We hope wherever you are reading this from you are safe, healthy and doing well. Or as well as can be expected. These are uncertain times and uncharted waters we find ourselves in. As travel planners, we want to do what we can to answer your questions, share our expertise and encourage your love of travel, even if that travel is happening a little later than you thought!
We sincerely hope that by late Summer and Autumn 2020 we will all be traveling internationally again. But the fact is, no one has a crystal ball. We don’t know when travel restrictions will be lifted or when it will be safe to go again. Because of this, it’s very important to protect your investment in your trip by implementing smart and safe travel planning procedures that will help you weather whatever is coming next.
Below, we’ve laid out how we’re approaching planning travel for our clients in these uncertain times, and our recommendations for anyone who finds themselves wanderlusting and planning a trip at the moment.
Most major airlines are waiving change fees for flights purchased right now. That means if you need to change your flight, due to coronavirus or for any other reason, you can do so without paying a change fee penalty.
However, it’s important to understand how this offer works. For most airlines, if you decide to change your flight, you’ll be given a credit for the amount that you paid. You are then able to change your flight to any route the airline flies and you must use your credit within one year of the purchase date of your ticket – not the travel date. And while change fees are waived, you may still need to pay a fare difference if your new flight costs more money. For most airlines, if the new, rebooked ticket is less than the original ticket, you will get a voucher for the difference.
For example, if you book a ticket on May 1 for a December trip to Portugal, but decide in the summer that you want to change your trip, you will receive a credit for the amount you paid for your Portugal tickets. You must use that credit and travel before May 1, 2021, to Portugal or anywhere else the airline flies. If the new tickets cost more than the original ones, you will pay the difference.
UPDATE: Many airlines are now extending their waiver program, giving you up to two years to rebook and travel.
It’s important to know that with the waived change fees, you are receiving a credit if you decide to change your flight. This is not the same as receiving a refund. The way policies and rules currently work, the only way you can receive a cash refund is if an airline cancels your flight, not if you decide to cancel.
Bottom line: If you’re fairly confident you’ll be able to go on your trip sometime within the next year (or two!), or else use the credits with the same airline for a different trip, you can book now and take advantage of the waived change fees.
Lastly, remember that every airline is unique. While most major airlines are following the rules above, not all of them are. It’s very important to read through the change and cancelation policy with an airline before booking. Check out this list for a round up of major airlines and their policies.
To best protect your trip investment, we are recommending to only book fully refundable accommodation at this point. With a fully refundable rate, there’s no hassle if you want to cancel before your stay for any reason.
While many lodging operators have generously offered refunds or credits for non-refundable bookings impacted by COVID-19, not all operators are able to do this. And this isn’t a sustainable practice that hotels will be able to offer forever. So save yourself the trouble and book refundable rates from the get go.
Although we generally love the experience that Airbnbs and home rentals provide, at this point in time, we caution against booking with short-term rental sites, like Airbnb. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Airbnb owners have had to move their properties to the long term rental market. As the travel restrictions continue, so will the decrease in available Airbnb properties. Instead of committing to one specific Airbnb home, only to find it no longer available a few months down the road, we recommend going with a more established hotel or apartment rental company that offers multiple units.
Booking tours & experiences
The most important thing to keep in mind when booking tours and experiences on the ground is reading the fine print. Every operator is different and will have different cancelation and refund policies. It’s important that you are aware of and comfortable with the policies of the operators you’re booking with.
Because the world of travel is still uncertain, we recommend leaving your sightseeing bookings until closer to your date of travel. You can still put together a list of your favorites, but hold off on actually booking. In case of schedule or pricing changes, booking later will allow you to be more flexible. And, in the worst case scenario where a tour operator has closed, your investment will be protected.
In our experience, tour operators on the ground have been incredible to work with throughout the COVID-19 crisis. In most cases, we have received fast responses and personal emails. Many operators were able to offer 100% refunds and up to 150% credits for future trips. While we recommend you be cautious about your bookings, this is also a great opportunity to support small businesses and local operators who depend on tourist dollars.
What about travel insurance?
Will travel insurance protect your financial investment from coronavirus-related changes and cancelations? In most cases, no.
Travel insurance is meant to protect you financially against unknown events. Once coronavirus became a known event (officially late January), most insurance agencies would no longer cover coronavirus-related claims for insurance bought after that date. Further, many insurance agencies have a stipulation that they are exempt from covering epidemics and pandemics, which coronavirus is classified as.
The only type of travel insurance that may be applicable to coronavirus-related changes is Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance. CFAR, as the name implies, allows you to cancel your trip for any reason and receive some money back. However, CFAR coverage has some serious limitations. CFAR insurance plans only cover 50-75% of trip expenses, they must be purchased within 7-14 days of your first trip expense, and are considerably more expensive than regular travel insurance plans. Further, because of COVID-19, many insurance agencies are no longer offering CFAR coverage.
So while travel insurance won’t protect your investment against coronavirus-related issues, we feel the smart travel planning strategies above will. With flexible flights and refundable accommodation, you should still be able to book with confidence.
Lastly, travel insurance is still a good idea if you want to protect financial aspects of your trip that aren’t related to coronavirus, like delayed luggage or stolen items. As well, it’s important that you have adequate travel medical insurance, should you need medical attention while abroad.
As a final point, remember that all insurance agencies are unique and their offers are changing often during this pandemic; always check with your specific agency before purchasing insurance.
We understand that these are difficult times and it’s hard to plan future travel when you’re not sure what the future holds. We want you to be excited about future trips, while at the same time understanding that things may change.
At allé, we always have your back. We want you to feel safe and comfortable not only on your trip, but during your trip planning too. Your allé planner will always keep you informed of new developments, offer experienced advice, advocate for you with other travel operators, and always prioritize your safety.