Everything You Need to Know About Changes in Air Travel This Year

You can expect big changes in the air travel industry this year, from tougher TSA rules to tougher travel rewards. Regardless of how often you travel or vacation, you will want to know about the changes before you arrive at the airport.

Security measures are intensified

As of this year, some states’ driver’s licenses may no longer be used as identification for domestic flights . But don’t panic. A lot has to happen for this to work. Plus, you’ll receive a fair warning.

A few years ago, the government passed the Real Identity Card Act, which set some stricter rules for filing and issuing driver’s licenses , and 28 states are not yet fully enforcing the law. The reasons are getting more complicated. Some states are concerned about privacy issues, others about taxpayer cost, but the bottom line is that if they are inadequate, the Department of Homeland Security can reject these states’ licenses as acceptable ID for domestic flights (obviously, you already need a passport for international flights ). They have provided extensions for most of these conditions , but five are at the turn, so to speak:

  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • Washington

Alaska , California , New Jersey and South Carolina are also in dire straits, but they have at least applied for renewals (whether or not they get them is another story). In any case, if you from any of these incompatible states that there is a small chance that you will need your passport, military ID or other identification document at the airport this year – the earliest of them is April. However, DHS will give us 120 days’ notice and states can always appeal this decision. Either way, you can make sure your passport is up to date if you are planning a trip this year.

TSA also changed its policy on full body searches. When you drive to the airport, you are guided into these giant, full-size vehicles. Some are just metal detectors and others are body scanners. Some people specifically avoid this for privacy reasons, asking for probes and checks instead. You can still request verification, but now the TSA can deny your request and force you to go through the scanner anyway “if it is justified by security reasons.”

According to the TSA , this is a small change that “will occur in a very limited number of circumstances where enhanced verification is required.” However, if you are uncomfortable with using full-body scanners, it might be worth considering on your next trip through airport security.

TSA will reduce the number of free pre-checks

Several years ago, TSA introduced an expedited screening process for low-risk frequent flyers and travelers, more commonly known as TSA Pre-Screening. It used to be free. Then, a couple of years ago, they expanded the program to anyone willing to pay $ 85 for a membership, and now the TSA is trying to make pre-screening exclusive to those who pay.

The pre-check will be here to stay, but the free pre-check is a different story altogether. A TSA spokesman told the Washington Post that they plan to make the program available only to those who have already signed up, which means that in the future, everyone will have to pay, including people who signed up for free earlier.

As TSA has tightened pre-screening access, some airports have already reported longer queues. (The Washington Post reported that Dulles International, Reagan National, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson are among them.) If you’ve enjoyed the free pre-screening, you might consider getting to the airport early or signing up for the $ 85 program .

Frequent Flier programs will be the worst thing (for you, not the airlines)

Traditionally, travel awards have been a pretty nice deal . You sign up for an airline program, earn miles while traveling, and then get a free flight from time to time.

The problem is that many airlines that have rewarded you with miles based on where you went, distance traveled and the type of ticket purchased, are instead changing the reward model for the dollars spent . All in all, this is a bad deal. Wall Street Journal ‘s Scott McCartney explains :

… Delta and United now pays you miles for the dollars spent, not the distance you travel. So you will probably get a lot less miles. American is going to do the same starting in the second half of 2016. This way, with fewer miles in your account, your credit card rewards will stay there longer before you get to the point where you can get a free ticket. At the same time, they also raised the mileage price of free tickets.

This means that it will take longer to receive the reward. This is especially true if you are getting a good and cheap flight deal .

If that’s not too bad, many airlines also increase the bonus miles required for certain routes. Delta recently announced that, starting June 1, they will calculate miles “based on destination, demand and other considerations.” Basically, this means that the more popular the route, the more miles you will need. JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America are already using the supply and demand approach to price award flights.

Travel rewards keep getting smaller

Travel reward customers will soon be able to use rewards for non-flight expenses as well, from food to drinks to Wi-Fi. For example, Southwest allows its members to donate their awards to charities . At some airports, members of the incentive program can pay for drinks, souvenirs or food with their miles. According to Travel Skills , Delta plans to offer the opportunity to redeem miles for drinks at 34 of its Sky Clubs by the end of March.

Sounds great, right? More flexibility in spending rewards. But no, the ransom amount is pretty awful. At Sky Club Delta, you earn one dollar per 100 miles. When you consider that you earn five miles per dollar you spend on Delta flights, that means you pay roughly $ 20 to spend $ 1. This “flexibility” actually means a better deal for the airlines.

To counter this trend, McCartney says travel reward credit cards offer the best incentives that can help you accumulate rewards faster. I use credit card rewards myself, and it’s a pretty cool game if it can be played responsibly. We’ve covered in detail how to get started with this (and you’ll want to beware of accumulating debt, interest, and fees).

Of course, that doesn’t make the airline’s programs suck. If you’ve been thinking about changing your preferred airline, it might be time to find out which programs are the easiest way to earn free airline tickets .

But at least we’ll have cheaper flights (maybe)

This is not all darkness and doom. Beyond these current trends, some travel experts are forecasting more competitive prices this year as discounted airlines added more routes.

Cheapair.com reports that many airlines are realizing they don’t need excesses to compete – people just want to fly cheap. Here’s what they predict for 2016:

Low cost carriers add competitive warmth to the domestic and international markets. Witness American Airlines jump on the bandwagon with the addition of simple fares, the success of Norwegian Air, which has just started serving Las Vegas, and the international airline wars fueled by the rise of WOW Air, which recently added transatlantic flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to his lineup and announced plans for service from Toronto and Montreal . This is a welcome balance for the consolidation that has shaped the North American market lately.

Some experts also predict that lower oil prices will lead to lower airfares, but we will look at that later.

Overall, most of these changes are relatively modest. There is nothing revolutionary here, but a lot is happening at once. And it is always good to be aware of trends in order to be prepared.


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