With the rapid spread of the omicron variant, COVID-19 is continuing to disrupt travel this winter.
Whether you or a travel companion tested positive before a scheduled trip or you simply decided to postpone until the numbers become more manageable, you aren’t alone if you weren’t able to take that vacation you planned. Still, people are holding out hope that there will be better opportunities for travel later in 2022.
But is it advisable to book a trip right now for later in the year? Or is it better to wait and see how things evolve in the coming months? Below, travel experts share what you should know before you purchase:
Look ahead for good deals.
“If you’re looking to travel in spring or summer 2022, you’d be wise to start looking at prices now,” said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
He noted that there are two reasons for this recommendation. The first is that ― pandemic or not ― you’re likely to find good deals if you book your peak travel season trips during the opposite season.
“This is because, much like other seasonal products like swimsuits or grills, as you get closer to the summertime, demand ramps up dramatically, and prices go right along with it,” he said. “By contrast, steep discounts can be found for the savvy consumer who knows to be proactive and look for those cheap peak summer flights ahead of time. For example, just this morning we saw $213 roundtrip flights from New York City to Madrid, Spain, with availability in August. You can be pretty confident that once we get to May, these kinds of deals will become much harder to come by.”
Beyond that rule of thumb, Orlando believes the current tumult with flight cancellations and changes might make now a prime opportunity to book for later in 2022.
“In general, whenever we’ve seen new COVID surges or major air travel disruptions, it’s had a not insignificant negative effect on travel interest,” he explained. “When travel interest dips, airlines generally get more aggressive to draw passengers back, with steep discounts, particularly to popular leisure destinations.”
Choose flexible options.
Most major air carriers have implemented much more flexible change and cancellation policies, which can be helpful as we continue to navigate the pandemic’s unforeseen twists and turns.
“If you do ultimately need to change your plans, you can rest assured that you can make changes without paying any pesky $200 (or more) fees,” said Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy.
He noted that airlines have also made it much more affordable to purchase a fully refundable ticket with the option to cancel at any time and get a refund through your original form of payment.
“That means that if you decide to cancel your flight, you’ll receive the funds back to your credit card ― without needing to worry about a voucher that might have a strict expiration policy. In some cases, the buy-up can be as low as $20,” Griff said. “In those cases, it could definitely make sense to splurge for a fully refundable ticket.”
Even if you don’t purchase the more flexible ticket option, familiarize yourself with your rights as a passenger in the event the airline cancels the flight.
Keep monitoring price drops.
Even if you find a good deal and book it, you might later notice the price of the ticket has dropped. But good news ― if you booked a refundable ticket, you could qualify for that new lower price thanks to airlines’ flexible change policies.
“For these tickets, you have the ability to change the date, time, or location of your trip prior to departure without paying a change fee,” said Laurie Garrow, a professor of civil engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and president of the airline research organization AGIFORS.
“This means that if you buy an exchangeable ticket now, but prices drop, you can exchange it for the lower-priced ticket without paying any fees and apply the ‘extra savings’ towards another trip you want to take,” she explained.
So say you book a flight for $300, but then discover the price later fell to $200. Depending on the air carrier, these flexible policies could allow you to reprice the ticket and get an airline credit for the $100 difference.
Look into insurance.
If you’re planning a big trip for later in 2022, you might want to look into your travel insurance options and consider purchasing coverage for your flight and other aspects of your trip.
“For some airlines, including Delta, you have the option of purchasing this insurance at the time you purchase your ticket,” Garrow said. “This insurance typically covers costs associated with COVID-related causes. For example, if you are traveling internationally and test positive before your flight home and are unable to board your flight, the insurance would cover accommodation expenses while you were in quarantine and medical care you may need.”
Make sure to read the fine print when considering options and check to see if your credit card or other forms of insurance you have already offers trip protection.
Pay attention to schedule changes — and the news.
“One thing to note about booking summer travel and beyond: Airlines are still making schedule adjustments in the weeks leading up to departure,” Griff said. “That means the flight that you book today may not operate according to the exact timetable that you’re seeing.”
With all the changes airlines have to make to adapt to the evolving pandemic situation (and its impact on travel demand, staffing, etc.), it’s not uncommon for your itinerary to change if you book your flights in advance. Make sure to pay attention to email updates and monitor your reservation for any changes the airline might make that impact timing.
And as always, remember that COVID-19 may continue to disrupt travel plans throughout 2022. Take note of news reports and public health guideline changes that could impact your trip, especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country.
The pandemic doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming and planning, but you do need to be prepared to adapt and make wise decisions regarding health and safety.