By Amy Biondi
While the country continues to reopen, people have an intense desire to return to their previous norms, and part of that includes travel.
There appears to be a variety of travel deals available because of the pandemic, and many people are eager to connect with family and friends, have a change of scenery or see the world. For all these reasons, potential travelers are assessing whether it is worth the financial and safety risk to do so. Is now a good time to plan a trip?
As a travel advisor, it is my job to research and plan the perfect trip for my clients. It’s also my job to make sure that I clearly state the terms and conditions, offer advice on how to protect your travel investment and set expectations for what the trip will be like. For international travelers, I rely heavily on trusted partners that are “on the ground” in foreign countries, who know the environment and the state of affairs in their home country.
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions that will help travelers navigate the world of travel in today’s environment, where there are potential financial and physical dangers.
What are the prices like now? I heard there are some great deals.
Don’t expect to find deals right now. Given that there are so few destinations available for travel, availability is scarce, so prices can be high.
Time will tell what will happen with pricing once travel restrictions are relaxed. The expectation is that hotels and tour operators will maintain their existing price structures but will be willing to provide added perks, such as food and beverage credits and free hotel nights. Additionally, these types of travel companies are being more generous with their deposit and cancelation policies.
Airfare is another story. Rates are low, and there are virtually no change fees, so it is relatively low-risk to book travel right now. However, there is a real threat that some of these companies could go out of business, leaving you with a worthless credit.
Should I buy trip insurance?
As a rule, I always make my clients aware of travel insurance. Travel insurance can protect you in many ways. Not only does it provide a financial safeguard if you need to cancel your trip, but it can also provide coverage for lost or delayed baggage, medical expenses that are not covered by your personal insurance when out of the country and emergency evacuation.
As many people found out, a regular insurance policy does not cover a pandemic; only a “Cancel For Any Reason” policy would cover cancelation due to COVID-19. In order to qualify for a CFAR policy, you are required to buy the insurance within 15 to 21 days of making your first deposit on your vacation. Additionally, you must insure your whole trip, including airfare.
While travel insurance is a good idea, but not typically required, some countries, such as Turks and Caicos, are now making it a requirement to have insurance to cover COVID-19 medical expenses, as well as medical evacuation/repatriation.
Travel insurance has many nuances, so it is best to go to an expert to understand what insurance will best fit your needs. Travel insurance may seem expensive, but not having it when you need it is exponentially more expensive.
What can I expect when traveling?
At airports and on planes, expect lots of social distancing and masks, but not lots of extra last second fees. I think at this time, all airlines are requiring and enforcing masks. Although, not all airlines are reducing their flight capacity.
Delta, Frontier and Southwest are blocking seats while American and United are not. Some airlines will provide masks and hand sanitizer, but not all, so be prepared and bring your own. TSA is allowing one container of up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer per passenger with your carry-on. Airports are clearly marked for social distancing, and there are plenty of hand sanitizer stations dispersed throughout the airports.
I personally have flown twice since the pandemic hit, and I have felt comfortable with the process. However, as people start traveling more and crowds increase, it will be challenging for people to social distance.
What is the best strategy for planning travel?
If after hearing about all of the new challenges related to travel you still want to plan that trip of a lifetime, here are some strategies that might make it safer and make you feel more confident with a major investment. The average American family spends $3,000 to $9,000 a year on vacations.
Consider having a home base to travel from. In other words, limit the number of accommodations where you stay during the trip. Sometimes there is a price break for staying longer in one place.
Choose accommodations, drivers and tour guides that have clear explanations of how they are sanitizing and what procedures they have instituted to keep you safe.
Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of your trip and any travel insurance you purchase in case you need to cancel. The fine print and exceptions are all important with travel insurance.
If traveling by air, try to choose a non-stop flight. This will help limit your exposure in security lines and while boarding planes.
While this might seem obvious, choose locations that are not hot spots or near hot spots for COVID-19, even if you have to pay a bit more.
And last, do your research, dig deep or rely on a good travel advisor to help navigate trip planning, where to allocate resources, where to save a bit of money and how to cancel if required.
Every investment comes with some risk, including major vacations, but research, a travel advisor and a good, comprehensive travel insurance policy can help you minimize the risk and maximize the chance to experience a trip of a lifetime.
The writer is the owner and founder of Biondi Travel in Alexandria, an independent travel advisor affiliated with Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso agency.