Apr 15, 2020

Stay flexible when it comes to post- Coronavirus travel planning

 Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City

Now that most of us are finished undoing our travel plans for the coming months, it's a good time to think ahead to when we might again travel, and how to strategize for an uncertain future. 

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, no one thought anything about scheduling a trip nine months to a year or more in advance. Family obligations, school schedules and work vacations dictated advance planning. Incentives from tour companies and cruise lines encouraged early reservations. Flights were booked months out. Vacation rentals required non-refundable deposits. 

All this will change as travelers look for ways to replace locked-in, long-term commitments with flexible plans and last-minute bookings.

Where to start? For those with the luxury of time and money to think about future travel, one idea is to put together plans for a mix of local and international trips that could be shuffled around, replaced, tweaked or cancelled with little or no risk. 

Amsterdam: Maybe next year

For summer or fall, for instance, I'll put together a list of Northwest destinations within driving distance of our home in Seattle. A weekend on the Long Beach Peninsula or a trip along the Oregon Coast seem more realistic than rescheduling a trip to Europe, although if things should miraculously change, I could put something together fairly quickly, one advantage of having several plans in the hopper ready to go.

Puebla, Mexico

There's a family wedding celebration scheduled in Ohio for August.  I'll put that down as a "maybe," but hold off on buying an airline ticket.  Thanksgiving? Who knows, especially if the virus pops up again in late fall. More realistic might be to plan for January. Perhaps we will will lay the groundwork for a trip to Mexico or Hawaii, pay for nothing in advance, and be prepared to switch plans at the last minute, and drive to Mount Rainier instead. 

Everyone's comfort level with travel will be different, just as it was after 9/11. How and when we book air travel in post-Coronavirus will pose one of the biggest challenges.

There's rarely been any reason to book flights more than eight weeks in advance, but people do, either because they fear fares may rise, or because they don't feel like a trip is nailed down until the flights are booked. With airlines adjusting schedules, fares and cancellation policies almost weekly, now is not the time to book months ahead. Learn what the words "non-refundable" mean, and be prepared for the consequences.

Most airlines waived fees for customers who had to change or cancel flights due to Coronavirus travel restrictions. But baring another big surge in infections, that's unlikely to happen again, and if it does, the windows for rebooking could be shorter, and come with strings attached.

Delta recently announced it will waive change fees for tickets purchased through the end of May. This sounds like a good insurance policy for future travel. However, if the fare is higher when you rebook, you'll be charged the higher price. If the fare drops, you're still pay your original fare, with no credit for the difference. 

Best advice: 

*Don't book air travel too far in advance. Wait for schedules and fares to shake out closer to the time you plan to travel. 

*Stay away from the cash-strapped budget airlines for now. They could stop flying anytime, and leave you stranded with no way to get home or worthless vouchers for future travel.  This especially applies to some of the European budget carriers. 

*Skip the "saver" or "basic economy" fares for now. The savings aren't that great vs. the hassle factor of unassigned seats, baggage restrictions and strict cancellation policies. 

*Know your rights should an airline cancel your flight, and not offer you a suitable rebooking (U.S. and European government rules mandate cash refunds, not vouchers).  

When it comes to lodging, avoid non-refundable reservations. Third-party sites such as Booking.com and Expedia.com and many hotel websites often show discounted rates for making non-refundable bookings. Avoid these for now, along with non-refundable rates on rental cars and non-refundable deposits on tours and cruses.

Before buying travel insurance, check on what's covered. Unless you buy an expensive "cancel for any reason" policy, you won't be covered just because you decide not to take a trip.  After 9/11, some companies started selling policies that covered cancellations due to terrorist attacks. I would expect some policies to begin addressing pandemics. 

With these caveats in mind, start planning your next few trips. Read, watch videos, listen to travel podcasts, research blogs or take a class on a destination that interests you. 

Paris: Notre- Dame before the fire

I recently signed up for an online University of Washington class on Paris architecture. When I sit down to listen to the lectures and view the power points of familiar streets and landmarks, I'm transported, not in quite the same way as being there, but close enough for now, and far away from the news about the Coronavirus. 


  1. Very helpful perspectives, Carol. I fear for the relaxing little cafes in the 7th Arrondissment -- everywhere, in fact.

  2. Good advice and a similar approach to ours. With the EU borders remaining closed we are at best hoping for some in country travel and have given up on return flights to the US for awhile. We found a steal of a deal on British Air for August and booked our flights Athens-Seattle RT directly with the airline but when payment was made got a message that all transactions were taking 72 hours to process. Guess what? 72 came and went as did the steal of a deal price and we never got a reservation. Inquiries (surprise, surprise) have gone unanswered. Yes, be flexible!!

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