Saying that the coronavirus has impacted the travel industry would be such an understatement of the year. Airlines are still trying to figure out their COVID policies, and some are continuing to update theirs leaving consumers frustrated and pissed. 2020 will be the year we all remember, and many of us, myself included, were looking forward to 2021.
2020 was an eye-opener for me in so many ways! I went into 2020 as a travel agent, which means I went through an agency for my (and my clients) travel deals. Well, I was supposed to. I often found myself booking deals for clients outside the agency, which meant I made $0. When I search for deals, flights to Airbnb, I spend hours upon hours researching everything. I act as if I am traveling with you, and I have set high standards for prices, layovers, Airbnb reviews and photos, and so much more! So after a few months of thinking about it and right when COVID was at an all-time high, I quit the agency.
At first, when I made the final decision, I felt like a failure before I started the process. I was part of the agency's social media network and saw so many agents making it work even with our lives' current conditions. So, of course, I compared myself to them and find myself still comparing to this day, but now I have a different mindset. 2020 taught me that there is no normal anymore, and I am making my way at my own pace. If I can't make money through an agency but have clients, what do I do? Easy, quit the agency and go freelance. As 2020 went on, it took me some time to figure out my groove and continue helping my clients and anyone new.
Going into 2021, I am now a travel advisor. It means that I book travel deals for clients outside an agency which means I can chase that bottom line price. It also means I make connections to build relationships with Airbnb hosts, hotels, resorts, and anything around travel. I feel more hands-on being a travel advisor than I did as an agent, as I can control 100% of everything.
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While adjusting to remote learning with Leylah and working from home, new stress and challenges have surfaced in our home life. While my world was changing before my eyes, one thing I could lean towards was my obsession with watching airline flight prices. While some airlines have gone out of busy to other airlines reducing or eliminating their flight schedule, people are still traveling. I have been to Aruba twice since COVID started around March 2020 and have seen firsthand the number of people at the airport. Charlotte Douglas and Miami International Airport were packed, including the flights. (No middle seat was left empty.)
While my emotions and thoughts have been on a roller coaster ride of the year, one thing that has remained consistent is searching for flights. Not one day has passed that I haven't looked at flights. Even with countries shutting their borders to travelers, I have stayed on top of flights and learning new skills to find the lowest price. Before I go into my new skills, I want to share some of the flights I found from 2020 into 2021. I hope I get to look back many years from now and remember these times.
Atlanta to Los Angeles for only $84
Miami to Cancun, Mexico for $149
Charlotte to St. Thomas for $119
Miami to Curacao for $270
Raleigh, NC to Chile for $355
Miami to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for $184
Orlando to Montego Bay, Jamaica for $202
Miami to Morocco for only $261 (First time seeing these tickets drop this low)
Atlanta to Hawaii for $384
Charlotte to Saint Lucia for $314
Charlotte to San Juan, Puerto Rico for only $30 (I jumped on these and bought them for us)
Fort Lauderdale to Trinidad and Tobago for only $180
Raleigh, North Carolina to Tokyo for less than $400
Charlotte, North Carolina to Barbados for only $298
Charlotte, NC to Dallas, Texas for $45.70
Miami, Florida to Costa Rica for $150
Charlotte to Saint John's for $220
Charlotte to Cancun, Mexico for $180
Boston to France for less than $300
Charlotte to the Cayman Islands for $244
Miami to the Maldives for less than $800
Miami to Trinidad and Tobago for less than $200
Charlotte to Vancouver, Canda for $238
Miami to ￼Barcelona, Spain for less than $200
Charlotte to St. Thomas for $140
Charlotte to Costa Rica for $143 (I should of bought these)
Charlotte to Dominican Republic for $191
Charlotte to Dublin for $480
Orlando to Guatemala for $132
Charlotte to Dallas, Texas for only $99
1. A new app
Every heard of airlines making mistakes when setting the price? Yup, it happens. Why or how you ask, simple, humans make mistakes. It's that simple, ya'll. When airlines set their prices, there is a human on the other end driving that price. If the airline wanted the tickets for $800, someone would accidentally forget a 0 and enter $80. Your job is to book the flight before the airline realizes what happened and pray they honor the ticket. From what I have seen, as long as the price isn't a "stealing price," then the airline will allow you to keep that ticket(s).
