But something weird is about to happen. This summer, the stars seem to be aligning for vaxxed-up Americans to go PTO wild. After a year in which everyone was cooped up indoors, domestic-travel bookings are going bonkers as people put in their day-off requests and get pumped for some sort of normalcy. It might have taken a global pandemic, but Americans for once seem poised to summer like the Europeans do—that is, if our bosses will let us.
The roots of what may bloom this summer have been growing all throughout the pandemic. “The pent-up demand is a fire hose that is trying to burst through,” Glenn Fogel, the CEO of Booking.com, told me when I asked about his expectations for post-pandemic travel. On the flight-finding site Kayak, which Booking.com owns, searches for summer travel have been rising as much as 27 percent every week since early March, a spokesperson told me, even as business flyers remain grounded at home and many international destinations remain out-of-bounds for Americans. We can still fly to Mexico, and on Priceline.com, reservations for trips there are up 230 percent from 2019, according to the company.
The same vacation boom—sorry, I mean the vacci-cation boom—has struck lodging. “Some hotels, airlines, and travel agencies are telling me that they are seeing double-digit growth on a day-over-day basis,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst, told me. January broke the record for most new short-term rental bookings, according to AirDNA, an independent analytics firm that tracks Airbnb and its competitor Vrbo. February broke it again. Jamie Lane, AirDNA’s vice president of research, told me that demand for Airbnbs has been so strong that he expects some areas in the United States to be totally booked up for the summer by April or May. Travel trends might continue to creep up, now that the CDC has okayed travel for the vaccinated. (Because the pandemic is very much not over, the CDC still recommends that the unvaccinated avoid all nonessential travel.)
All that vacation is possible only because people, intentionally or not, have been hoarding time off for the past year. Generally, Americans don’t have that many days off to begin with—just 10 on average for new workers, compared with a minimum of 20 days in the European Union—and many businesses make those days “use it or lose it,” meaning they expire at the end of the year. But when the pandemic hit, a third of companies made a fateful decision: letting their workers carry more days over than usual. By sitting on so much time off, workers have functionally jerry-rigged their own version of all those late-summer weeks that many Europeans automatically get off. “We’re in for a summer surge of PTO,” Howard Metzger, the president of MBL Benefits Consulting, told me. “People want out.”