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  • Lauren Wood

Plan Now, Travel Later

How you can take advantage of great travel deals by booking now and traveling later. #GoLater

I know we’re all pretty devastated by the impact that COVID-19 has had on the travel industry. Travel bloggers seem to have lost their purpose. Digital nomads are stuck at home, itching to go somewhere—anywhere—other than where they are. Travel agents are essentially out of work, with no one traveling now and most people too scared to plan travel anytime in the near future. Flight attendants, who clearly chose their profession because they love to travel, have either had their hours cut back or have been laid off. Hotel workers are in the same boat. And that is just a very small fraction of the people who work in the travel community. I am thankful that my full time job as a lawyer means I have been mostly unaffected by this pandemic, and that I am still gainfully employed. But while I have not been as impacted as others in the travel community, I am obviously sad too. The months of March, April and May were set to be quite possibly the busiest travel months of my entire life. I had my group trip in Bali in March, then travel through Malaysia and Singapore with a girlfriend before coming home. My husband had planned a weekend away at Post Ranch in, Big Sur, to celebrate my birthday after I returned home, at the end of March. In April, I had VIP tickets to Coachella and Stagecoach, then was set to jet off and spent a week in Romania for the Brand Minds conference at the end of the month. May was even busier, with TravelCon in New Orleans just a few days after I was supposed to come back from Romania, then I was set to speak at a legal conference in Cabo, then at another in Hawaii. All cancelled, all likely moved to the same time in the fall, with many overlapping.

I am not whining. I obviously understand that these are problems of the privileged and that most people are being greatly impacted by this virus, losing their jobs, falling ill or even losing their lives. But for those of us who either make their living in the travel industry or are just so obsessed with travel that it percolates into their daily lives (that’s the category I’m in), it’s still devastating. That was a very long-winded way of saying “let’s forget about the negatives and try to us the situation to our advantage, as a positive.” One of the things that I’ve realized during my time spent obsessing over when I can travel again, is that while the impact on the travel industry is pretty catastrophic right now, we can and should be using this time at home to be: a) planning travel; or b) booking travel and taking advantage of the great deals that are out there right now. Since you’re stuck at home anyway, why not spend this time to plan the trip of your dreams? You can research destinations, Instagram stalk hotels or locations (to ensure that hotel you’ve been obsessing over is really as great in person as it looks in the photos online), peruse traveler reviews on TripAdvisor, read guidebooks, and plan tentative itineraries.

If you’re itching to get away as soon as possible, and want to take advantage of all the incredible deals that are out there right now, my recommendation is that you BOOK TRAVEL NOW. This does two things:

You can help the travel industry—particularly smaller hotels, resorts and adventure companies—by booking travel now to take place once the stay at home orders are lifted; and You can take advantage of some really great deals that the travel companies are offering. Allow me to go through them individually:

1. You can help the travel industry.

We all know the travel industry is hurting right now. It’s been wounded, and it’s currently bleeding to death. The only thing that can stop the bleeding is either for this whole pandemic to be over or for people to still book trips and make paid reservations so that the company still has money coming in to keep them afloat until we can travel again. Many smaller travel companies will go bankrupt as a result of this. Smaller hotels will close. So what can you do to help them? Just like all the calls to buy gift cards for your hairdresser, favorite restaurant, or local boutique, you can help the travel industry by booking prepaid hotel rooms, flights and activities now, to take place at a later date. If you care about the travel industry as much as I do, you can do your part and be socially responsible by paying for trips now. With cancellation fee policies being relaxed or lifted (more on that below), there is little risk associated with booking these things. Even if you can’t travel on your planned dates, you should be able to use the credits to travel later. Paying for these things now can help your favorite airline, hotel or activity company stay afloat now so they will still be open when the pandemic has gone.

2. You can get great deals by booking now.

Without running the risk of sounding insensitive, those with a more mercenary approach to travel planning will be pleased to hear that you can “take advantage” of this situation by getting insanely good deals on travel taking place in summer and fall. Sure, there are some risks, but bare with me—I’ll explain why it’s actually not really that big of a risk. Those who take the gamble and book in summer can reap big rewards: “unicorn properties” are actually available on points, the hotels are offering great deals and flights are at a rock bottom low. Sure, it’s a bit of a gamble to book travel for summer when we don’t know what the landscape will actually look like then, but I’m not sure it’s really as much of a gamble as everyone is talking about. With nearly every reputable airline waiving change fees and most hotels eliminating cancellation fees, the only thing you lose is your time.

