Man falling asleep while reading in a hammock on the beach

Leisure Travel During a Pandemic: It’s a Buyer’s Market

This is all good news for your pocketbook. Cruise lines, hotels, and airlines are offering fantastic travel deals right now, and the sales could extend well into 2021 or even 2022 — or until the pandemic eventually ends.

Let’s be clear: You should look into the current travel deals. The savings are awesome — but of course, you should prepare to travel with social distancing and other health precautions in mind, such as temperature checks at airports, hotels, and even restaurants.

Welcome to the new normal

But if you can change and adapt, the savings can be spectacular. For example, many hotels are offering prepaid rates that are awesome, with savings of up to 75 percent off the usual prices. But there is a catch: Many hotels are offering their best deals only if you agree to pay in full at the time of booking.

Beautiful scenes like this can be yours for the taking as hotels reduce rates to stay in business.

Should you leap at the chance to book a five-star hotel at 75 percent off the usual rate? Maybe. No, check that. Yes, you should! Just make sure you check the fine print. Most online reservation systems require travelers to check a box indicating they have read the “terms and conditions” that will make it difficult — or impossible — for you to get your money back if you need to change or cancel your reservation.

So how do you protect yourself while scoring a huge bargain? The best advice is to pay very close attention to all the fine print in the terms and conditions of the travel offer and book as close to your travel date as possible.

For example, some people book cruises up to a year in advance. That allows them to secure exactly the cabin they want while allowing plenty of time to make payments. But those deals don’t always allow for much flexibility — or even the best price. Sure, you could cancel after making your initial deposit, but overall, booking far in advance doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility.

Being flexible might mean packing a bag and heading to the airport sooner, rather than later.

For the hottest deals, book your travel no more than 30 days in advance. But carefully read the fine print on your deal. The best offers may require you to pay in advance, but the savings are often significant. Some hotels are listing only prepaid options on their website if you’re shopping for accommodations only a few days in advance. That’s because the rate locks you in — and may prevent you from requesting a refund if you decide to cancel for personal reasons.

Because of the pandemic, airlines, hotels, and cruise lines are looking for ways to avoid granting refunds. With the economy on shaky ground, the companies don’t want to issue refunds. Here are some issues to watch out for:

  • Prepaid hotels: There are deals galore on hotels right now because the pandemic has many people leery of travel. As a result, some hotels are offering amazing bargains. But be careful about paying too far in advance. Hotel occupancy levels are low during the pandemic, meaning you don’t need to book weeks or months in advance. The smart move is to wait a few days before your trip to book for the lowest rate. Hotel rates are going to be flat for some time to come. That provides you with more options than ever for finding great deals.
  • Cruises: Cruise lines are largely shut down until the pandemic subsides, but when things open up again the deals will be fantastic. However, the best deals will be for people who have the flexibility to book at the last minute.
  • Group travel: Because of the pandemic, purchasing a travel package through a promoter is risky right now — unless the trip is just a few days or weeks away. In good times, it’s not uncommon for people to book group travel deals up to a year in advance but getting refunds from the promoter can be difficult — or even impossible — if something happens and you can’t go.

During the pandemic, one promoter canceled a chartered cruise ship that featured top entertainers with a price tag to match — more than $10,000 for some cabins on the seven-day cruise. In a situation like that promoters often offer a “rain check” for the next event rather than a refund.

Bottom line:

Maintain as much flexibility in your travel planning as possible. The more flexibility you have, the more you can save. Closely read the fine print on all reservations.

Explore reputable companies offering travel insurance. This is important in case you do decide to book several weeks or months in advance. Be sure to take out insurance that offers “cancel for any reason coverage.” Benefits may only cover about 50-75 percent of what you paid for the trip, but that’s certainly better than losing all your investment.

Bon Voyage!