Over the last two years, those of us who are regular business and/or pleasure travelers have been forced to change our travel plans more times than we care to count. At this juncture, we’ve all felt the sting of canceled long-awaited vacations, postponed conferences that we were really looking forward to, and missed time with family. And in many cases we just didn’t see it coming — positive tests or exposures often resulted in last-minute cancellations that we weren’t ready for. But as we head towards summer of 2022, things are looking good. Many of us are vaccinated + boosted, cases are dropping, and cities worldwide are reducing requirements for masks and negative tests. If you’re ready to grab your bags and go… well, anywhere, we feel you. But, is now the best time to book travel?
With so much uncertainty in the world right now, it’s normal to feel anxious about hitting the ‘buy’ button — but travel experts agree it’s okay to move forward. If we want to manifest sunny beaches in the summer, a cabin retreat in the fall, or a family gathering for the holidays, it’s safe to plan those getaways now — with some caveats and some “must know” details before you book. Here’s how to strategize, protect your finances, and get out of town.
Book as soon as you can, and look for the keyword “refundable”
If you haven’t started to at least research your travel visions, you may already be behind the curve, says Lou Eppelsheimer, the director of sales and marketing at The Gant Aspen. “The best advice we could give to anyone is to book travel as early as possible to get the best rates and have the most options when choosing accommodations. Last-minute deals will be few and far between,” he says.
Most importantly, check (and double-check!) the cancellation and modification policies for hotels and airlines. “Do not expect a hotel to refund or modify a booking due to local mask mandates, fear of travel, or even a positive COVID test result,” Eppelsheimer says.
Though he notes most hospitality giants are still generous with their fine print, it’s worthwhile to confirm — and get it in writing — before you commit to the trip. With this in mind, it’s also vital to be aware that booking travel during a pandemic presents added risk, making travel insurance an intelligent investment. But beware that some travel insurance policies don’t cover COVID — at this juncture it’s a “foreseeable event,” and some policies only cover things you didn’t see coming, like a broken leg or another unexpected injury.
“There are policies available that will cover positive COVID test results and/or isolation periods, so make sure this is included in your quote,” Eppelsheimer says. “It is also a good idea to book travel insurance as early as possible because some policies cannot be purchased within a certain amount of time before your travel commences.”
Again, take a magnifying glass to that fine print and figure out which policy makes the most sense for your vacation.
Continue to practice patience
When you arrive at your destination, remember that just because you were able to get on a plane doesn’t mean that things are “back to normal.” Dining out and attending events still look different than they did in years past. As much as you can, continue to practice patience with longer wait times, menu changes, mask mandates, and many other ‘new normals.’ In fact, on Yelp, mentions of staffing (understaffed, short-handed, etc.) increased 340% in 2021… In other words, don’t be the person who spent COVID forgetting how to cut small business owners some much-deserved slack. “Many restaurants are excited to have guests back but have had to adapt their menus or change their operating hours to accommodate factors outside of their control like labor and supply demands,” says Tara Lewis, a Yelp trend expert.
And if you’re renting a car, specifically? Be prepared for the shortage of rental cars when you get there. This makes reservations absolutely necessary since gone are the days when you can just walk up and snag a ride on the fly, says Kara Harms, a travel blogger. “Reserve your car rental as soon as you book a flight, versus waiting until closer to your date to ensure you get the best price and you get the car,” she says.
Check (and double-check) COVID-19 policies and testing
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the COVID policies for different businesses and parts of the world vary widely — and wildly. To avoid headaches and hiccups on your journey, Lewis says travelers should take extra time before they arrive at a location to make certain all mask and vaccination policies are fully understood.
If you’re traveling out of the country, remember that the United States still requires a negative PCR test for your way home. Some hotels and airlines may offer these tests at an additional cost, but do you really want to wait until the last minute when you’re already at the airport? Savvy travelers always try to check off the boxes for smooth sailing. And on that note, make sure you print out your necessary documents, rather than depending on the QR code on your phone. “Although you will probably have records of your COVID test results handy on your smartphone, if your phone dies or the connection is poor, having printed back-up will be helpful while you’re juggling your passport, boarding pass, luggage tags and other travel documents,” Lewis says.
If you can, book non-stop flights only
It’s hard to miss the ongoing news of thousands (upon thousands!) of flight cancellations over the past few months. There are lots of factors at play here: staffing shortages, crew members testing positive for COVID, and of course, weather. Though you can’t predict when delays or changes, Harms says your best bet is to avoid connections. “Booking a nonstop flight reduces the risk of one leg getting canceled or delayed to the point it throws your trip off, or your luggage gets lost in the mix,” she says.
Be mindful of seasonality
Before booking your accommodation, consider what you want out of your trip, says Prasun Choudhary, the president of OYO International. Want to avoid crowds? Have a more relaxed experience? Suppose you want a more authentic experience, perhaps during the months after summer, but before the holiday rush. In that case, Choudhary says travelers have access to cheaper rates, as well as the chance for a more authentic experience. “Traveling during the off-season is perfect for anyone who has ever wanted to live like a local,” he continues. “For the most part, visitors will find there are fewer crowds and foot traffic, more affordable dining, and more access to activities and hot spots.”
More on HerMoney:
- 6 Travel Agents on the Biggest Financial Travel Mistakes Most People Make
- Podcast: Travel Savings Secrets from an Instagram Influencer
- 6 Strategic Ways to Save on Summer Travel This Year
SUBSCRIBE: Looking for more financial insights in a judgment free zone? Subscribe to HerMoney today!