Your Top 5 Pandemic Travel Questions Answered
Your top 5 Travel Questions Answered – an interview with travel expert, Corinne Stevenson
You had a dream. You were going to take your family on THE dream vacation. After years of saving, sacrificing annual beach vacations, paying hundreds of dollars to get everyone passports and gifting luggage to your family this past Christmas, it is finally time! The payoff is here. The dream vacation is only weeks away and then the unthinkable happens… a pandemic hits and the world shuts down. This scenario is playing out in real time for many and we are left with lots of travel questions! Do you cancel? Do you wait for your trip to be postponed? With all of this uncertainty, we went straight to the expert, Corinne Stevenson, co-owner of Outfitters Adventure Travel In Lititz, PA to get answers to our top 5 travel questions!
Question: Corinne, what should we do if we have an international trip booked in the next 3 – 6 months? Should we wait for the booking group (such as AAA) to cancel or postpone, or make the decision on our own?
Answer: At this time, for any travel between now and June I am encouraging people to “wait and see”. I have noticed a pattern that people who cancel too quickly, before the trip is actually cancelled by the vendor, don’t get the best refund or credit offers. The people who hold off until I get an announcement of a cruise being cancelled, a country closing its borders, flights being cancelled, etc are given either a more than 100% future travel credit or the option of a full refund, OR a combination of both.
For trips planned July and later, it is much more likely that they will actually be safe to travel, so again just hold off unless the terms of your booking REQUIRE you to make a decision about cancelling by a certain date or risking money already paid.
NORMAL terms and conditions within the industry are changing constantly, almost daily even, mostly for trips with travel dates prior to May 31st, but even cruise lines have extended cancellation terms for sailings further into the summer.
Due to the constant changes happening and new information being put out there, it is becoming clear that people are confused and unsure of what their options are. If they booked with a professional travel planner, that person will be on top of all of the current news and advisories and can best advise their clients as to what they can or should do.
Q: How does travel insurance factor into all of this?
A: Travel Insurance can be a gray area even in normal times. Most people either say “yes” or “no” when offered travel insurance without really reading or understanding what is or is not included or covered in the policy. Epidemics and Pandemics are listed under standard insurance policies as a NON-Covered reason for cancellation, which most people never knew until recently. There are Cancel For Any Reason policies available, but they are more expensive than the standard plans and most people decline those simply because of cost and the fact that they are positive when they book the trip that unless someone becomes sick, gets injured or they have a death in the family that they are 100% going on that trip. They have no intention of having to cancel for any other reason.
Also, you cannot purchase a Cancel for Any Reason insurance policy more than 7-14 days after booking your trip, so it’s too late for people who already have trips booked. And many insurance companies are temporarily halting the sale of these policies for new trips booked!
Q: Do airlines refund your flights or credit you for another flight in the future, OR do you lose the money spent on that flight?
A: It depends on WHERE and WHEN the flight is booked for. Most airlines are offering for guests to rebook for another date with no change fees, some are allowing a full refund and some are allowing a future travel credit good for one year from the date the tickets were booked, but again, these terms vary based on the destination and the date. So it is best to check with your booking agent or with the airline’s website to see their “Coronavirus/COVID-19 Travel Updates” say. They are constantly updating as things change.
Q: Should families be planning trips for this fall and winter while flights are low? Is now a good time to save money on future travel plans?
A: YES! Now is a great time to start planning a trip for Fall 2020 and Winter 2020/2021. The industry needs people to come back. They are relying on future travel bookings. Booked NOW to ensure their survival. Make sure you understand the terms of the booking and take Cancel For Any Reason insurance if it’s available to you.
Q: And finally, as far as domestic travel is concerned… should people be flying domestically and/or staying in hotels as long as they are using proper sanitation standards? What about early summer domestic beach trips?
A: This is a tough one…..Disney and Universal Studios and other major domestic theme parks are closed temporarily, as are local beaches, even in New Jersey right now. And several states with the requirements of restaurants and other non-life sustaining businesses to be closed, there would be nothing to do if you did travel there. Hawaii just announced that anyone arriving on to the islands is required to be quarantined for 14 days! So, a one week vacation in Hawaii requires a 14 day quarantine before you can even go around and tour the place! No word yet on the exact details of who will be responsible for paying for these people to stay additional days and how long this new requirement will last.
Which is why I am encouraging anyone who asks me, to not book a trip ANYWHERE until after June 1st at this point.
If you do make plans to travel domestically to one of these places, again, I urge consumers to make sure they understand what they are booking. A Non-refundable rate is going to be less expensive in most cases, but non-refundable means Non-refundable. Even in these times, they aren’t always very flexible.
A huge thank you to Corinne for taking the time to answer our travel questions! If you have additional questions regarding vacation planning, contact Corinne Stevenson with Outfitter Adventure Travel! In these unprecedented times, we know many of our members feel stress and anxiety about their finances. If you have any questions about your accounts or loans at BCFCU, please contact our Member Service Representatives and expert Loan Officers. We WILL get through this together!