With the Covid-19 crisis causing many of us to enjoy an unplanned stay-cation, the wanderlust inside us is likely at its peak. Although social-distancing and avoiding travel is definitely the best course of action for the time being, don’t let yourself feel guilty about thinking about future travel when things do get better. In fact, planning a future trip may be therapeutic at this time, especially if you were forced to cancel upcoming travel plans already. When assessing your vacation options, make sure to dream big, while maintaining flexibility. With lots of uncertainty surrounding how local and global travel will look like after the virus, be prepared to keep your options adaptable. Here are a few things to consider before booking your next trip:
1. What is the earliest date I should think about traveling? The obvious indication is that no one really knows when it will be safe to resume travel. Unless you are able to secure refundable airfare, I wouldn’t recommend planning anything before October as of right now. Although it is possible that things go back to normal later this summer, it is not worth the risk unless your booking is totally refundable. However, this may be an ideal time to look at Thanksgiving or Christmas travel.
2. Are airlines offering free changes on future travel in case things get worse? Many airlines are offering incentives to book tickets now. However, most are allowing “free changes”, not necessarily “free cancellation”. For example, if you buy a ticket now and end up having to cancel your trip, the airline will likely issue you a voucher/credit to be used within a year rather than a full refund. Using points/miles right now can be extremely valuable since you only risk a small redeposit fee in case you need to cancel your trip for any reason. (many redeposit fees are also being waived) Make sure to read each airlines' specific policy on their website before purchasing tickets.
3. Is domestic travel a safer bet than international travel? Are there any locations to avoid? The short answer is: probably. Countries could impose strong restrictions on foreigners entering for quite some time. However, each destination will depend on its own recovery from Covid-19, not necessarily what country that city lies. There will be places throughout the world that take longer to recover from the effects of the virus, but it is hard to predict where those places will be. Avoiding countries that have been hit by the virus extremely hard makes sense now, but is subject to change at any moment. If you want to travel sooner rather than later, domestic travel is probably your best bet.
4. Are prices really low right now? Actually, yes! There are certainly good deals to be had, even during Thanksgiving and Christmas when prices are normally astronomical. If you have some flexibility in your schedule and can travel in October or November, there are even better deals available. Here are some examples of deals during the week of Christmas:
Los Angeles--Sao Paulo: $454
New York--Athens: $434
Toronto--Fort Lauderdale: $224
5. Are some airlines more reliable than others? Many airlines are struggling financially and will need government aid to sustain their operations. I would avoid booking with ultra low-cost carriers or airlines that are on the verge of bankruptcy. This includes Level, Norweigian, Alitalia, Air India, South African Airways, etc. If an airline does go bankrupt, you are no longer protected by some credit cards such as Chase to file a dispute and get your money back. It is likely that mainstream carriers will be able to operate reliably when demand is higher and it is safer to travel, however, be aware that schedules may change frequently. If you plan a non-refundable activity (safari, disneyland, etc), make sure you plan some buffer time in your travel in case airlines change their flight times.
6. Should I get travel insurance? Travel insurance is a great thing to consider right now. There are two main types of insurance: the basic kind that covers emergencies, mostly related to health or the death of a loved one. The other is CFAR (cancel for any reason) insurance. CFAR insurance usually costs about twice as much, but can really be helpful if you want to cancel your travel plans for any reason. They will usually refund you about 75% of your total trip cost. For a great article about some of the best travel insurance options and approximate prices, click here.
7. What if I don’t want to fly? If you feel uncomfortable being in airports and airplanes in the near future, there will be some great options available via car or rail when it is safe to travel. When things do start to look better, travel by car may become popular for a month or two before flights resume to their regular operations. Use that opportunity to go see family and friends and find interesting places to stop en route for a night or two. The national parks should be open and in many cases are waiving their entrance fees for the time being. With most people itching at the thought of being out and about, planning an amazing weekend road-trip may be a perfect fit for you.