Allow me to use a hypothetical situation to demonstrate my point: Let’s say that you—like me—have been spending time in quarantine obsessing over travel (I mean, if we can’t actually travel, then why not think about it, right?). Let’s say you check the room availability for the St. Regis Maldives on the Marriott Bonvoy website (something you’ve done dozens of times in the past, never ONCE actually finding rooms on points. Side note: these “unicorn properties”—the incredible properties that Marriott has under it’s umbrella but almost never has points rooms available—are a phenomenon that has even the biggest travel bloggers like Brian Kelly of The Points Guy write posts about; namely, that these properties often “behave badly” by never really offering any rooms on points). And low and behold, the St. Regis Maldives—a property where the base level rooms start at $2,500 a night—has rooms available on points! You shriek with delight and book five nights, on points, for July. And to make things better, you notice that if you stay 5 nights, the 5th night is free. So at 90,000 points per night for their upgraded sunset facing overwater bungalow, those five nights will “cost” you 360,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. And you have until mid-June to cancel without penalty. Check.

You can snag some incredible deals--on points or cash prebooking--on those "Unicorn Properties" that are either never available on points or are too expensive to afford otherwise. Examples of these properties include: St. Regis Maldives, Al Maha Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa in Dubai, or the St. Regis Bora Bora.

Next, you look at flights. Since nearly every reputable airline is offering no change fees and “free” cancellations, you use your Alaska Airlines points to book flights to Male through Dubai on Emirates and then home through Singapore on Singapore Air. You make sure the website says it is offering free cancellations/a waiver of change fees (I often like to take a screenshot of it and save it somewhere just to be safe), so you book it. If for some reason you end up having to cancel the trip, you can either reschedule it to a date certain in the future, or cancel it and retain the flight credit so that you can use it when you are ready to book later. Not let’s say that rather than using points for each of these, you either paid for them (in the case of the flights) or booked them (in the case of the hotel rooms). Well, if you end up having to change your trip, you won’t get your money back, but you will be able to change the flights for free and move it at a time that is better for you. Maybe you move it to May of 2021 just to be super safe. After all, you can do that. So if you are planning on actually taking that trip in the next year, there is no harm at all in booking it for sometime soon and just moving it later.

Okay, now’s the point where I suppose I should admit that wasn’t a totally hypothetical situation.... I did that, and I’m hoping to either go to the Maldives in July or sometime between now and July of 2021 when I will be able to use my flight credits. So you see, what’s the risk? The hotel can easily be cancelled without penalty, and even if I don’t want to go to the Maldives, I’ll have a flight from LAX to Dubai, which is a stopover point for hundreds of destinations that I would want to go to. So as long as you’re relatively flexible in when to go or where to go, there’s no harm in booking now and moving it later. I don’t want you rolling your eyes, assuming I am delusional and banking on travel in July. I am not so naive that I am relying on this actually happening on the date it’s planned. Speaking honestly, I highly doubt we will be able to travel in July as planned. But if we can’t, all I will have to do is move the trip. And that scenario, of course, involves booking for a time that is just a few months out and not like 6 months to a year out. You can book trips in that time frame—with much less risk—and still reap the benefits of the change fee waivers and hotel cancellations. So if you’re risk averse, book your travel to take place in the next six months to a year and you can STILL cancel or move the travel for free if for some reason you aren’t able to go on your originally scheduled time frame. BUT, even though these trips might take place in the next six months to a year, in order to reap the benefits you have to book NOW, in most cases before the end of May. So with that said, here are some of the companies you can book with now for travel later: Airlines waiving change fees: Alaska Airlines, American, Delta and United have all announced that they are extending their elite status for at least one additional year, while many others have also extended very generous change, cancellation and voucher policies. Alaska has enacted a pretty generous policy. For trips booked after Feb. 26th, customers with plans to travel through April 30, 2021 can cancel or change their itinerary for no fee, as long as the travel takes place within one year of their original travel date. So that means if you book for January of 2021, if you have to change that flight you will have a year from that date to take the trip. Those with “saver” fares can cancel and get a credit for the ticket value. If the flight is cancelled, you’ll get a full refund. And for trips booked prior to Feb. 26th for travel between March 9th and May 31s, you can cancel or rebook for no fee, as long as the new travel occurs by Feb. 28, 2021. Again, “saver” fares similarly get to cancel their travel and receive a voucher for the value of their ticket. Finally, anything purchased through May 31, 2020 for travel until April 30, 2021 can be cancelled or changed without any fees.

