Coronavirus has been relentless. Trips have been canceled for the foreseeable future as countries (and even individual states) lock down and block out travelers. And with all that uncertainty, even planning travel far out in the future can feel like a gamble.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on a future trip. Airlines, hotel chains, and other travel companies have given travelers more flexibility than ever to book flights or hotel stays risk-free. Cheap fares and hotel rates make it a good time to score a deal as far out as June 2021. And right now, we all need a future trip to look forward to.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and book an entire trip for the fall or even 2021. There’s no telling when all this will end. And even when it does, smart planning will ensure you book with little to no risk.
1. Always Use a Credit Card to Book Flights
It’s always sound advice, but especially now. Use a credit card to book your travel – not a debit card.
Why, you ask? It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself if – travel gods forbid – your airline were to collapse before your flight. If that happens, the easiest way to get your money back is to initiate a chargeback through your credit card company.
Curious how it works? Here’s how to do a chargeback when an airline goes kaput, as I did a few years ago when Primera Air went bankrupt just weeks before my flight.
A handful of small regional airlines have already fizzled out due to coronavirus. Many more have filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. As the travel industry gets hammered by coronavirus, more carriers could collapse, too.
It is possible to request a chargeback on a debit card, but the process is much more challenging and complicated. So using a credit card is the best way to make sure you can get your money back if the worst occurs.
If you can, use a credit card that will get you additional travel insurance like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Platinum Card from American Express. While this insurance won’t cover if you decide to cancel your trip down the line due to coronavirus, it comes with plenty of other trip delay or disruption coverage that will be nice to have. And you’ll earn more points on your purchase, too.
2. Book Directly with Your Airline (With Free Change/Cancellation)
This is another big lesson – something that’s important in the best of times, and even more important in the worst.
Whenever possible, book directly with the airline rather than with third-party sites or online travel agencies (OTAs).
Major airlines have made the process of changing or canceling flights easier during these trying times. You can change or cancel any flight booked bu July 31 without paying a fee, getting a voucher for future use. While wait times have been long, it’s relatively easy to make a change. You can even message the airline via Twitter and get a response rather than wait on hold.
Read more: See exactly how major airlines are waiving change/cancellation fees on new tickets and upcoming flights.
And if your airline eventually cancels (or significantly changes) your flight – something that’s becoming more and more common these days – it’s even better: You’re legally owed a refund.
But when you book through OTAs like Expedia, Priceline, CheapOair, and hundreds of others, it’s a bit different. Sure, they may promote slightly cheaper deals. But if something goes wrong or your plans change, you need to go through your agency to change or cancel your flight.
Bigger OTAs might be just fine. The smaller ones can be an absolute nightmare – especially now.
If you want the best customer service possible in case you decide to scrap your trip, the solution is simple: book directly with the airline. Trust us, it’s a lifesaver.
3. Wait to Book Big Accommodations or Excursions
This is the big one.
There’s no telling how long this may play out or when it may be safe to travel again. And while it may be safer to speculatively book flights in the future, that’s not always the case for lodging, excursions, or other activities.
Don’t lock yourself into any non-refundable expenses. Unfortunately, many travelers got burned on this end for travel in spring 2020 as coronavirus wreaked havoc.
Now is a great time to book future travel, as we’re still finding some of the cheapest flight deals we’ve ever seen to many destinations for travel from through March 2021 and beyond. And there’s never been a more flexible time to book airfare.
Fortunately, many hotel chains are offering equally flexible policies to lock in reservations now and cancel later for a refund, if need be. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all homestay bookings and excursions.
As things evolve, hold off on booking nonrefundable accommodations or excursions. It’s best to wait until your travel date is closer and you’re more certain of travel before booking.
Don’t be afraid of booking future travel – but be smart. If you follow these tips above, you’ll be well-positioned to get your money back and avoid the unnecessary hassle if travel plans change in the meantime.