3 simple ways to pandemic-proof your holiday travel
Dreaming of a trip to Israel? Sorry, it’s closed to international travelers for two weeks, and there’s now a quarantine requirement. Planning a vacation to Morocco in the near future? That country has restricted air travel entirely for two weeks.
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The omicron variant has people understandably concerned about their travel plans, as several countries have put travel restrictions in place in response to the new coronavirus strain, which may be more contagious than others before it.
And even if you can get into a destination, you may be faced with rigorous testing or quarantine requirements — and simply getting back to the U.S. could be more difficult.
There's a lot that's up in the air in advance of the busy holiday season, as countries try to balance public health precautions with the economic drawbacks of new restrictions and closures. But there are some easy ways to safeguard your holiday travel plans and be prepared no matter what happens in the next few weeks.
Book your trip using points and miles
We talk a lot about using your hard-earned points and miles, and it isn’t simply because we love saving money and flying in first class.
If you have to cancel your trip at the last minute, you can usually get your points and miles back pretty easily. The vast majority of airline loyalty programs, from domestic programs such as United MileagePlus to foreign programs like Singapore’s KrisFlyer, will typically refund miles from canceled award tickets instantly.
Some, like ANA Mileage Club and Avianca LifeMiles, will refund award tickets within seven days.
Just note that airlines can charge fees to redeposit miles, though these fees are often waived for travelers who hold elite status with the airline.
And that policy doesn’t only extend to air travel -- your hotel booking is covered as well. Most hotel award nights can be canceled until shortly before your stay is scheduled to begin.
Changing or canceling travel plans booked with points and miles is easy; unlike booking through an online travel association, you can reach out directly to your airline or hotel about your reservation. And, if you’re an elite member, you may be able to speak to a representative sooner. This can save you hours of waiting, particularly during the holidays.
Booking my personal travel with points and miles has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when it came time to cancel. Just days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March 2020, I canceled a bucket-list trip to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airways, which I’d booked using my Aeroplan miles.
Shortly after canceling, Aeroplan credited the miles back to my account, and I got a refund for the taxes I’d paid on the award ticket a few days later.
Sure, had I booked with cash I would have likely gotten my money back, but it would have been much more of a hassle.
Purchase travel insurance
Travel insurance is an excellent way to safeguard your travel investment.
Unfortunately, not all travel insurance plans cover COVID-19-related expenses, even if your trip was booked with a credit card or purchased from a third-party provider. For that coverage, you’ll need to search for a plan that specifically covers COVID-19.
Insurance marketplace websites like InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth can help you pick a plan that best fits your travel needs and your budget. Generally, a plan costs between 4% and 12% of your total trip expenses, depending on the plan you purchase. So, if you spent $2,000 on your holiday trip, expect to pay between $80 and $240 for a standard, comprehensive travel insurance plan.
If you want flexibility — say, you don’t want to travel due to the new variant — you should consider purchasing a cancel-for-any-reason policy. This add-on is exactly what it sounds like -- you can cancel for any reason, including the pandemic. However, this isn’t insurance you can buy on the way to the airport to catch your flight. As we’ve previously written, you usually have to purchase cancel for any reason insurance within 14 to 21 days of making your initial payment on vacation expenses.
You also have to insure 100% of your trip costs in addition to canceling your trip at least 48 hours before departure time to receive a refund of up to 75% of the trip cost.
Avoid nonrefundable travel
That bargain fare could end up costing you money.
With so much uncertainty in travel right now, situations like the new variant are also why we strongly advise against booking nonrefundable trips. Don’t get me wrong: A deal can be great. But oftentimes, the cheapest rates and fares also come with the most restrictions. And they aren’t just limitations like not being able to check a bag or pick your seat. You typically won’t get your money back for a nonrefundable booking -- even if your plans change due to something outside of your control.
There are ways to salvage your plans, such as changing the dates of your trip, but you’re still on the hook for the cost of the flight.
Nonrefundable travel can make sense sometimes, especially if you managed to snag a dirt-cheap flight. But with travel up in the air right now, it might make sense to spend more money on a refundable ticket for peace of mind.