While few states have issued Covid-19 travel restrictions, most locations have initiated some level of quarantine for residents. To help curb the spread of disease for our groaning healthcare system, it’s important to heed local advisories and limit social interactions, including travel.
As social distancing becomes the norm and many communities experience the first shelter-in-place mandates of their lifetime, it’s also important to remember that Covid-19 will pass, and someday soon, travel will resume for those of us who are itching to get out and explore.
In fact, many people have already begun booking mid- and late-year travel to take advantage of lower airfares as well as specials on accommodations. However, before you pull the trigger on your next vacation, take time to consider a few important factors.
Remember, We Don’t Know When Coronavirus Travel Restrictions Will End
In a press briefing on March 16, 2020, President Trump indicated that current social distancing measures could be in place into July or August. While none of the measures included outright coronavirus travel restrictions across the U.S., current mandates do prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.
If you’re booking a resort vacation, a cruise or any type of trip that puts groups of people into close quarters, you could find your plans interrupted by developing coronavirus travel restrictions, or extensions on current ones, such as those placed on social gatherings. If you’re considering a theme park vacation to a destination such as Disney World, you may find that continued closures put a damper on your plans as well.
Also, keep in mind that airline cancellations have been common during the Covid-19 outbreak as countries limit travel between effected locations. Domestic airline travel has also felt the impact as airlines tweak schedules to adjust for a decrease in airline travel.
As travel ramps back up later in the year, continued cancellations and rebookings could be possible as airlines adjust to current demand. Keep in mind that a cancellation of your flight could be a possibility and be sure to have arrival and departure flexibility built into your plans. At a minimum, make sure you have alternative arrangements in mind in case your flight home should get bumped.
Know the Cancellation Policies Before You Book
As you book future travel, be certain you understand the available cancellation policies. Southwest Airlines, for example, allows customers to cancel a flight up to ten minutes prior to departure. Customers than have up to a year from the booking date to reuse the funds.
In light of current circumstances, Southwest is extending the rebooking date on all cancelled flights reserved between March 1 and May 31 until June 30, 2020. Under this policy, you can book your flight for mid- or late-year travel and still be able to rebook through June of next year if Covid-19 travel restrictions are put into effect or if you need to change your reservation for any reason.
Hotels are also relaxing cancellation and rebooking policies. IHG announced on March 11 that it would waive all cancellation fees for new and existing hotel reservations between March 9 and April 30. While the policy change provides great peace of mind for travelers with existing reservations, it might not do much for you if you’re booking now for travel later in the year.
Currently, IHG reports that regular cancellation policies are in effect for bookings beyond April 30, which includes free cancellation within one to two days prior to arrival, provided you’ve booked a refundable reservation.
On the other hand, Hilton is now extending its cancellation policies to include bookings made prior to April 30 for any future arrival date. As long as the booking is cancelled at least 24 hours before arrival, Hilton will waive any associated cancellation fees and even offer a full refund on non-refundable or advanced-purchase rates.
If you’re booking for future travel now, be sure to read and understand all cancellation policies in effect at the time you make your booking in case you need to reschedule due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Most travel related industries, including hotels, airlines, car rental companies and cruise lines, have updated their policies to reflect the current environment.
With so many changes in the works, it may even by wise to keep a copy of the cancellation policy in effect at the time of your booking with your travel records for future reference.
A Word on Trip Insurance
While you might be tempted to book now and purchase trip insurance to cover your costs in the event of future coronavirus travel restrictions, you might want to hold off on clicking that button. Travel insurance usually comes with some pretty specific restrictions and may not cover a Covid-19 related cancellation.
While “cancel for any reason” policies are available, they are usually pricier, and since travelers aren’t often aware of the details of each policy when they book, could find themselves without coverage for a Covid-19 event. Travel insurance may still offer valuable protection if you’re booking now for mid- to late-year travel, but be sure to read the fine print. If you’re in doubt about any of the legalese within the policy, make sure you call for clarification and always take note of the date, time and person with whom you spoke.
Travel Rewards and Status – the Good News
The good news is that many travel rewards programs are extending expiration dates for points and elite status upgrades.
In one of the most generous policies to date, Best Western has announced that it is allowing all members of the chain’s Best Western Rewards program to maintain current status through Jan. 31, 2022. Rewards members will also be reverted to the status achieved at the end of 2019, if the level was higher.
Other hotels are reducing the number of points required to book a stay. It will require 25 percent fewer points to book a room at an IHG-owned hotel through the end of the year for existing elite members.
The Bottom Line
When thinking about the current situation, it’s easy to become discouraged, but remember, this too will pass. A look at past pandemics and tragedies such as 911 prove that Americans have a remarkable resiliency, and we will survive this too.
Researching and dreaming about travel destinations is the perfect way to satisfy a little wanderlust and stay sane during these trying times. Just remember the points above if you should decide to book now for mid- to late-year travel.