce better results when done, in person.

Many sales positions require demos of products to their end users, for example, and some trainings simply must be conducted in person.

Still, because so much business “travel” can be conducted virtually, I expect companies to take a long, hard look at the efficacy of sending their sales force or product teams into the field as they did before.

I imagine that travel contracts between large corporations and chain hotels and airlines will be revisited, simply because the demand will not be there. That said, we’re seeing airline routes being canceled by upwards of 95% in recent days. The planes that are flying are generally doing so with fewer passengers, and airlines will not be able to charge the same prices as before.

Take a look at this transcontinental flight between Los Angeles and New York. Round-trip fares departing on a Sunday and returning on a Thursday (typical business flights) are hovering around $260.

I would expect fares to remain this low throughout the summer and into early fall as airlines continue to offer flexible fares and easier cancellation terms.

What this means for award bookings

Business travelers rack up tens if not hundreds of thousands of airline miles a year. For "regular" travelers, that means finding availability on popular routes can sometimes be a challenge. Add to that the propensity of business travelers to book first class or business class tickets, and you can see how it might be tough to find well-priced award seats for that dream vacation during normal travel times.

If you were planning to travel in 2020, my advice would be to decide where you want to go and book now, if you can. Airlines still have very flexible booking terms, so if you book now, there’s a good chance that you’ll be covered by their flexible change and cancellation policies. Also, because the loads are so light, there’s a better chance that you’re going to find great opportunities to take the trips you want.

As an example, New York to London has good availability during the summer travel season:

But there's also great availability through March 2021. Looking at just one date in March, currently every United flight between Newark and London is available to book with miles in both economy and business class.

How you can earn more miles and points

Now’s the perfect time to increase that stash of points you’ve got on hand. Keep building those balances and you’ll have plenty of miles to redeem when you’re ready.

If you’re traveling less, and therefore not earning the miles and points that you would have been from those trips, what are some other ways to earn miles and points?

Check to see whether any of the travel credit cards you hold have special category bonuses. My favorite card, the American Express® Gold Card, currently earns 4x points at restaurants worldwide (including takeout) and 4x points at U.S. supermarkets. Terms apply. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to be focusing a lot of our spending at these places, so earning 4x points is a super easy way to build up our balances.

If you’re not leaving home and you’re going to do more online shopping, consider your airline’s shopping portal. A shopping portal is simply a website to navigate to first, before you do your online shopping. By starting your shopping trip there, you can earn multiple miles on top of any you will earn by paying with your travel rewards credit card.

In the above example, you can see that by simply starting my search on American Airlines’ shopping page, I could earn 3 miles per dollar at Petco, 5 miles per dollar at Rosetta Stone and 3 miles per dollar at Athleta. Again, this is on top of whatever miles or points I would earn from my credit card.

Using shopping portals is one of the easiest ways I know to earn miles from the comfort of your home (and it's social distancing-approved).

The bottom line

While I do expect business travel to return, I don’t think we’ll see it at quite the same levels as before. Fares will more than likely be lower as airlines try to recover not only lost revenues but also consumer interest. I would also expect to see hotel promotions return for faster earning of elite nights, more double or triple points promotions, and other enticing offers to get you in the door.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

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