Book Now, Travel Later: Coronavirus is Driving Flight Deals and Flexibility
coronavirus flight deals

Book Now, Travel Later: Coronavirus is Driving Flight Deals and Flexibility


The rapid spread of coronavirus has travelers, airlines, and the whole world understandably on edge. For the first time in nearly a decade, ticket sales are slumping and planes are going out empty. No one knows how – or when – this will end.

But with all that anxiety, there’s an upside. We’ve seen airlines slashing prices on select routes worldwide in the last several weeks, spurring some unbelievably cheap flight deals to nearly every corner of the world. And these deals aren’t for now as coronavirus is running rampant, but stretching out into 2021 when the outbreak may (hopefully) have subsided. We’re talking $300 round-trip flights to Toyko and sub-$200 flights to Hawaii. 



Meanwhile, airlines are giving travelers some unprecedented flexibility to change plans amid all this uncertainty. The three major U.S. carriers (Delta, American, and United) are all granting free changes to tickets booked through the end of March. And even international carriers are starting to follow suit.

It all adds up to a relatively risk-free opportunity: book a cheap flight now, and change or cancel later if need be.

We won’t fault you if you decide to put travel on hold and stay home – that’s a personal decision. You should trust the judgment of public health experts like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as your doctor. We’re no experts on public health, and there’s no telling how long or far this outbreak may spread.

But cheap travel favors the bold. And if you’re willing to be a bit bold, this time of uncertainty may be your best chance to book your next trip.


Deal After Deal

Airlines are constantly targeting their competitors’ hub airports with cheap fares to win over new customers. Deep flash sales on select routes happen every day – if not every hour – even in the best of times.

But those sales have only gotten better and more frequent as the coronavirus outbreak has hammered airlines. Planes are going out emptier than ever. Airlines are doing everything they can to bolster ticket sales, which have dropped off as travelers wonder where the virus may spread next.

The last few weeks of absurdly cheap fares show that they’re hoping to tempt travelers with price cuts.

Case in point: A round-trip flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo (TYO) typically costs $1000 or more. We sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members an alert with fares to Tokyo from Minneapolis, Atlanta (ATL), and Detroit (DTW) for just $330 – the lowest price we’ve ever seen. And those ultra-low rates were available all the way through the summer as well as into early 2021.



We’ve seen even flights to the Hawaiian islands drop to record lows. Alaska Airlines launched a sale offering round-trip fares from its West Coast hubs for as low as $190! 

Meanwhile, Delta also slashed prices to Hawaii from Minneapolis and Detroit. Delta rarely discounts fares for travelers in its mega-hub airports – those travelers have fewer options and are willing to pay a premium for nonstop flights, and Delta knows it. So when those prices sink to $300, you know something is up.



Flights deep into South America are notoriously expensive, but the coronavirus panic seems to be fueling deep discounts on those flights nationwide. We’ve found several fares to Buenos Aires (EZE) under $500 round-trip when the norm is typically north of $1,000.



If you’ve got points and miles to spare, you’re in luck. Airlines are turning to award seats to fill up planes, too. That much is clear from Delta’s nationwide SkyMiles flash sale to Tokyo, with flights for just 30,000 SkyMiles. Most airlines charge more than double that.

As if that weren’t enough, Delta followed up with an insane deal to make the same trip in business class: 90,000 SkyMiles to fly Delta One to Tokyo and back. That’s a fraction of the typical cost.



Meanwhile, flights to Europe remain cheap and are getting cheaper. And even if you’re eyeing a fare to a region where coronavirus is threatening, there’s cause for comfort.


Extra Flexibility from the Airlines

To convince wary travelers to continue booking flights, airlines have removed a much-hated fee: change fees.

Changing your plane ticket typically costs at least $200 for domestic travel – and much more for international flights. United, Delta, and American have all waived those fees booked through the month of March. Southwest never charges those fees. If you’re eyeing a discounted fare for a trip in the future, these free waivers are a big source of comfort.

You can book one of the slew of recent flight deals with confidence, then change for free down the line if the evolving coronavirus situation affects your plans. You can change flights and simply pay the fare difference or, in most cases, cancel and get a voucher for the value of your ticket.

Read our full guide to how major airlines are handling coronavirus waivers.


Bottom Line

It’s an uneasy time to book travel. No one knows how long the coronavirus outbreak will drag on or where it will stop.

But in the words of Albert Einstein: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” And there are some undeniable opportunities to score cheap flights with little to no risk. Want to get in on these bonkers deals? Subscribe to Thrifty Traveler Premium today.

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