As airlines expand international routes from 17 May, should you book a holiday now?
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On Monday, we welcomed the announcement we’ve all been waiting to hear for what seems like an eternity: the way out of lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson detailed the government’s plan of action to get us out of the current third lockdown — a so-called four-stage roadmap.
A wave of excitement — and in some cases, anxiety — about our slow return to normality has spread across the nation, but the announcement came with the overarching warning that these dates are not set in stone. The government said it will use “data, not dates” to determine when restrictions will actually be lifted.
This is not least the case for travel, regarding which the roadmap had the least clarity. What we know so far is that we should have an announcement on what international travel will look like by 12 April when a new version of the Global Travel Taskforce will release its findings. With the 12 April announcement, we will know whether the preliminary date set for international travel’s return of 17 May will go forward.
Despite there being no definitive date set for when we can jet off into the sunset, airlines have taken the government’s uttering of the 17 May and run with it. Airlines that operate predominantly leisure routes are, in some cases, cancelling travel before 17 May and ramping up services after that date.
“In line with the U.K. government’s latest lockdown announcement, all TUI holidays from England will not operate before 17 May,” said Andrew Flintham, managing director for TUI U.K. and Ireland.
Elsewhere, bookings have gone through the roof, with Jet2 reportedly seeing a 1000% increase after Johnson’s announcement on Monday. EasyJet said its holidays saw a boost of 600% overnight.
So, should you book now? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
If you have a booking already, in most cases, the airlines have your back, as they have updated and extended change fee policies throughout the pandemic. After the announcement on Monday, airlines have been reaffirming such measures to reassure would-be customers that they won’t be left in the lurch if the government’s dates get pushed back.
“We know our customers are looking forward to their holidays, so to offer continued flexibility and reassurance, we have extended our free changes policy to the end of June,” Flintham said. “Those due to travel between 17 May and the end of June can change their booking to a later date fee-free.”
A spokesperson for Jet2 echoed the sentiment, saying: “Where customers yet to travel are affected by any programme changes, Jet2holidays will automatically cancel their booking with a relevant refund, and their team of travel experts will be in touch to help them. book their summer getaway for later in the year.”
EasyJet’s CEO has promised protection even for those who haven’t booked.
“Our Protection Promise means that customers can book with confidence knowing that if they are unable to travel or their plans change so can their flights or holiday, and we’ve put more flights and holidays on sale this summer to even more destinations, so that customers have more choice to book something to look forward to,” said EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren.
That said, in most cases, if you want to take a gamble and get a trip booked, the likelihood is that you’ll be able to change your flight for free or the airline will issue a refund should the 17 May not turn out as planned. Keep in mind, however, you may be responsible for paying the difference in fare if your new itinerary is more expensive.
It also helps to make sure you have the relevant travel insurance and to check to see what protection you will have in the case your holiday get cancelled due to government-imposed restrictions. If you’re not sure whether that is included in your annual policy, or with your credit card insurance, it’s worthwhile to give your insurance issuer a call to double-check.
Also, you may want to check to ensure that your holiday is ATOL-protected in the off chance that your travel provider goes bust before your holiday.
The main risk you will be taking if you go ahead and book a trip now is that the preliminary dates set out in the government’s roadmap may be pushed back. That’s to say that while international could resume as soon as 17 May, it could be weeks — or months — later than that date. And there’s no way to tell at this point.
Depending on the rules regarding the fare you bought with your airline, or the insurance coverage you might have, it could lead to a timely and even costly headache. However, given the protection and coverage noted above, this can be avoided with a bit of extra research before booking.
Not only that, but when the day comes that we are allowed to travel for leisure again legally, we’ll need some of the travel restrictions to lift as well. More specifically, we will still need to pay for costly COVID-19 tests both before and after our trip? Will we still need to pay for expensive and lengthy hotel quarantine on return to the U.K.? These are both very important factors to consider before booking an international trip — and the’re questions that we do not yet have the answers for.
On top of all of that, at this point in time, it’s still too early to know whether the country you’re planning on travelling to will even be allowing tourists. For many destinations, it will take more time before we’re able to know if we can travel there for leisure purposes. New Zealand and Australia, for example, have both said that their borders will likely remain closed for the remainder of 2021.
Really, a large part of booking a holiday now comes down to how much of a risk-taker you are. Either way, should you decide to book a trip now or not, there’s a good chance that your trip will happen in the end, if not a little later than originally planned.
Personally, I’m holding off for now — at least until the government’s planned update on 12 April.
Featured image by Gary John Norman/Getty Images
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