Can I plan a vacation this year?
It’s a question a lot of people are asking. But before you book, there are a few factors to consider.
“My husband and I had a trip planned to Alaska for our 20th anniversary. We visited Alaska in 2010 for our 10th anniversary and we thought, let’s go back for our 20th. Well, things changed,” Deborah Aragon explained.
Her frustration is a feeling a lot of people can relate to right now as many try to decide whether to cancel or plan vacations in 2020.
The spread of COVID-19 forced many to postpone or cancel trips, with no promised dates when things might open up again.
“My husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, so what a better way to celebrate than a Mediterranean cruise. We were really looking forward to that,” Christine Jensen said. “At the time we booked it, none of us had even heard the term COVID-19.”
This spring, cruise lines canceled trips and hotels saw a mass cancellation of rooms.
International flights from North America dropped over 50% compared to March last year, according to the International Air Transport Association.
“Some people came to me and they were just like ‘I want to cancel, I want all my money back, I can’t travel because of the COVID virus.’ And then other people were like ‘What should I do? I’m going to be going to Spain in June. Is that safe?’ and I didn't have straight answers for everybody,” said Heather Travis, Senior Travel Agent with Globe Getaways. “From the beginning of March, it was just nonstop cancellations or postponements.”
Travis said the reason a lot of people were canceling was different from what you might expect.
“Not wanting to go someplace and have to be quarantined or go someplace and not have the restaurants open and get the experience they were looking for, that is more of the issue than people worried about getting the virus,” she said.
“It’s not COVID-19 that makes me concerned about getting on the ship,” Jensen said.
“If we were to end up going, would we be able to do all the things we planned on doing or would we be quarantined in our hotel for two weeks,” Aragon explained.
As international economies begin to open back up, Travis said there are ways for you to plan trips with some peace of mind.
“I am not comfortable booking any trips before September,” Travis said. “Right now is a great time to plan a trip and dream about a trip and take the time off for a trip, but maybe right now is not the right time to deposit on a trip.”
Instead, she said, wait until three or four weeks before the planned trip date to book and pay for everything.
“You know the country is open, you know our borders are open. It’s a pretty good chance this is all going to be just fine. That’s when you pay for the whole trip,” she said.
Travis also said if you are planning an international trip right now, it’ll be easier if you already have a passport. Many passport offices are also affected by closures and stay-at-home orders, making requests take longer.
As for canceling trips, Travis said it’s all about timing.
“Cancel a trip early versus you wait for the company or airline to cancel for you. It is typically much more favorable for you to wait,” she said. “You’re going to get more money back if you time it right.”
According to Travis, one of the smartest moves you can make right now is paying attention to insurance. Many “cancel for any reason” coverage options no longer cover COVID-19.
“If you had bought your insurance in November, December, January, COVID-19 would have been an ‘any reason.’ But at some point, the insurance companies say, OK, that’s a pandemic and we’re not going to cover pandemics, we’re not going to cover anything COVID, you can’t cancel because you’re afraid of COVID,” she said.
“We’re definitely going to take a closer look at refund policies going forward before we book our next trip,” Jensen said.
Whether you’re canceling a trip, postponing one for a later date, or planning one for the future, it’s important to time things right and read all the details.
“The lesson learned through my experience and talking to other people whose plans have changed or will change, is being flexible and kind of going with the flow. We can’t really control what’s happening,” Aragon said. “You just kind of have to roll with it.”
The CDC updates guidelines for travel safety here.