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6 Tips for Making Flexible Travel Plans in Covid

If you’re like many families, you’re itching to travel right now. You want to make up for the trips you canceled, postponed, or never even bothered to plan. And though the global crisis isn’t quite in our rear-view mirrors, life as we knew it is gradually starting to resume. 

A trip to a theme park, for instance, looks remarkably similar to pre-COVID days. Kayla LeClerc, owner of Whimsical Wishes Travel Concierge, a travel agency in Plymouth, Mass., notes that Disney parks have indoor mask requirements and a reservation system that helps control capacity in the parks, but the day-to-day experience in the parks feels pretty normal. 

International travel is making a comeback as well, with restrictions and protocols that vary by country. The same goes for cruises. 

But there’s still the possibility of becoming ill with Covid before or during a trip. And, we’ve learned from the pandemic that borders, risks and regulations can change on a dime. Since many travel companies have returned to their pre-Covid ways—goodbye, no-fee flight changes!—it’s up to families to build flexibility into their trips. Here are six expert-approved tips for making sure you don’t lose money on your upcoming holidays. 

Increase Your Budget 

The airline fare that entitles you to modify or cancel your flight is always going to be more expensive than the nonrefundable fare, LeClerc notes. The same is true with traditional hotels—the non-refundable rate is always going to be less expensive than the traditional rate that allows you to cancel without penalty within two or three days of arrival. 

“With resorts and travel packages, you really should consider adding a travel protection plan that provides you the flexibility to change or cancel your travel plans and as a result, that will drive the price up,” she says. “If your plans are set in stone and you don’t need flexibility, then lucky you—there may be discounts available, like basic economy airfare and nonrefundable hotel rates.”

Book Early

What is early? According to  Teresa Belcher, travel agent and founder of Honeymoon Islands, Inc., an agency that specializes in romantic and luxury travel, booking your flight early means planning 10 months in advance. For hotels, it’s one to two years in advance (yes, really). 

“Since the world shut down in March 2020, hotels have reopened very slowly and gave steep discounts in order to reopen; however, in 2021 and 2022 we are seeing high demand for travel at an unbelievable rate,” she says. “It’s like the pendulum swung in the opposite direction without stopping in the middle for moderation.” 

Choose Your Airfare Class Carefully

LeClerc recommends paying extra attention to the fine print when booking a flight, as it’s no longer as simple as where you sit. The kind of ticket you choose may have implications for flexibility. “The price of basic economy may be enticing but it’s going to have the most limitations,” she says. “Every airline calls it something different, but you want to spring for the fare that allows you to cancel and at minimum, get an airline credit” if you have to cancel. 

Consider Working with a Travel Advisor 

Even if you’ve enjoyed planning every detail of past family vacations, this is a new travel landscape. It can be incredibly beneficial to hire a travel professional, not only to help plan your travels, but also to prepare you for complications. “An expert advisor will have up-to-date information on protocols and connections and can also help book you with suppliers that can get you the most flexible options possible,” says Terika Haynes, D.B.A., owner of Dynamite Travel in Orlando, Fla.  

Use Points for Travel

Using  points or miles to pay for your bookings will usually—though not always—give you more flexibility; if you cancel, the points will be reinstated to your account, says Odellia Fischer, founder and owner of Take OFF Concierge based in New York. As with any other policy, however, she urges clients to make sure they understand the fine print properly. 

Opt for a Hotel

While some vacation rentals are refundable, Haynes has seen an increase in properties that are not—and that are requiring longer stays. Demand is high, and so are prices, she says. Though there are definitely advantages to staying in a rental, including privacy, space, and a kitchen, if flexibility is a priority, it may not be the way to go. “Pricing for vacation homes is exceptionally high right now and availability is limited,” Haynes said. 

In case you haven’t heard, you can also save *big* on hotels with an Expedition membership—up to 70% off, as well as discounts on rental cars, cruises and more. Check out the details here.  

Jenn Sinrich is a Boston-based digital editor, writer and content strategist who writes for publications including Parents, What To Expect, Brides, SELF, Reader's Digest, Martha StewartWeddingWire and more.