TransUnion: Great American Road Trip tops U.S. summer vacay plans

Americans are planning to hit the road for their late spring and summer vacations this year, with 43% of households choosing road trips as their top travel plan, according to new consumer research from TransUnion.

Overall, 46% of respondents said they planned to travel more this spring and summer than they did last year, with 47% planning to travel the same amount and only 8% saying they planned to travel less. Notably, there was not much variance across income levels; however, children were a major influence for travel preferences.

“After several years of feeling pent up, Americans are hungry for travel and making it a priority despite a challenging economic environment,” said Cecilia Seiden, VP, travel and hospitality business, TransUnion. “While that sentiment seems to be near universal, the particulars of when, why, where and how vary greatly.”

The full findings are available in TransUnion’s “2023 Spring and Summer Travel Report,” with details to help airlines, hotels and others in the travel and hospitality business cater to various segments planning trips this year. The research also includes insights for lenders as families are seeking financing options to enhance their travel experiences.

Families with children seeking more getaways

Most households (54%) plan to take one or two trips over the spring and summer travel season, with 45% planning to be away four to seven days and 33% planning to be away more than eight days. Interestingly, as household size increased, so did their likelihood to take more trips—regardless of income level.

Spring break was the most popular travel period for families with children, with 48% planning to travel during this time. As more school districts begin classes in late August, Labor Day came in last for families with children, with only 23% planning travel during the end of summer holiday. For households without children, a solid majority (59%) said they were planning to avoid traveling during holidays this spring and summer.

In addition, 42% of families with children were more likely to prefer traveling to a new destination, compared to 37% of those without children. Similarly, 26% of families with children plan to go camping, compared to just 21% of adults without children. For households with enough budget, a cruise or all-inclusive vacation was much more likely among families with children, at 17% versus 9% of those without.

Defining a good travel experience

When asked to rate the importance of various factors in flight and accommodation experiences, 81% of consumers identified cost as the priority for their satisfaction with flying, while 85% said cleanliness was the top determining factor in satisfaction with their lodging accommodations. However, there were several differences between households with children versus those without. Notably, rewards and loyalty points were seen as much more important among households with children versus those without.

The survey findings underscore how demographic information, like the presence of children, can affect how marketers approach their consumers.

Looking for ways to save

While household budgets may be more constrained, nearly half (48%) of families with children plan to spend more on travel this year. However, consumers across all income levels are looking for ways to stretch their travel budgets.

The top method for saving was to engage in more budget-friendly activities at their travel destination, while choosing a more affordable destination was a close second. While a quarter of respondents plan to book a less expensive hotel and 23% are opting to stay with family or friends, only 15% were looking to save by booking tickets with a discount airline. Consumer prioritization of traditional air travel amidst budget constraints was recently reflected in airlines’ Q1 corporate earnings announcements, as companies such as Delta Air Lines reported record advance bookings for the summer.

Credit, debit or BNPL

The report found two-thirds of households plan to pay for their spring and summer travel using cash or their debit card, while 57% of households planned to use their credit card. High income households appear to prefer using credit to fund their upcoming travel, as 69% of that segment indicated they will use credit cards.

Interestingly, 8% of consumers plan to use a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) loan to pay for their upcoming travel. While this did not vary much across income levels, households with children were twice as likely to use BNPL compared to those without children—12% versus 6%, respectively.

For households with children who have used BNPL for travel, more than seven out of 10 reported that using BNPL allowed them to travel when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford the trip. More generally, the report found that BNPL payment options allowed 37% of consumers to travel to a more expensive destination or spend more money on lodging.

“While it’s a small minority leveraging the service, BNPL has still managed to expand the travel market, particularly for families with children,” said Seiden. “Understanding which consumers are more likely to use BNPL can help hospitality businesses target offers to help travelers upgrade or extend their stays.”

The power of loyalty

Gen Z and Millennials were much more likely to have a travel affiliated or travel rewards credit card, according to the report. This could potentially be an expression of these generations’ preference for experiences over goods. However, Millennials’ representation here could also be explained by their higher propensity to have children, as households with children were more likely to be members of a travel-related brand rewards program.

In fact, 61% of households with children participated in travel loyalty programs compared to 49% of households without children. Membership in such programs has significant implications for how consumers book flights and lodging.

Those who participated in airline or hotel rewards programs were the most likely cohort to book directly on their preferred brand’s website, followed closely by households with airline or hotel brand affiliated credit cards. These affiliations also appeared to impact consumers’ propensity to fly or stay at a hotel in general.

For example, only 16% of households participating in an airline loyalty program said they were going to drive to their spring and summer travel destination, compared to 32% of households that do not participate in a loyalty program. Similarly, consumers who have hotel affiliated credit cards or participate in a hotel rewards program were half as likely as the overall population to say they were staying with friends or family.

“Loyalty and credit card programs are important to driving higher passenger and guest lifetime value,” said Seiden. “Beyond that, building deeper profiles such as knowing which of their guests have children in the household enables airlines and hotels to create opportunities for incremental bookings.”

Fear of fraud

When asked whether they were concerned with fraud, 31% of households with children said they were concerned with being victimized by travel-related fraud or identity theft, compared to 20% of households without children. The heightened concern appears to be correlated to a higher likelihood of past experience with fraud.

Households with children were more likely to indicate they had been a victim of fraud in the past (15% versus 6%) or to have had someone close to them victimized (11% versus 7%).

“In the e-commerce space, it is crucial to strike the right balance of a seamless and secure shopping experience,” said Seiden. “Offering peace of mind to family travelers that they are protected from account takeover and other types of fraud can serve as a key differentiator for travel companies.”