With the rise of shared economy sites like Airbnb and the consolidation of major airlines and hotels, the travel industry has experienced some major changes in 2015.
But what can jetsetters --or even the occasional traveler -- expect next year?
We've forecasted the biggest travel trends in air travel, cruising, vacation destinations and more in 2016.
1. People will be freaking out about space travel...
...but not many people--or even any --will actually go. Travel forecasters have been predicting the imminence of space travel for years but it looks like 2016 could see the first successful commercial space expeditions. Kayak is now accepting reservations for flights from XCOR Space Expeditions. The company's Lynx space plane is close to taking travelers on a one-hour trip into suborbital space. Reservations start at around $100,000 per person so it won't be a jaunt for the average Joe-- yet. But it won't be long now until we seek a vacation on Saturn or Mars as just another day at the beach.
2. More hotels will offer flexible or no check out times.
Your international flight isn't until midnight but the hotel says you need to be out by noon. And you just want to relax. After decades of travelers getting fed-up with rigid check-in and check-out times, hotels are finally getting the memo. According to the New York Times, hotel groups like Peninsula, Patina and Yotel are experimenting with flexible checkout policies to allow guests more wiggle room in their travel itineraries. Some charge a fee depending on how late you want to stay but we predict many will soon offer the amenity free of charge.
3. Economy class will get more crowded.
It seemed like in 2015 airline design firms were filing a new patent every other week showcasing unique ways of cramming more passengers into a cabin. The trademark rendering above shows passengers literally sitting on top of each other in a mezzanine-style structure. In November, Emirates set a new world record with its reconfigured Airbus A380 that boasts a record-breaking 615 passenger seats. So-called slimline seats are already being installed on new Southwest planes-- and it won't be long before United, American, and others start retrofitting aircraft with skinnier seats.
4. Flights will be cheaper.
Record low oil prices and more competition from international carriers will work out in the budget traveler's favor next year. More low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit are poised to expand operations, too. According to data from Hopper travel, the average price for a ticket in January will be at a three-year low. But flyers should be cautious of super cheap rates-- airlines will likely begin tacking on new fees and requiring customers pay up for more extras like checked luggage or choosing a seat assignment in advance.
5. National Parks parties will be a thing.
Well, sort of. The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016 and to celebrate, various centennial events will be held at parks throughout the country. Even if you're not a traditional camping type, there are plenty of beaches and day-trips that can be planned at the nation's lesser known parks. Hopefully, you're more impressed than these hilarious visitors who couldn't care less about Yellowstone or Yosemite.
6. Airlines will step up their game when it comes to disabled passneger policies.
This past year was rough for airline passengers with disabilities. A United passenger was forced to crawl off of his flight after a wheelchair escort failed to show within 30 minutes of landing. American lost a prosthetic limb owned by a Boston marathon bombing survivor. But the media attention may have pushed along some progress. American stepped up and-- after apologizing-- said it would review its checking policies when it comes to prosthetic limbs.
7. River cruising will get bigger.
Mega ships are still big but tomorrow's cruisers are looking for more unique adventures than there-and-back jaunt to the Caribbean to play shuffleboard. In 2015, over 40 new river boats were launched and added to the inventory of brands like Crystal, Viking, Vantage and more. River cruising allows guests to have more intimate experiences in lesser known places, which appeals, especially to the coveted millennial market.
8. Airline rewards programs won't be as generous for non-business travelers.
Airline rewards programs have never exactly been the most straightforward. But many airlines used to allow travelers to earn miles or points in a variety of ways-- through distance flown, ticket price and elite status. Now most airlines-- including American most recently-- have revamped their mileage programs to reward more points on a cost-per-fare basis. That means a super pricey business or first class flyer will earn up to 10 times more miles than an economy flyer going the same distance. We think people squished in the back should be rewarded for going 16 hours with being able to lie down fully-- but c'est va lie.
9. Everyone will be booking a trip to Cuba.
Getting to Cuba will be fairly reasonably priced and easier than ever in 2016 thanks to normalizing relations between the U.S. and the island nation. According to Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Havana, authorized American travel to Cuba through people-to-people exchanges already grew 50 percent this year with loosening restrictions. Airlines are poised to resume flights, cruise companies are ramping up offerings and numerous resort companies have been eyeing beach front properties, hoping to strike before the iron gets too hot.
10. More people will turn to Airbnb as hotel prices rise.
North American hotels added 100,000 new rooms last year, but shockingly supply hasn’t kept up with demand and occupancy rates are at an all time high, according to the Global Business Travel Association. The organization is predicting that room rates will rise 4.7 percent in the U.S.and 2.5 percent around the world. The Starwood-Marriott merger, which should happen sometime next year, will also lessen the competition.
So what's a budget traveler to do?
Rental sites like Airbnb and HomeAway have seen astronomical growth in 2015. That's due to changing attitudes of the millennial traveler as well as rising hotel costs-- both of which will continue to have a major impact in 2016.