Discounts on travel are plentiful, but is it worth buying now when there’s currently no vaccine for COVID-19 and, in some cases, no guarantee you’ll be able to travel safely? If you do your due diligence, you may find that booking now can work to your advantage.
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As social bubbles, provinces and countries slowly open up again, many people are looking to salvage their travel plans for this summer while others think about 2021. Admittedly, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the world, but that isn’t preventing some providers from tempting lockdown-weary Canadians with discount deals on travel and accommodations.
Locking in savings is usually a win for travellers, but is it worth buying now when there’s currently no vaccine for COVID-19 and, in some cases, no guarantee you’ll be able to travel safely? There’s no right or wrong answer, but if you do your due diligence, you may find that booking now can work to your advantage. Here’s what you need to know:
Air travel may or may not be more expensive
Some people think that flying will be more expensive in the future. The theory is that since there will be less demand and airlines will need to follow new health regulations, which may include an empty middle seat, prices will go up.
This is entirely possible, but I did a quick search of various destinations, and I have not noticed prices that I would consider higher than average. I’d argue that prices are going down in some cases as some airlines are eager to get passengers back on board.
Right now, Aeroplan has one of their best promotions ever. If you book an Air Canada flight within Canada or the U.S. with your Aeroplan points before July 1, 2020, you’ll get 50% of your miles back. That means if you book two flight rewards, you’re getting one free. Travel must occur between July 1 through Oct. 15, 2020, and there’s no fee to cancel if you do it by August 31, 2020.
That’s just one offer currently available, but I’m sure there will be more once airspace starts to open up.
Hotels have some of the best deals
Even if you don’t have set dates in mind yet, you should be paying attention to hotel deals as some of the offers are incredible.
One of the best deals out there right now is Fairmont’s Stay Close promotion, where you get every second night free on stays until the end of 2020. There is a one-night prepaid deposit required, but it’s fully refundable. This deal applies to many of the Fairmont hotels, but note that you need to book by June 26, 2020, for some of the properties.
Not to be outdone, Marriott International has off-peak rates only on bookings made by June 30, 2020 at about 5,500 of their worldwide hotels. That’s a savings of up to 33% in points! Travel dates are now through July 31, 2020, but you can get a full refund on your reservation as long as you cancel at least 24 hours in advance of your stay. This is an excellent opportunity if you’re thinking about travelling within Canada or beyond.
Although some of these deals have dates that may be outside of your comfort zone, it doesn’t hurt to make reservations now. Many of the offers I’m seeing have a short booking window, so if you think you might want to take advantage of a deal, do it, since you can cancel later without any fees if the travel you had in mind isn’t yet possible or still feels uncomfortable to you.
Refund policies should be at the top of your list
No matter what type of travel you’re considering in the future, you need to read the refund policy before purchasing anything.
Air Canada is a good example. They recently announced that any future travel credits no longer have an expiry date, and you’re allowed to transfer your credit to another person. If the new fare is lower when rebooking, you will retain the difference in the form of credit. For those booking a holiday through Air Canada Vacations, there’s the optional CareFlexPlus plan that costs $59, which allows you to get a full refund if you cancel your trip at least 25 days before the scheduled departure.
Bargain hunters will usually book with the cheapest third-party travel website or travel agencies, but their refund policies may not be as good as going direct. It may cost you a little more, but having the flexibility of a full refundable trip can give you peace of mind in these especially uncertain times.
Look for deals with long windows
Many deals I’m seeing apply to travel in 2021, so you needn’t feel rushed to take advantage of the savings. Just about every cruise line is offering free upgrades for departures this year and next. I’m talking about room upgrades, free drinks, free WiFi, enhanced dining, free day trips and no gratuities. These perks could easily save you $2,000 on a trip for two. Here are some options to browse:
Universal Orlando Resort’s Get 2 Days Free When You Buy 2 Days promotion allows you to use your tickets by Dec. 17, 2021 with no blackout dates (That’ll save you more than $300 per person.)
Closer to home, all season passes purchased at Canada’s Wonderland are valid for 2020 through 2021, presumably to quell any hesitation about buying a season pass for a partial season at best in 2020.
Although I can’t say for sure, if COVID-19 is still a global pandemic next year, the odds are that many companies will extend their windows or allow you to rebook.
Check for any rules that may be in place
As countries start to welcome visitors, it’s essential to read about any rules that they may have in place.
In the Caribbean, countries such as Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas are already open or will be open to Canadians soon. Although Bermuda and St. Lucia are also accessible, they require you to get a certified negative COVID-19 test before you depart and have travel insurance.
Over in Europe, the travel ban has been slowly lifted, but they’re taking a phased approach by only allowing visitors from select European countries first. Asia appears to be more cautious as not many countries in the region have indicated when they’ll start allowing international visitors.
Keep in mind that if you’re returning to Canada, you need to self-isolate for 14-days. It’s also worth mentioning that Nova Scotia and Manitoba require 14-days of self-isolation even if you’re travelling from within Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island also have the 14-day self-isolation rule in place, but they’re currently not allowing non-residents in unless it’s for essential travel.
As things are constantly changing, it’s best to check directly with the airlines, provinces and countries to see the current rules before you make plans to travel.
Ensure that you’re protected with travel insurance
Travellers who had their flights cancelled due to COVID-19 quickly found out that their travel insurance didn’t automatically qualify them for a full refund. Moving forward, you’ll need to do some extra due diligence to find out what exactly you’re covered for before you book anything.
Some travel insurance providers have already stated that they will not cover any medical expenses related to the novel Coronavirus, as it’s now considered a known issue. Not every insurer has taken this stand, so you need to check with your provider to see if you’ll be covered.
Your health may ground you
By the end of July, passengers departing from airports in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary will be required to take a temperature check. If it appears you have a fever, you’ll need to wait for 10 minutes before retaking the test. A double positive will mean that you’re not allowed to fly for 14 days.
Airlines aren’t charging passengers extra if they need to rebook, but if you’re grounded on the day of your departure, it may be too late to get a refund on some of your travel arrangements.
There are some great travel opportunities available now, but you need to ensure that you have a plan B—and even a plan C—in case things don’t go as you envision.