Let’s be honest – we all thought this would be over by now. The dawning of 2021 was meant to be the moment the world could start putting ‘pandemic year’ 2020 behind it like a bad dream, and everyone could move forward getting life back to normal.
After being cooped up at home for so long, one thing a lot of people were looking forward to this year was traveling again. Certainly, the hard-hit travel industry was hoping it would be able to start recouping some of the billions of dollars lost as international tourism plummeted by 80% in 2020.
We now know things aren’t going to be that straightforward. Yes, there are vaccines, yes some countries are making a good go of ‘returning to normal’, yes there is light at the end of the tunnel. But COVID-19 is still with us, and so are the tight restrictions on movement required to keep it under control.
That doesn’t mean we definitely won’t be able to hit the trail again and treat ourselves to a dream vacation in 2021 (there’s no question we deserve it!) But for now, so much remains up in the air. Should we even be making travel plans yet? If we do, what do we need to know? How do we cover ourselves if things don’t go as planned?
Planning a trip might be just what you need to keep your spirits up and give you something to look forward to. But it is equally important to be practical and accept the risks and limitations that we are all facing right now. After all, you don’t want your travel dreams to end in tears.
Here are some top tips for getting your travel plans right in 2021.
Opt for Flexible Fares
One of the hallmarks of the budget airline era has been the dominance of fixed date, fixed flight tickets sold with no refund available. It’s one of the ways that operators have been able to push down air fares.
In doing so, the so-called ‘open’ ticket – something you can still commonly find with rail travel – has all but been eliminated in the airline industry. Notable exceptions are when you buy a ‘round-the-world’ ticket granting you a fixed number of flights, and you pick the dates later.
While it might be very, very unusual to find fully ‘open’ tickets for standard air travel these days that let you pick and choose dates after purchase, something of this approach is creeping back in the form of flexible tickets. Rather than giving you free rein over your travel plans, these types of tickets tend to come with no cancellation fee (or at least a heavily reduced fee), allowing you to re-book on a one-off basis if you need to.
You might have to pay a little more up front, but the benefits of this flexibility while COVID is still an issue are obvious.
Look for No-Deposit Accommodation
Similar to airlines offering more and more flexible fares to encourage bookings during the pandemic, more and more accommodation providers are realising that charging guests up front, either full fee or a deposit, is a sure-fire way to drive away custom.
Platforms like Booking.com have long been well known for offering free reservations (and cancellations) on a large selection of accommodation.
Consider a Package Holiday
Many people still swear by package holidays. But there is no doubt that the rise of online booking platforms has led to an explosion in ‘independent travel’ over the best two decades – or in other words, people booking transport and accommodation directly themselves, without using a third-party travel agent.
A lot of people love the flexibility this gives them. The problem is that, in the current circumstances, you might find all the no-deposit hotel reservations in the destination you are looking at get snapped up very quickly, while flexible flight tickets might be out of your budget range.
Rather than creating added stress for yourself trying to match flights and accommodation in what is a very unpredictable market, package holidays have always had the advantage of being easy and convenient. Industry regulations also state that, in the event of a cancellation caused by lockdown restrictions, you should be entitled to a refund, although there are plenty of stories around from last year of people struggling to get their money back or being offered a rebooking instead.
Make Sure Your Travel Insurance Is Fit For Purpose
No one should assume that the heightened risk of cancellations caused by COVID is going to go away any time in 2021. While flexible fares, no-deposit accommodation bookings and the right to a refund on package holidays mitigate some of the financial risks of booking a trip abroad this year, they don’t cover all eventualities.
Travel insurance does – as long as you take out a policy with a comprehensive cancellation schedule that explicitly includes COVID-related circumstances, that is. Not all policies will by any means, so read the terms and conditions carefully. What you are looking for is full cover for cancellations for all causes, whether it’s local lockdown restrictions, travel bans imposed by authorities, or you or a family member falling sick with COVID yourselves.
Speaking of which, travel insurance also has the added benefit of protecting you against medical expenses if you catch the virus and fall ill while abroad – although again, that depends on picking the right policy.
One thing to consider at the moment, to hedge your bets against as to when you might actually get away, is to take out annual travel insurance, rather than cover for a single trip. Like a flexible air fare, it gives you that safety net of not being totally tied to a specific date. As a bonus, annual policies tend to also be ‘multi-trip’ policies, covering you for several journeys within a 12 month period.
Why not be optimistic? You might get to travel more than once after all! Click here for more information.