3 simple ways to pandemic-proof your holiday travel

Dec 8, 2021

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Dreaming of a trip to Israel? Sorry, it’s closed to international travellers for two weeks, and there’s now a quarantine requirement. Planning a holiday to Morocco in the near future? That country has restricted air travel entirely for two weeks.

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The omicron variant has people understandably concerned about their travel plans, as several countries have put travel restrictions in place in response to the new coronavirus strain, which may be more contagious than others before it.

Anyone travelling to the U.K. from 7 December must show proof of a negative COVID test taken no later than 2 days before departure. And even if you can get into a destination, you may be faced with more rigorous testing or quarantine requirements. Also, England has reinstated mask-wearing policies to help contain the spread of the Omicron strain.

There’s a lot that’s up in the air in advance of the busy holiday season, as countries try to balance public health precautions with the economic drawbacks of new restrictions and closures. But there are some easy ways to safeguard your holiday travel plans and be prepared no matter what happens in the next few weeks.

Related: 5 things to know about the UK’s new Omicron travel measures

Book your trip using points and miles

Economy cabin on a United jet
(Photo by Benson Truong/Shutterstock.com)

We talk a lot about using your hard-earned points and miles, and it isn’t simply because we love saving money and flying in first class.

If you have to cancel your trip at the last minute, you can usually get your points and miles back pretty easily. The vast majority of airline loyalty programs, from domestic programs such as British Airways Avios to foreign programs like Singapore’s KrisFlyer, will typically refund miles from cancelled award tickets instantly.

Just note that airlines can charge fees to redeposit miles, though these fees are sometimes waived for travellers who hold elite status with the airline.

Related: How to understand and use a British Airways Future Travel Voucher

And that policy doesn’t only extend to air travel — your hotel booking is covered as well. Most hotel award nights can be cancelled until shortly before your stay is scheduled to begin.

Changing or cancelling travel plans booked with points and miles is easy; unlike booking through an online travel association, you can reach out directly to your airline or hotel about your reservation. And, if you’re an elite member, you may be able to speak to a representative sooner. This can save you hours of waiting, particularly during the holidays.

Booking my personal travel with points and miles has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when it came time to cancel. Just days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March 2020, I cancelled a bucket-list trip to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airways, which I’d booked using my Aeroplan miles.

Shortly after cancelling, Aeroplan credited the miles back to my account, and I got a refund for the taxes I’d paid on the award ticket a few days later.

Sure, had I booked with cash I would have likely gotten my money back, but it would have been much more of a hassle.

Purchase travel insurance

Travel insurance is an excellent way to safeguard your travel investment.

Unfortunately, not all travel insurance plans cover COVID-19-related expenses, even if your trip was booked with a credit card or purchased from a third-party provider. For that coverage, you’ll need to search for a plan that specifically covers COVID-19.

Insurance companies like Allianz and Travelex both offer coverage plans that will protect your holiday from any COVID-19 disruptions but as is always the case, you should make sure to read through the full terms and conditions as packages vary.

If you want flexibility — say, you don’t want to travel due to the new variant — you should consider purchasing a cancel-for-any-reason policy. This add-on is exactly what it sounds like — you can cancel for any reason, including the pandemic. However, this isn’t insurance you can buy on the way to the airport to catch your flight. As we’ve previously written, you usually have to purchase cancel for any reason insurance within 14 to 21 days of making your initial payment on holiday expenses.

You also have to insure 100% of your trip costs in addition to cancelling your trip at least 48 hours before departure time to receive a refund of up to 75% of the trip cost.

Avoid non-refundable travel

Boarding BA First flight from London to US
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

That bargain fare could end up costing you money.

With so much uncertainty in travel right now, situations like the new variant are also why we strongly advise against booking non-refundable trips. Don’t get me wrong: A deal can be great. But oftentimes, the cheapest rates and fares also come with the most restrictions. And they aren’t just limitations like not being able to check a bag or pick your seat. You typically won’t get your money back for a non-refundable booking — even if your plans change due to something outside of your control.

There are ways to salvage your plans, such as changing the dates of your trip, but you’re still on the hook for the cost of the flight.

Non-refundable travel can make sense sometimes, especially if you managed to snag a dirt-cheap flight. But with travel up in the air right now, it might make sense to spend more money on a refundable ticket for peace of mind.

Featured photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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