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Have Cards, Will Travel

Setting expectations for a return to post-pandemic travel

If you're an elite traveler who's just now getting back into the game, don't expect the same amenities and service you received prior to the pandemic


It feels amazing to get out and travel after a year of staying put. Yet, I’m constantly learning that returning to travel after a year off can also feel a little disappointing and frustrating. Here’s what you should expect if you’re heading out to your favorite destinations.

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I’ve gotten to spend some time in the skies and hotel beds again.

On the one hand, it feels amazing to get to be out there and to travel. Yet, I’m constantly learning that returning to travel after a year off can also feel a little disappointing and frustrating.

While many of us are beyond ready to return to our lives as reward travelers, the travel life we are returning to today is not exactly the same as it might be in our memories and Instagram stories of old. Every hotel, every airline and every destination you travel to now will be different from the way it was that last time you visited it before the pandemic – and you might not like it.

Here are a few lessons for setting your expectations for a smoother return to post-pandemic travel in 2021.

See related: Why you should be making summer 2021 plans now

Read more from our credit card experts.

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Expect less from your elite amenities as hotels re-scale their services

Reward travelers – especially those of us with elite status we’ve earned or have through a credit card benefit – have become accustomed to receiving a lot of amenities that aren’t currently being offered as hotels reopen.

Many hotels are still operating with minimal staff and capacities. Despite how much hotels long to be fully open again and how much their staff desire to have their jobs in hospitality returned ASAP, most hotels can’t rehire all those attendants back to deliver you warm cookies on arrival or welcome you into the hotel lounge until they have more guests, greater revenue and regulations in their location that let them operate at full capacity.

Post-COVID, some of us might discover that we have acquired elite benefit entitlement that is hard to unwire. And while not having these amenities at the moment is certainly a first-world problem, you’ll want to have the right mindset so you aren’t disappointed if and when these bonus benefits you’ve come to expect aren’t delivered just yet.

Here’s an example: This week, I stayed one night at the Grand Hyatt at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW). As a World of Hyatt Globalist, this is one of my all-time favorite airport hotels that has always gotten both the big and small things right.

Rooms there are bookable with 20,000 Chase Sapphire Reserve® points transferred to World of Hyatt, and many of the rooms have great runway views with floor-to-ceiling windows for airplane spotting. (Plus, it’s right in terminal D, just landside of the American Express Centurion Lounge if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express.)

My stay was great. The staff was helpful, the room was comfortable and, most importantly, I got a great night’s sleep before waking up to catch an early flight to Honolulu. Yet when I arrived, I still felt a little disappointed.

Pre-pandemic, this hotel always mastered the details for its World of Hyatt elite members – welcome notes and snacks on arrival, lobby cookies and coffee, sparkling water in my room (because they remember that’s my preference) and the option for full room service breakfast.

What was wrong with the stay? Absolutely nothing besides my attitude. I checked into a 2021 hotel with 2019 expectations.

See related: Which hotels offer free breakfast and dinner?

Know what you should expect in advance (and ask for it if you’re not getting it)

With so much ambiguity in the overlap between the COVID-19 response and the travel space, it can also be hard to ensure you are setting your expectations correctly. Every hotel is opening at a different pace – sometimes even within the same destination, one hotel may have all its restaurants and facilities open, while the hotel next door still has them all closed.

You’ll definitely be frustrated if you’re dropping a lot of cash or points for a few nights in what you anticipate to be a great hotel, only to get there and find that many guest services are still halted in the name of COVID. After all, it still costs the same number of points for a room when the pool is closed, breakfast isn’t served or housekeeping isn’t available.

While you shouldn’t expect all hotels to be able to deliver all the bells and whistles of benefits right now, what you should expect is for them to deliver you their core services of a clean room and a level of hospitality commensurate with their brand.

Do your research in advance by calling the hotel to ask what is open, so you aren’t surprised when you get there. Ask specifically about the status of the amenities you’re hoping to use when making a booking, and be sure you’re talking to someone on the actual property for the most up-to-date information – not someone in a remote call center.

I learned this lesson the hard way this week when I caught a flight to Honolulu to spend a week at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort for my first post-vaccine family meetup. I’d done a lot of research and specifically chose to stay at this type of large resort where everything could be done on-site in order to accommodate the needs of our travel party that spanned from ages 1-95.

Unfortunately, I arrived to find the resort wasn’t nearly as opened as I was led to believe based on information I’d been given from the Hilton Diamond line. While the resort itself was beautifully situated beachfront on Waikiki, the property had not yet geared up its services and staffing to match the influx of tourists visiting for spring break.

The lines were long, most of the restaurants were closed, staffing was short, housekeeping was hard to come by and guest capacity was much greater than the amount of socially distanced poolside lounge chairs available. There was no place to sit and no pina coladas. In the end, I enjoyed the stay as best as I could, visited other hotels with open restaurants for meals and requested the hotel to credit me the $50-per-night resort fee since they were not delivering the resort services as promised.

While I’m sure it would be a good hotel to accommodate families when it returns to its full capacity of hospitality, in my experience, the hotel wasn’t yet ready to be open to the level of capacity that it was. Had I done better homework in advance, I’d likely have chosen a different property.

See related: Airline, hotel loyalty programs extending perks in the pandemic

It will take all of us to build back travel even better

Travel right now is trending in the right direction, but it is going to take all of us being gracious to one another to get through the interim period until we see travel fully bounce back to the place where great service is the norm and in-room amenities once again abound.

To be a great traveler in 2021, you’ll need to be a little more patient. If things aren’t going your way, first check your elite entitlements, then ask for what you need. Hotels that are good at hospitality will bounce back soon, and someday those amenities will freely flow again as plentiful as lobby coffee in a Hampton Inn (I hope).

Bottom line

In the meantime, keep smiling, enjoy the contactless delivery of your prepackaged breakfast and remember that the slow return to travel with a sprinkling of travel frustrations is definitely better than a life with no travel at all!

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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