Traveling might seem like a lifetime away, but if you’re like me, you’re itching to hear the glorious “Seatbelt On” bell. It’s tempting to book those cheap airfares and hotel deals for fun vacations to celebrate a post-COVID world, but it is important to book smartly. If you are planning to travel after COVID-19, there are a few things to keep in mind.
I’ve booked a few trips since the lockdown – five days in Disneyland in August, a trip to Michigan to see family, and my flights to LAX for my South Africa trip. I’m not worried about losing money if I need to cancel these trips because I used some easy strategies.
Book with miles and points for travel after COVID-19.
Perhaps the easiest way to book low-risk travel is to pay with airfare miles and hotel points. Booking airfare with points does not require a lot of cash upfront because you only have to pay taxes and fees. Hotels usually don’t charge any extra fees for booking with points, so this is a low-cost, low-risk way to book travel for after COVID-19. Lastly, most companies allow refunds with points, although not always for free.
Which brings me to my next point…
Understand cancellation policies and dates.
I know we’re all anxious to get back to our trips, but there is a real possibility that we may need to cancel our new plans. Before you book anything, read, and re-read, the cancellation policies and terms of agreements. Many cancellation policies have specific language about the refund policy if you or the carrier cancels the booking. It also details the procedure for requesting a refund and the policy for receiving a credit. Take a screenshot or copy and paste the language and save it with your travel plans to reference it later.
It’s also helpful to note the cancellation and payment dates on your calendar as a reminder. If you put the dates on a mobile calendar, set alarms for a week and then two days before the date as a reminder to double check your plans. This is extremely helpful for traveling after COVID-19, or any other global crisis, because things can change quickly and without warning. You may have to make last-minute decisions and it’s vital to keep cut-off dates in mind.
Obtain trip insurance, but understand it’s limitations, especially for travel after COVID-19.
One huge lesson that travelers learned in March 2020 was that trip insurance is helpful but it doesn’t cover everything. Many travelers were able to use their trip insurance to cover cancellations if they, or a family member, were diagnosed with COVID-19. However, those who canceled their trips proactively due to the pandemic did not qualify for refunds. Before you purchase trip insurance, understand what the policy includes, especially if you want to cancel the trip proactively or if your flight is changed due to restrictions.
If you have credit cards, now is the perfect time to review the card’s benefits, including any insurances for cancellations, luggage, and delays. Can’t find your card benefit booklet? Log into your account and look for your membership agreement or benefits guide. Download each card’s guide and save them in a folder on your computer for easy access.
Book refundable or pay-when-you-stay lodging options.
I know that AirBnBs, VRBOs, and other apartment-style lodging options are popular, but they often have strict cancellation rules. However, if you’re traveling after COVID-19, especially within the next year, your best option might be booking a hotel room that is either refundable or has a free cancellation policy.
I booked my hotel room with points for my Michigan trip so I can cancel up to two days before check-in at no-cost if there are still travel restrictions in August. Although AirBnBs might be your favorite way to stay, a hotel provides more flexible cancellation options, especially as you get closer to your travel dates.
If you insist on booking an apartment or short-term rental, research the company’s response to COVID-19. Did they offer travelers full refunds for planned trips in March and April? Or did they leave customers to deal with lodging owners directly? Did they issue refunds or credits? Was it hard to reach customer service? What is the host’s general cancellation policy? Researching these questions will give you more peace of mind in case your plans change due to the ongoing pandemic.
Be wary of pre-paid or pay-in-advance options.
As much as I love saving money by booking vacation packages, now might not be the best time to pay for travel in advance. Most vacation packages require full payment upon booking. This can cause more stress because you have to spend the money upfront and getting a refund could be difficult.
Look for packages that only require a small deposit and that doesn’t include airfare. If the package includes the airfare, understand if it is refundable through the booking site or if the carrier’s rules apply. My favorite booking site is Costco Travel because you can exclude airfare and it only requires a small refundable deposit, with the full payment due 30 days before your trip.
Book your dream trip!
My most important recommendation is to book your dream trip! It is time to seize the day and live our best lives. No more excuses or procrastination – get up and go! We never know when the world will take away the privilege and joys of travel, so let’s vow to live in the moment. Since we’re stuck at home, now is the time to save those pennies towards that Greek Island cruise or a ski trip to the Swiss Alps.
I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans (beignets, anyone?) so I’m doing my research now and planning a trip for the spring of 2021. I’m also planning an anniversary trip to Bora Bora or the Maldives next year. As soon as it’s safe, I’m sprinting to the airport!
I hope these tips will help you plan to travel after COVID-19, or any other global incident. By taking advantage of miles and points, understanding trip insurance, and booking refundable logistics, you can plan your dream trip to celebrate making it out of this pandemic.