Should you really book that incredible travel deal right now?

Mar 18, 2020

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Want to fly between Houston and Newark for $30? How about a $22 transcontinental flight? And a flight from the New York City area to London? That starts at a cool $111 all-in.

You don’t have to be an aviation analyst to know that that those prices are significantly lower than normal. You can also probably guess why with 100% certainty. In many cases, the low fares extend into the normally peak summer months, if not beyond. While no one knows how long coronavirus will have an affect on daily life around the world, the hope is that it will, at some point, lessen its grip.

So, should you be guessing when the situation will improve and taking advantage of some of the outrageous travel deals available right now?

Maybe. But also, maybe not.

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Avoid near-term travel

I don’t care if an airline is offering free flights right now: Unless you absolutely must travel to relocate to a better location for the duration of the outbreak, or for a medical reasons, no price is worth a leisure trip at the moment due to the priority of social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.

If you’re curious, here’s TPG’s official stance on travel at the moment:

The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips.

Health officials note the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel.

We support the travel industry and want to be there for it and encourage more trips, but only when the time is right.

Instead of traveling right now, we suggest this is the time to plan your next vacation. You don’t have to book yet, but figure out where you want to go and map out the right strategy for building up the right points and miles for those trips.

TPG can guide travelers through this process. We’ll share the news when it’s time to start booking, but at least for the short term let’s all do as much as we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that includes hitting pause on travel.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

Know the change policies

Once you start looking at potential travel deals further out on the calendar, you still need to be mindful of change and cancellation policies.

While no one knows when “normal” will return, if you spot an appealing travel deal for later in the year, just be sure it’s either so cheap you won’t mind walking away, or there’s a generous change or cancellation fee waiver in place. When it comes to booking airfare, most U.S. airlines are waiving change fees on future travel booked right now. I recommend booking directly with the airlines to cut down on the extra hassle you might encounter when reserving travel through a third-party site.

The change policies, however, aren’t consistent across the industry. They vary from airline to airline, from one hotel chain to the next, and you’ll find them to be vastly different from cruise lines to vacation rental sites. So, read the fine print before swiping your travel rewards credit card on a future travel deal.

Related: The best credit cards that offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage

Can you tie up more money in travel?

Even if the travel deal you want is changeable, think long and hard about whether now is the time to tie up more of your funds in travel. Changeable and fully refundable aren’t the same things, so carefully evaluate your personal situation in these ever-changing times before giving a travel company more of your cash.

If you’re using points or miles to book an incredible deal, that equation shifts since you can’t typically eat your miles or use them to pay rent — well, unless you’re cashing in for a fancy premium cabin award where the airline may indeed feed you pretty well once this event is over. If you’re using a travel voucher, miles or have the budget to put aside funds for future travel, that’s a very different scenario than if you are struggling to stock up your pantry with necessities.

For example, those normally almost impossible to book premium cabin awards might be more bountiful than ever at the moment. There’s probably nothing wrong with scooping up some of those awards for travel later this year as long as you’re comfortable with the change and cancellation stipulations.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Air Tahiti Nui business class awards are wide open (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Do you know where you want to travel?

Six weeks ago, most of us were probably avoiding trips to Asia, as COVID-19 intensified there first. Then we canceled trips to South Korea, Japan, Iran, and later Italy and other parts of Europe.

Now, the U.S. has growing hot spots of its own, while some parts of Asia are (hopefully) beginning to round the corner of this crisis. Disney World in Florida, for example, just closed its doors to the public on Sunday night, while Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since Jan. 25. But as Cinderella Castle in Florida enters its period of darkness, Shanghai Disneyland is showings signs of a phased reopening. As the first step toward welcoming back guests, the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, Wishing Star Park and some shopping, dining and recreational experiences have recently resumed limited operations.

Disney's castle in Shanghai. (Photo by Dia Adams)
Disney’s castle in Shanghai. (Photo by Dia Adams)

This one example shows that it’s hard to guess which parts of the world will be ready for tourists before others. So, before you book a travel deal, just think about whether you really know where you’ll want to travel. Of course, if you make very flexible plans, you may not need a crystal ball to start booking future travel.

Related: Should I travel? Advice for the coronavirus outbreak

Bottom line

I’m a deal hunter. I love the thrill of finding and booking a travel bargain. I’m also a serious supporter of the travel industry and want to see it emerge from the other side of this crisis in one piece.

But even I am being very conservative about booking new travel at this juncture, despite the tempting deals. There are just so many unknowns. There’s also the reality that I still have some travel already booked for later in 2020, so I’d rather wait and see if that happens as planned and apply those travel credits elsewhere if needed, than put any substantial amount of additional dollars on the table. That said, you may find me speculatively making some future award travel plans that I’m OK with changing if the situation warrants.

I’m not 100% opposed to picking up very inexpensive or truly refundable deals later in the year, and I’m much more likely to use miles or less flexible points to book some award travel deals than spend large amounts of cash — at least until we’re closer to the other side of this trying tunnel.

Featured image by SasinParaksa/Getty Images.

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