It's less risky to book future travel right now than you might think.
The #Covid-19 pandemic has put all but essential travel on hold, and no one can yet answer when we'll be free to go away again. But should we be planning future travel now?
The short answer is YES. You can start planning and booking today, depending on your flexibility, risk tolerance and willingness to take an active role in following the latest developments. Airlines, my bespoke travel partners, tour operators, hotels and more are offering flexibility that I've not seen in my 30 years of travel and 12 years in the industry.
Cheap flights, low risk
The deals are pretty astounding. For what is considered peak travel seasons, summer and festive, flights I'm seeing to Europe and South America for a few hundred dollars round-trip. And people are actually booking them. Why not? The cancellation policies, which are usually very strict are where I think they should be all of the time: in the incredibly flexible zone.
Pre-COVID-19 crisis, every time you have to change or cancel a flight, you would normally pay a few hundred dollars to change plus any fare difference.Now, the majority of major US carriers are offering free change fees and cancellations!
And it's important to remember that if a flight is canceled and there's no reasonable rebooking option, airlines are required by law to issue you a refund. Please, don't take a voucher or a credit when you're entitled to get your money back. Airlines may entice you to take the credit, by offering bonuses, but the choice is ALWAYS yours.
Hotels, too, are loosening up their relatively fair cancellation and rebooking policies.
Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, wrote to customers on April 8, "For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between March 13 and June 30, 2020, we will allow the reservation to be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date."
**This is important because pre-paid rates are usually discounted and nonrefundable.**
Planning is good for your soul.
Saving money and added flexibility are pretty nice carrots to book now for travel later in the year. But there's another benefit: Planning a trip can make you happy.
According to an Applied Research in Quality of Life study, published in 2010, "For most, the enjoyment starts weeks, even months before the holiday actually begins."
So, if you decide to make travel plans, you're very likely to experience this "pre-trip happiness."
The study goes on to report, "Need theory can explain the pre-trip high if one assumes that we have an innate need for wandering, possibly a leftover of our hunter-gatherer past and that this need can already be partially gratified by anticipation."
In fact, I just spoke with one of my favorite on-the-ground teams in Australia and they are booking out into 2021 WITH NO TRIP DEPOSIT! This is zero-risk and what a great trip to look forward to.
So who is booking what?
Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso, an international travel agency network with 1,100 agency locations, reports that their clients fall into one of three groups: "About one-third are canceling outright, a third are postponing and a third are in 'wait-and-see' mode."
The last two groups are, for the most part, going to travel nine months from now, most people are looking to rebook within a year.
"The people who are wait-and-see mode are actually closer in and who aren't canceling or postponing because if the trip is canceled for you, you are entitled to more benefits."
I am bracing for an influx of bookings in the next six to eight weeks. And those bookings are likely to be for travel during the winter holiday season, late November to early January.