While COVID-19-related travel restrictions make it hard to plan a vacation now, the travel industry is doing everything it can to make it attractive — if not now, then very soon. The good news: It's a buyer's market out there.
"This is a unicorn situation for three reasons,” says Lara Barlow, general manager of Travelzoo, a website that creates and vets travel deals. “The deals are never-before-seen amazing, they are all flexible, and they start in what would be considered high season.”
One important caveat: Until travel gets the green light from governments around the globe, potential travelers should proceed with planning under yellow-light caution. Uncertainty about when that will be means you need to think twice before you take the bait on a deal.
Many advisers stress the importance of flexibility, too. “If you want to leave the country, consider a backup in case you cannot,” says Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond, a New York City-based travel agency. “We have several clients who want to stay in a villa in Tuscany or a seaside resort in France who also have a backup in Arizona or California set up, all with a 24-hour cancellation policy."
One key financial consideration: If you cancel a trip, can you afford a postponement? When travelers cancel a refundable trip within penalty-free windows, most companies will offer a voucher for future travel rather than a refund. For many travelers, tying up a significant amount of money for up to a year creates a financial problem.
Among its advice to travel shoppers, the Federal Trade Commission recommends always paying with a credit card, which can offer an extra level of protection if you can't get your money back from a vendor in case of a cancellation, for example. Most credit-card companies offer purchase protection, meaning they would refund you while pursuing reimbursement from a vendor.
While offering discounts, the following four sectors — airlines, hotels, cruises and tours — are also taking steps to address travelers’ concerns. Here's what you need to know before jumping at low-cost deals, as enticing as they might be.
What's new: All of the major and low-cost carriers in the U.S. have implemented new cleaning procedures designed to more thoroughly scrub planes and cleanse them of germs nightly. Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines now use a fogging agent to disinfect cabins before custodians wipe surfaces down. Southwest Airlines says each plane gets more than six hours of cleaning a night. Many carriers are blocking middle seats to allow for social distancing and boarding from the rear rows forward to keep passengers from close contact in the aisles.
The sales pitch: Most airline experts expect prices to remain low for an indeterminant amount of time, pending progress on virus testing and eradication. The airfare prediction app Hopper found the average round-trip flight to Miami this summer at $143, down $115, or 45 percent, versus 2019. It found the average domestic round-trip ticket in April was $205, down 33 percent compared with last year.