Maybe you’ve heard all about “pent-up desire.” Maybe you’re just feeling it.
It’s the urge to travel after what will amount to (for most of us) a year of not being able to vacation safely. For families anxious to rediscover the joys of travel, Covid-19 vaccines can’t arrive fast enough.
But experts say you shouldn’t pack your bags just yet. As we learned all too well in 2020, a lot remains out of our hands, including many of the particulars of post-vaccine travel. Here are several points to keep in mind when it comes to planning travel for 2021, and even beyond:
Vaccine rollouts will take time.
If you want to plan a trip for after you and your family have all been vaccinated, don’t jump the gun. Most U.S. states have plans to vaccinate residents in order of most- to least-vulnerable. If you and yours are young and healthy, you’ll likely be last in line for inoculations, and that may mean it’s late summer before you can travel.
The best deals are now—with a caveat.
Right now, there’s so little demand for travel products that prices are rock-bottom lows, especially for flight/hotel packages. But before you book, make sure that all or most of the trip is refundable should the unforeseen occur, such as travel bans or entry restrictions, delays in getting your vaccinations, and even airlines or hotels going bankrupt.
“Hotels are going to go under left and right,” says Pauline Frommer of Frommer Media. And most travel insurers and credit card companies—including premium cards like AMEX Platinum and Chase Sapphire— will not cover any losses that result from a vendor’s financial insolvency.
Prices will go up.
“Everything is theoretical when it comes to travel planning in the era of Covid,” Frommer says. But all signs point to travel prices skyrocketing as greater numbers of people get vaccinated and resume taking trips. That’s especially true for flights because there will be so much less business travel.
“Airlines always overcharged business travelers,” she explains, “and that subsidized the rest of us.” Remove all those business travelers from the equation and leisure travelers are left with the bill—and no corporate expense account.
Some destinations may remain off-limits.
Vaccine rollouts are scheduled for the U.S. and the U.K. But other countries may take much longer to receive and distribute the vaccines, and some poorer countries may never be able to vaccinate their residents. Will it be safe, not to mention ethical, to travel to countries where people are still sick and dying of Covid? We don’t really know. For now, the best course of action is to plan domestic trips or visit countries where a vaccination plan is already in place.
Masks and distancing will still be the norm.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that if everything goes as planned with vaccine rollouts—and that’s a big “if”—life should go back to some semblance of normal by fall of 2021. Until then, masks and social distancing will be part of our lives, including on vacation. Frommer suggests that 2021 might be the year for outdoor, nature-focused vacations where families can get away from crowds, be outdoors and maybe—just maybe—let those masks slip below their noses.
The fine print matters.
The good news about current travel deals is that many are fully refundable. TravelZoo and LastMinute.com are just two of many third-party travel suppliers that are offering complete refunds for trip cancellations into 2021. Other platforms offer partial refunds or credits, and some offer compensation only for non-discounted trips. It pays to read the fine print and ask questions before you book.
Don’t expect travel insurance to cover you.
In the topsy-turvy year that was 2020, travel insurance started to look like a really smart idea. But some policies cover only illness or accidents while you travel, and certain emergencies that might keep you from traveling. Most companies offer tiered services, and many offer “cancel for any reason” coverage with their premium policies, but you have to choose those policies. In the era of Covid, most offer some allowance for airline insolvency—but not if your all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen shuts its doors the day before you arrive.
The bottom line.
Unless you’re completely comfortable risking your vacation funds, you should play it safe planning your post-vaccine travels. That may mean sticking to national parks, planning road trips that don’t involve a lot of up-front payments, or only booking with well-established venues and hotel brands.
It also may mean just waiting—as painful as it may seem—until the dust has settled and we all have a clearer idea of what travel and life in the post-Covid era is going to look like.