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What to Know About Booking Holiday Travel During COVID-19


November 12, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health, Travel Tips

This year, holiday travelers have more to navigate than just weather and flight cancellations. The coronavirus pandemic increases the variables of a trip with outbreak surges, differing state and country regulations and new testing requirements at transportation hubs and country borders.

This makes booking a flight or renting a car a bit trickier this holiday season.

If you plan on traveling this winter, plan for uncertainty. Global Rescue experts have compiled suggestions for how and when to reserve your seat on a plane, train, automobile or bus — and how to keep yourself safe from the risk of contagion.

 

Planes

 

Flights might be cheap now, but check the cancellation policies and change fees before booking. Scott’s Cheap Flights recommends only booking tickets that can be changed for free or are refundable.

Southwest used to be the only major airline with a permanent no-fee change policy, but Delta, United and Alaska Airlines announced at the end of August they will no longer charge change fees (typically $200) for most tickets on U.S. flights, according to AARP.

JetBlue Airways is also suspending cancellation and change fees on new bookings made through Feb. 28, 2021. The Points Guy maintains a list of airline change and cancellation policies.

As mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you are entitled to a refund if an airline cancels or significantly delays your flight.

When to Book

Online travel sites, like Expedia, recommend booking between 60 to 90 days before your trip. For December or Christmas travel, the sweet spot is 30 to 60 days out. International reservations require more notice. Grow by Acorns + CNBC suggest purchasing your ticket during the week to get the best deal, as most people buy on the weekends.

How to Book

Do your research. Look at several airlines for pricing and different airports for flight times. You may find a nearby airport has better options than your usual airport.

Pro Tip

Insider suggests calling the airline to get the lowest priced ticket. Some folks reserve online, but don’t purchase and it can take 24 hours to be released back into the system.

COVID-19 Advice

Bring your own coronavirus travel kit complete with masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Use these items throughout the airport and on the airplane to wipe down your seat, arm rests and any other high-touch surface.

 

Trains

 

Airlines weren’t the only transportation providers to institute e-tickets to reduce crowds during check-in and boarding. Amtrak did the same and even developed an app with departure information.

When to Book

Bookings are limited as many routes are operating on a reduced schedule. Book your train trip 12 weeks in advance to get the lowest ticket price. Most train companies, like Amtrak, have a set fleet of trains and a set route. Tickets start at a certain base price and get more expensive the closer the departure date.

How to Book

Amtrak is waiving change fees for reservations made by December 31 and all cancellation fees through October 31. You can make changes online, but for cancellations and refunds, call 800-USA-RAIL.

Pro Tip

If you don’t want contact with other passengers, you may have the option of reserving a private room or a sleeper car on some routes.

COVID-19 Advice

According to The New York Times, it’s unrealistic to expect transit companies to thoroughly disinfect every train at every station, or disinfect every seat or surface before each new rider climbs aboard. You may want to bring disinfectant wipes with you.

 

Buses

 

Social distancing is difficult on a bus and many smaller transportation providers have limited their services to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. If you are traveling regionally, check schedules and book tickets well in advance.

To ease the financial fears of consumers, some bus transportation companies, like Greyhound, have instituted a “Peace of Mind” travel policy, “offering to reissue your ticket with no change fee if you know when you’d like to reschedule, or exchanging your ticket for an eVoucher if you don’t have your new dates just yet.”

When to Book

According to Greyhound, “tickets do not get cheaper the longer you wait. But, far in advance of the departure date, tickets are usually quite cheap, then prices rise slowly until four to eight weeks prior to departure.”

How to Book

Go to the bus company’s website or call the 1-800 number.

Pro Tip

The CDC recommends checking with the bus company for the latest information on service and procedure changes before your trip.

COVID-19 Advice

Don’t forget your mask. Peter Pan Bus Lines requires a mask while boarding and exiting and suggests use during the trip as well. Buses are cleaned and disinfected daily. Smaller, regional carriers have their own approaches based on local regulations. For example, Dartmouth Coach in New Hampshire, has restricted seating, installed Plexiglas dividers on every seat back and upgraded HVAC filters on every bus.

 

Automobiles

 

Need to rent a car? Whether you are driving a rental to your holiday destination or renting a car at the airport, you’ll want to continue the driving safety precautions you’ve been doing at home.

When to Book

Experts suggest reserving your vehicle two months before the holidays. It’s the time of the year when companies are most likely to run out of inventory.

How to Book

Most websites are pulling from the same rate table, so it doesn’t matter if you book on a third-party site or directly with the car rental company. If you call the rental company directly, you might be able to negotiate a lower rate, or rent the car for a longer time to get a better deal.

Pro Tip

Read the car rental agreement carefully. In the U.S., you may not be able to drive the car across international borders. Your U.S. car insurance may not cover an international rental, so you’ll either want to look to your credit card company or purchase insurance at the time of rental.

COVID-19 Advice

Car rental companies know customers are looking for much more than vehicle cleanliness. Enterprise, for example, offers the Complete Clean Pledge to clean and sanitize 20-plus high-touch points, such as the key fob, steering wheel and center console.

 

How Global Rescue Can Help

No matter how you are traveling during the pandemic, you should plan for a border closing or a flight being cancelled.

You should also be prepared for coronavirus testing before your flight, at your destination — and the actions you need to take if the results are positive.

Domestic and international travelers have long known the benefits of a travel protection service membership but, now during coronavirus, it’s a necessity for any travel 100 miles or more away from home. Global Rescue has been providing advisory and evacuation services to members throughout the pandemic.


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