American Airlines is waiving all award redeposit and change fees for trips booked by May 31, 2020 for travel through September 30th. Then, after June 1, you will only be able to make free changes and redeposits at least 60 days in advance. Change fees within this time are based on your elite level status. So, for example, if you’re cancelling between 7 and 59 days prior to the travel, someone with executive platinum won’t pay a dime, while Platinum will pay $75 and a regular member will pay $125. I think this is brilliant because it awards their most loyal members (and those who travel the most) and still cuts non-members a bit of a break. For trips booked with American prior to April 7, 2020 for travel through September 30th, you can cancel or change your itinerary for no fee. And if the flight is cancelled—which is likely in the coming weeks—you can request a full refund to your credit card. Those who choose to cancel a flight that is still operating will be issued a credit, that is valid until the end of 2021. Delta’s policy is similar to that of Alaska—but better. For already-booked trips, on or after March 1, you can cancel or rebook your itinerary for no fee, as long as the changes are made by the end of 2020. If you’re not ready to rebook, you’ll receive a voucher for the value of your ticket, which is valid for up to two years. Existing vouchers have also been extended through May 31, 2022. And of course, if the airline cancels the flight, you will be issued a voucher, but may also qualify for a refund.

For trips booked prior to March 1st for travel through May 31st can cancel or change their flight for no fee. Again, if you aren’t sure when you’ll be ready to travel again, you’ll receive a voucher for the value of the ticket, up to two years. And again, cancelled flights are entitled to at least a voucher or maybe a refund. Delta is also waiving redeposit fees for award travel. In addition to making it easier to collect miles through card purchases, United has also stepped up its game in the cancellation area. TripAdvisor has compiled a complete list of cancellation and change policies, by airline, which you can read HERE.

Hotels Waiving Cancellation Fees:

There are also dozens of hotel chains that are waiving cancellation fees. The largest hotel chains — including Hilton, Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group and Omni Hotels & Resorts — all announced they would be waiving fees for cancellations on existing bookings globally through the end of April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hilton even takes it one step further, offering waivers for future bookings made for travel beyond April. Though that window may have passed for some, others are still extending such protections into May. I would imagine that the smaller resorts may be even more lenient. If you’re concerned about a cancellation penalty, try calling the hotel or resort to see if you can get an accommodation—in writing—that they won’t charge you a penalty should you have to cancel your plans due to coronavirus.

3. But what if...

I know what you might be thinking. “But what if the airline/hotel/travel company goes under?” “What if the airline cancels my flight and I have to spend hours on the phone changing it?” “But what if it turns out I can’t get a refund?” My answer: sure, there are risks. That’s why the rewards (translation: savings) are so big. I’m sure after reading this, I may encounter some pushback from all the naysayers out there. Yes, there are risks. No, nothing is certain, and even if various companies promise one thing or another, that does not mean it will be all hearts and flowers having to deal with an airline if your flight has been cancelled or a hotel room if your plans change. But nothing good is ever free, and the trade off for snagging some of these incredible deals does require some level of risk. If you are the anxious type who is risk adverse, Covid travel buying isn’t for you. But if you’re willing to take some level of risk, you really could capitalize on this opportunity to jump on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that you might not have been able to afford otherwise. So I say jump! Here’s my advice if you do choose to book right now. First, be sure to read the terms carefully. Take screenshots of any terms that you read as protecting you just in case you end up having to bring it up to the company later. Know EXACTLY what the terms are before going into it. Second, make sure whatever you book either offers a free cancellation or no change fee. Third, although most travel insurance companies have exclusions in their policies regarding pandemics, you can purchase travel insurance that has the added “Cancel for any Reason” coverage. It’s a bit more expensive, but especially if you’re anxious about buying right now, it’s probably a good bet. And be sure to book with a credit card as well so you can get a refund through your credit card company if the airline or hotel happens to go bankrupt.

So with that said,I hope you snag some amazing travel deals. Good luck to you, and be sure to share if you find something great! I would love to hear your experiences (good or bad), so please comment below!

Happy Travels (Later)!



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