CRA Travel News

By Caroline Lupini

Little by little, lockdown regulations are beginning to relax all around the world. While none of us know for sure what the future of travel will look like when borders open once more, we will inevitably travel again. Regardless of policies and rules, the bottom line is that folks will start traveling again when we feel comfortable doing so, and that vibe varies from person to person. 

If you are one to spend your re-allocated quarantine time dreaming about future travels, it may soon be time to consider snagging some decent fares. Here are a few things to look out for when you’re ready to start booking tickets again. 

Fares with Relaxed Cancellation Fees

In the face of unprecedented airline cancellations over the past several months, travelers worldwide have been forced to cancel or change their unusable tickets in exchange for, more or less, unprecedented amounts of grace. For example, tickets with Delta that I’ve had to cancel have come with lightning-fast customer service support, refunded SkyMiles and an e-credit that I’ll be able to use when I can book that itinerary at a later date.

Almost across the board, we are seeing a brand new world of refunds and travel vouchers that were previously unavailable to every traveler—especially uninsured travelers. Several airlines are featuring a “book now, change your mind later” policy for tickets purchased before a certain date. 

Note that the “change your mind” part generally comes with the right to a travel voucher rather than a cash refund, but if you’re looking to fly with a certain airline and don’t mind essentially buying equity towards a ticket you may use later, then this is a decent time to take advantage of the opportunity to do so with little penalty. If you decide to do this, though, double-check the relevant purchase and travel dates as well as the airline’s current policies on travel vouchers

Domestic Travel First

As Americans become more comfortable with the idea of travel, the first thing to come back will be domestic travel. Arguably, a decent percentage of domestic travel still exists; it’s just a matter of who is using that travel outside of emergency relocation. Optimistically, and perhaps naively, assuming that most folks are following their respective state’s recommendations, nobody should be on those flights for leisure purposes just yet.

However, leisurely domestic flights will return and when they do, keep an eye out for domestic deals with virtually every U.S. carrier. Pay attention to who has a hub at your home airport (i.e. Delta if you’re near Detroit or Atlanta, United if you’re near San Francisco or Newark, American if you’re near Dallas or Charlotte, etc.) While those Big 3 will likely come out with competing promotions and deals that mirror each other (as per usual) don’t forget about the smaller airlines. They’ll be hustling, too, as flights slowly return.

Travel By Land

Who says that planes are the only way to go? Trains and automobiles may be just the ticket.  Even though domestic flights are the best way to expedite your cross-country travel, never underestimate the charm of a great American road or rail trip. Rail travel has not been immune to COVID, but when Amtrak is able to restore their full schedule, check to see if you can snag a great train fare with them. 

If you’d like to take a road trip yourself but you don’t have a car, check for deals on one-way or long-term car rental. While airfare is often cheaper than ground travel in multiple currencies, it’s worth checking out your ground travel options when planning your next domestic trip. Road trips are even cheaper than normal because gas prices are consistently under two dollars a gallon, which has not been seen since 2004. 

Airlines in Survival Mode

Due to several iterations and levels of financial crises around the globe, many smaller airlines have lost a significant chunk of whatever stable finances they may have been counting on for this fiscal year. 

For example, I’ve been following the Norwegian Air Shuttle saga pretty closely because the airline’s financial footwork has been mirroring the epic downfall of Iceland’s late, great budget option WOW Airlines. Specifically, Norwegian’s move towards debt-equity has raised a few eyebrows lately, although Norway is far better positioned to bail out its flagship airline than Iceland is willing to resurrect WOW by itself. 

The problems are not limited to Europe: Avianca, Columbia’s flagship airline, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Suffice it  to say: struggling airlines will likely be panicking for the foreseeable future.

So when borders begin to open again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flood of financially unsustainable deals just to boost customer bases in the short-term and fill as many seats as will be responsible, post-COVID. Look outside the domestic box for this one; we will certainly have several deals on small-airline domestic itineraries, but don’t forget about those with international hauls when it again becomes possible and ethical to book those routes. 

Struggling airlines will be looking for a flood of post-crisis cash, which will likely benefit budget travelers as well.  However, be sure you’re protected in case the airline doesn’t weather the storm by purchasing travel insurance that covers travel companies’ insolvency. 

Destinations With Major Tourism Industries

Hand in hand, struggling airlines are sometimes linked with struggling tourism industries in their home countries. Destinations that garner a great deal of their national income from thriving tourism industries are suffering considerably more than those that don’t. 

A prime example of this is, in case you somehow haven’t heard, Oktoberfest 2020 is canceled. While it’s a tremendous opportunity cost for Munich, the risk of an auxiliary Oktoberpandemic is simply too much for any of us to handle right now.

When the all-clear comes, tourism-based communities will be looking for creative ways to bolster the local economy and encourage visitors to return. We’ve seen it before; Iceland opened the doors wide after the 2008 financial crisis and, not even a decade later, had re-stabilized into its own competitive economy. The long-term stability of this strategy is yet another story, but advocating for and investing in tourism in the short-term is something that can, relatively quickly, stimulate a hurting economy. 

This strategy will likely be used on a domestic scale as well. Before we are allowed to go anywhere internationally, domestic attractions will have the opportunity to outshine international ones. There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist in your own town; check the diamonds in the rough right in your backyard before jetting off on another long-haul trip.

Bottom Line

Because the rules during a pandemic simply don’t apply to whatever we consider “real” life, we’re seeing unprecedented flexibility in our travel booking even before we are allowed to actually embark on the trips. Uncertainty is the operative word here, but flexibility is another one. 

To take advantage of the opportunities, read the fine print, check your options, focus on struggling economies and take a look at what’s going on in the U.S. before setting your sights abroad. If you’re impatient to get out of lockdown, you’re certainly not alone; hopefully, we’ll all be able to return to an upright position as soon as possible.

Article Credit to Forbes.