Summer is coming, and especially for those who are vaccinated, so is the urge to travel for the first time with some sense of “normalcy.” Early in the year, as lockdowns began to ease, airlines, hotels and resorts were offering relatively easy cancellation policies with minimal financial risk, giving people more flexibility due to the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Now that vaccinations are increasing and states are opening more widely, however, GOBankingRates asked experts whether travelers face a greater risk of losing money to more restrictive cancellation policies and the uncertainty of the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say.
Flexible Cancellation Policies Are Still in Effect
The good news about travel at this time is that “the proven effectiveness of the COVID-10 vaccinations has given the travel industry a significant boost,” according to Giacomo Piva, CMO and co-founder of Radical Storage, a global luggage storage network and travel industry expert. This translates to an increase in consumer confidence and increased travel bookings.
It also means that certain COVID-19 protocols to protect health and safety will remain in place, such as contactless airport technology, increased hygiene and possibly a prolonged use of mask wearing, Piva says.
It seems likely that airlines in particular will continue to offer flexible cancellation polices, says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, a travel site that provides analysis, data and reviews to travel. “If you cancel a flight now, you retain the amount as a credit for future travel. In general, it’s a no-brainer to book air travel now. Most hotels are offering very flexible cancellation policies,” and, Miller adds, these policies can often be waived at the property level with a simple phone call.
Things Could Change Quite Easily
Just because things remain somewhat flexible, however, does not mean travelers should take for granted that travel is risk-free right now. “I strongly believe that flexibility with travel plans is still super important,” says Torben Lonne, founder of DIVEIN.com, an online scuba magazine. “We don’t know if the world could shut down again or what things will definitively look like a few months from now, so it’s in your best interest to purchase the ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage when buying your plane ticket.”
This coverage guarantees a partial reimbursement, no matter the reason for your cancellation, he explains. “Without it, you risk getting zero money back when cancelling.”
He said that there has been a significant increase in travelers buying this kind of coverage. “Since the start of 2020, roughly 15% of all purchases included a ‘cancel for any reason’ upgrade. By comparison only about 4% of policies purchased in 2019 included this coverage.”
Buy Travel Insurance
International travel is a bit sketchier than domestic travel, according to Rex Freiberger, CEO of The Call Of, a travel and lifestyle guide dedicated to helping people connect with other cultures. “The global south doesn’t have the same access to the vaccine because of the patents the U.S. filed. Countries like India are wracked by the virus more than a year after the pandemic started. Even if you’re planning an international trip to a country that has similar vaccine rates to the U.S., they may not permit you if you’re a U.S. citizen who’s not vaccinated.”
Think Ahead: How To Budget and Plan For a Vacation in 2021
“Comprehensive travel insurance will be essential for those looking to take holidays through 2021 and beyond,” Piva agrees. “It will be important to check the policy details; ensuring cover for cancellations that occur as a result of illness. The arrangement of ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage is recommended. The costs of failure to arrange such coverage could run into the thousands.”
In fact, travel without insurance, according to Ojas Mhatre, co-founder of travel platform Unstumbled.com, “could cost you up to 80% of your hotel costs and up to 100% of your flight costs. To contain the financial risks of travel, it’s imperative that you buy your travel insurance in advance.”
Travel Prep: 10 Financial To-Dos Before Going on a Trip
Additionally, vaccination passports are in the works, according to Holly Zorbas, assistant editor at CreditDonkey. “They may be compulsory for travel in the future. They would offer evidence of immunization, similar to how you need a passport to go overseas.”
Really, booking travel now may be the least risky it will be for some time, says Miller. “In general, my mantra is book now, think later. Cancellation policies are some of the most flexible we have seen in years, and it will pay to take advantage of them now.”