- April 27, 2021
I will start this blog post with a confession. I am not the travel planner in our household, and for good reason. My wife is much better than I when it comes to coordinating schedules and all the details that must be managed when transporting a family of six.
Still, the topic of travel has been front of mind. Because during this pandemic, if we need anything, it is something to look forward to.
When Can I Travel?
The big question for many of us is, “When will it be safe to travel again?”
Of course, we don’t know. As Dr. Anthony Fauci (Centers for Disease Control) says, “you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.”
With summer right around the corner, many of us will naturally be thinking of a vacation and leisure time in some place other than home. Yet, the State Department Level 4 travel advisory remains in place, discouraging Americans from travel overseas.
Given the health risks of traveling abroad, what about staying here in the US? It is important to keep in mind that state regulations can change quickly. Currently, if you fly to Hawaii you can expect to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Some travel experts are cautious about traveling in early summer. Others feel optimistic that July-August travel might be feasible.1
To get the perspective of a travel expert closer to home, I contacted travel agent, Andrea Wallace, at Escape with Us Vacations in St. Paul. According to Andrea, most travel agents have had scant bookings since early March and are cautioning leisure travelers to hold off on their plans until after summer.
Booking domestic flights after July 1 seems like a reasonable plan to my travel agent. But what about international travel?
For those of us in colder climates, popular destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean are currently closed to visitors. However, several resorts are proposing re-opening dates as of June 1st. Regardless of these rumblings, Andrea would hold off on any flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until later in the fall.
European destinations are expected to be less of an option for the remainder of the year. Of course, all of this could change should more outbreaks occur as we re-open commerce and travel across the globe.
Approach Booking with Flexibility in Mind
If you do book a vacation, the consistent advice offered by travel experts is – be flexible.
Although many hotel reservations come with a 48-hour cancellation policy, it will be important to double-check when booking, as these policies are subject to change. It is possible to arrange for 100% fully refundable hotel reservations, but it can add 20-30% to your hotel costs.
Most tour operators offer “cancel for any reason” insurance policies. According to Andrea Wallace, premiums have come down a bit to attract travelers, but some tour companies and hotels still have cancellation fees that can be fairly steep ($400 for a family of 4).
With airline tickets, consider purchasing refundable airfare.
Delta Airlines recently announced if you buy a ticket and then cancel, you will receive the full value of the airfare as a voucher to use by December 31, 2021 – no change fees. In the past, Delta charged a $200 change fee with only one-year to rebook. Of course, as with most announcements these days, the policy could change anytime.
Airlines have taken some precautions for mitigating the spread of the virus on planes. In Delta’s case, through June 30, middle seats are blocked, and main cabins are capped at 60% of full capacity.
As of May 11, the average number of passengers on a US commercial flight is 23, causing the airlines industry to lose almost $400 million per day 2. I was curious, given the huge drop in air travel, if there is an opportunity to book travel farther out with lower ticket prices.
Are there any Travel Deals?
Upon checking Delta’s website, a round-trip, non-stop flight for one from Minneapolis/St Paul to Honolulu, Hawaii the week after Christmas (2020) will run $1,488 for a main cabin seat. Alternatively, a round-trip flight to Tampa, FL scheduled December 6-12, will cost between $266 – $342.
Due to cancelled spring break plans, our family received vouchers to fly on Sun Country Airlines if we book by January. A round trip, direct flight from Minnesota to Tampa, FL is running $415 per ticket during the 3rd week of March, 2021. So, the great deals for holiday and spring break travel (2021) are not being promoted.
For the least expensive options, I checked out Google Flights, and did find round-trip tickets to Las Vegas in August for $75. Of course, that’s a high desert destination in the heat of summer – not the most ideal.
According to my travel agent, airline tickets did drop in March and April, but prices have increased in recent weeks. This could be a classic example of supply and demand. The airlines, understandably, have cancelled so many flights that supply has dropped and there are fewer seats available.
It could be that deals on airfare, hotels and cruises will really pick up in the early-to-mid-term phases of the reopening of the economy. This may be a time when people are apprehensive about venturing away from home.
Overall, travel agents are finding it difficult to advise customers, as this is such an unprecedented time in our history.
Spend Time Exploring – Virtually
Even if you don’t press the “buy” button and book flights to that exotic destination you’ve always dreamed of visiting, just exploring the places you would really like to go is a way to escape from the realities of life in quarantine.
Read up on the different cultures and histories of the places you would like to see. Check out the Virtual Tours listed under the Online Education section of our Community Page for inspiration. Then, when the time is right for you, you will be ready to book that trip and have something to look forward to.
1 Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association, quoted in Washington Post, 4/14/20
2 source: New York Times