For example, most people who know about this kind of ticket remember the Hawaii ordeal that happened a few years ago. Tickets from various US cities were supposed to be $700; however, the last two 0's never made it. Tickets were only $7!!! These tickets were up for a few hours, and within those 3 hours, word spread fast. Now here is the real question, how do we know when this happens?
In late 2020, I learned a new app called Secret Flying, which gives you all the details when a human error flight occurs. It is the first time seeing this information housed in one spot. Super helpful to locate these deals vs. having to search multiple sites to potentially finding the human error flight. Talk about time-consuming! I have not booked any flights through this app, but I am browsing the newest deals daily.
2. Book airline flights for closed destinations
Destinations that are not open are still offering airline flights and at a low price. For example, flying to Japan from Raleigh, North Carolina, a much smaller airport than Charlotte Douglas, has had low flights being offered for months now. And I mean like below $400 at times. Crazy!
Another example is some European flights like Paris. Just recently, I found tickets from New York to Paris for only $258. In comparison, that is more than what I found when I visited; it's still a reasonable price to explore Paris.
It is an app I use on an everyday basis. No lie, I look at this app probably 5-6 times a day, give or take, depending on my full-time workload. It is an excellent app to see a quick overview of the flight prices by entering the departing airport and using "Everywhere" in the From section. (If you know where you need to go, enter that destination in the To section and enter "United States" in the departing section to find the cheapest tickets.) You will see a list of countries starting with the lowest price shown. While Skyscanner is not 100% accurate, it gives you a good idea of what the prices look like for the day. (Flight prices can change midday, so be aware of that.)
For example, I know an average price on Skyscanner for flights departing Charlotte to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas is around $80 to $90. So if I wake up and browse the flights quickly and see a price of $65 for Charlotte to Puerto Rico, I have a good idea that flights went down. Or it's a good indication.
4. Expect layovers
I have noticed with airlines canceling flights and figuring out how to schedule with countries closing; people need to expect layovers. How I handle this is by trying to create my layover flights. What I mean is that if I look for a flight from Charlotte, NC to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I will most likely see a layover in Miami or Orlando but may not land at the destination until 1 am. So why not create my flights and determine where my layover will be. That way, I can land at a reasonable time to enjoy the last remaining hours of the sun.
For both of my Aruba trips, I fly from Charlotte to Miami than Miami to Aruba. From what I could find at the time, the prices were a lot higher by going from Charlotte to Aruba, so breaking the flights into one-ways made more sense. Plus, I was able to land in Aruba around 3 pm, so I could still explore Aruba.
5. Stricter Rules
I should have seen this one coming, honestly. Certain airlines like American Airlines (AA) have become more strict on some of their travel rules. One I would know because I am most likely part of their watch list. More recently, I have seen more ghost flights that all involve AA.
Ghost flights are where you have a flight that entails a layover. That layover just so happens to be the destination you need to get off on, so you get off at the layover flight and never make it to the second part of the ticket. You purchased the ticket, so not sure I fully understand why this is frowned upon, but it is. Or at least with AA.
Airline companies have changed, removed, and all of the above to their COVID policies including canceling/rescheduling flights. It has left many people with mixed emotions, including me. I was supposed to have gone to Cuba in April 2021; however, the airline canceled my flights and provided me with airline vouchers. At first, I was okay with this option but was unfamiliar with the airline, so I was hoping I could find cheap flights. It was wishful thinking as I have not been able to find any flights for even half the voucher amount. Long story short and many emails later, I still have the vouchers.
And there you have it, folks, how searching for flights in 2021 has changed with everything going on with the travel industry right now. While travel may not be allowed in many countries right now, I continue to research which destinations are open and following COVID guidelines to ensure a safe journey. (And return home!)