For travelers, 2015 and 2016 look like identical twins born in separate years, only more so. Much of what was true in 2015 will be truer in the coming year. What was hot this year will be hotter next; what was cheap in 2015 will be cheaper in 2016 (except when it's not; see hotel rooms). Here's a look ahead at what you might see:
In the air
1. More Europe for less. Thomas Cook Airlines will begin an LAX-Manchester, England, route in May. Maybe not quite as convenient as Heathrow, about 200 miles southeast, but not the circus of Heathrow, either. Low-cost Wow Airlines, based in Iceland, will offer service to London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris and more by way of Reykjavik.
What it means: Coupled with Norwegian Air, which began serving L.A. in May, these airlines hold out hope that fares to Europe will decrease.
2. Carrier competition heating up. An improved bottom line means many airlines could add or restore service. On Jan. 6, Southwest will add service to San Francisco from Burbank. Low-cost Spirit, which added a huge amount of capacity in 2015, is already flying new routes from LAX to Oakland.
What it means: Leisure travelers who buy based on price usually benefit from carrier dogfights. Sign up for notifications of fare sales.
3. Legacy airlines offering lower-cost options. Spirit, whose own poll showed it was the most hated airline in America, nonetheless has made other carriers sit up and take notice. Delta has already introduced a basic economy fare, and American and United are set to do so in 2016.
What it means: If price is important and seat selection and fare restrictions are not, you'll benefit.
4. Stable or lower airfares. Fuel prices are partly to thank, said Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations for CheapOAir, a booking company, because they account for about a quarter of an airline's budget. Airlines aren't necessarily going to drop fares for a penny or two decrease, but in 2015 jet fuel dropped to just about $1 a gallon. Contrast that with May 2, 2011, when the same fuel cost $3.36 a gallon.
What it means: Fliers may finally reap the financial reward of what drivers have seen all year at the pump.
5. Increased focus on customer service. Whaaaat? Quite possible, said Warren Chang, vice president of Fly.com, an airfare search engine. After years of baggage fees and increases in change fees, you'll see some niceties such as snacks and pajamas on some United routes, for instance.
What it means: We're not naive enough to think that just because the airlines don't hate us doesn't mean they like us, are we? Because it's really about market share, not us.
6. More comfort in the air. It won't be free, but it is a choice. Singapore and American will add premium economy (they're late joining this more-legroom-among-other-perks party). Other options are even better than an 8-inch seat recline: Etihad offers the Residence. Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, recently forked over $32,000 for a one-way ticket from New York to Abu Dhabi for the privilege. How was it? Who wouldn't love three rooms and a Savoy-trained butler?
What it means: Are you willing to pay more to ache less after a flight?
7. Less hassle with carry-on bags. Alaska, bless it, introduced aircraft with Space Bins, which hold 48% more bags; these new overheads on some 737 aircraft take six bags to a bin. United and Delta will follow suit in 2016 on certain models of the 737.
What it means: Thanks from a grateful flying nation that hates bag fees.
8. Better Wi-Fi on board. I sigh, you sigh, we all sigh for Wi-Fi, which fliers increasingly want. Unfortunately, it's been dreadfully slow and balky, and in many cases you can't stream video. Expect that to change on many carriers in 2016 as new aircraft and technology put Netflix within reach.
What it means: Two words for those five-hour flights: binge-watching.
9. Better Wi-Fi at LAX. The airport has lagged in providing a better Wi-Fi product for those trapped in waiting areas. In 2016, expect an improved service to 5 megabits per second. You need 6 or more to stream a high-def video.
What it means: People don't like LAX, according to a recent J.D. Power study. It ranked above only the airports in Newark, N.J., and New York's LaGuardia. If you've ever been to those airports, you'll realize LAX's rep could use some sprucing up. Maybe better connectivity will help.
On the ground and on the water
10. 2016 is the year of the road trip. Again, lower fuel costs. By mid-December, average gasoline prices in California were 20 cents a gallon less than a year ago. That doesn't necessarily make 2016 a sure bet for low prices, but the short-term outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said, looks as though per-gallon prices will run about $2.36 in the U.S. (California is always higher) — a 7-cent-a-gallon decrease from this year and a $1.15-a-gallon decrease from 2013.
What it means: The difference in the cost of a road trip based on gasoline costs isn't as enormous as you think it is. If you paid the '13 price for a 744-mile round trip to Phoenix in a 2014 car, you would pay only about $30 less now, which suggests gas prices are mostly a psychological barrier.
11. If you stay in a hotel or motel, you'll probably pay more in 2016, said Jon Eichelberger, North American regional manager for Trivago.com, a hotel search engine. "As was the case in 2015, room night demand was very high and little new hotel supply became available, which drove up average room rates," he said in an email.
What it means: Those gasoline price savings probably will get eaten by the cost of your room.
12. Hotel acquisitions and you — who cares? You might. If Marriott gets Starwood and Accor gets Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel, Eichelberger said, you may be able to more easily accumulate awards points because your brand will reach more hotels and more kinds of hotels.
What it means: Free nights faster. But if you are playing the game, think about which program is easiest. The winner there, according to CardHub.com, is Wyndham, which revamped its program this year to make it simple for all its brands, which include a variety of properties from Super8 to Wyndham Grand Hotels & Resorts. You get a free night for 15,000 points no matter where you are.
13. River cruising and kids. Disney will launch its first European river cruise designed for families. The seven trips will be on an AmaWaterways vessel — the AmaViola — plying the Danube. They're pretty much already sold out.
What it means: Easier to say what it doesn't mean, and that's a mouse in the house — or on the cruise. A Disney Adventures trip is designed to enhance the value of the trip with experiences, not with animated characters.
14. River cruising is not just for Europe anymore. River cruises have become popular in Myanmar and China, even Ireland, but they're also to be found in the U.S., said Heidi Allison-Shane, president of the CruiseCompete booking site. Even before the recent attack in Paris, American river cruise lines were wildly popular, and now they may be more so. "American lines were in the top for the most requested lines," said Allison-Shane. She cites terrorism as an issue, but notes that "American lines are very American; you have all the luxuries you're used to."
What it means: For the top trend in cruising, slow and steady wins the race — one of the attractions of river cruises — but don't overlook the launch of at least seven new cruise ships, including the 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas by Royal Caribbean and the all-suite Seven Seas Explorer by Regent Seven Seas.
15. More mobile? Maybe. We still love our smartphones for looking — Pew Research says 19% of us use them for ferreting out information — but not as much for booking. As the physical size of our mobile phones has grown and we're actually able to see what we're doing, we're less likely to switch to the desktop to book after we've looked on our mobile. And what of mobile payments that will free us from a purse full of credit cards? "In my opinion, mobile payments will become a reality when the entire physical wallet can be subsumed into the phone," said Sean McQuay, a credit card analyst with NerdWallet.com, which means your driver's license and your credit card will dwell in the same digital universe.
What it means: When and if that happens, losing your phone will be an even bigger disaster than it is now.
16. Cannabis travel goes crazy. A recent study by the Colorado Office of Tourism said the laws that legalized marijuana for recreational use beginning in 2014 "influenced vacation decisions nearly 49 percent of the time," the Denver Post reported. Laws are relaxing in various places, including Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, and Nevada is on the radar. That opens opportunities for travel providers, including My 420 Tours, of which Danny Schaefer is chief operating officer. Expect expansion by 420 along with other legitimate tour operators as cannabis travel goes corporate. "We're not a bunch of idiot stoners," said Schaefer, who said part of his company's mission is to educate.
What it means: Most of 420's customers are baby boomers, Schaefer said. It's yesterday once more.