How to COVID-proof your travel plans
A Money & Life publication from the FPA
Is lockdown fatigue getting the better of you? If you’re dreaming of a beachside holiday, you might be wondering if it’s safe to make travel plans.
With summer on the horizon and the country stuck in various levels of lockdown, many of us will be craving a change of scene.
While overseas leisure travel isn’t possible right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t look forward to a time when it is. And in the meantime, there’s plenty of local gems to explore in our own backyard.
Imagination at play
Planning a holiday can be incredibly rewarding in itself. Various studies have shown that the act of planning your holiday can have as many mental health benefits as actually taking the trip. That’s because anticipation of an experience can substantially increase your happiness, often more than the experience itself.
So whether you’re dreaming of a trip around Europe or skiing in Japan, there’s no harm in doing the research to get ready for the day when we can travel overseas again.
However, if you prefer something a little more concrete, look into options nearby. Many local travel providers are offering great deals to try to entice locals looking to experience a staycation.
What to look out for when booking travel
With so much uncertainty about, you need to be extra careful that you’re covered in case there’s a change of plans.
Before you book anything, make sure you check the provider’s cancellation and refund policy. Try to choose providers who’re offering a full refund if you need to change or cancel your trip.
Also remember that travel restrictions between states and territories and in some remote areas of Australia are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Check the Australian Government’s Department of Health website for the most up to date information about restrictions.
Up, up and away
Local airlines have introduced greater flexibility to help anyone who wants to make a domestic booking. Here’s a run-down of what’s on offer from the major carriers:
Qantas – Fly Flexible
Under it’s ‘Fly Flexible’ offer, Qantas will waive the change fee once only on eligible domestic flights booked before the 30 September 2020, for travel before 30 November 2020. Visit their website for the full terms and conditions.
It’s also worth looking into Qantas ‘Flex’ fares, which allow cancellations up to 30 minutes before departure. Again, visit the Qantas website for full terms and conditions of carriage.
Virgin Australia – domestic flight cancellations
Virgin Australia is offering unlimited changes on domestic bookings made before 31 October 2020, for travel up to and including that date.
They’re also offering two free changes on international bookings made by 31 October 2020, for travel before 1 March 2021. Always check the website for the latest information, terms and conditions.
A place to stay
Cancellation policies on offer for accommodation vary widely between providers. You might find that you have more luck booking directly with accommodation providers, or paying a premium for a flexible booking.
While some of the major accommodation booking engines did cover cancellations during the initial lockdowns, now that COVID-19 is a known event, blanket policies have generally been removed.
Airbnb guests who booked on or before 14 March 2020, for check-in by 15 October 2020, may be eligible for a full refund under their extenuating circumstances policy. For all bookings made after that date, once Coronavirus was widely known about, each provider’s usual cancellation policy applies.
Because Airbnb is a booking engine, each individual host is able to decide on their own cancellation policy. Many hosts, but not all, will offer free cancellation up until arrival. So make sure to check each listing you’re considering and prioritise those with a flexible cancellation policy.
Similarly on Booking.com, each accommodation provider can offer their own preferred cancellation policy. Many providers allow free cancellation up until one or two days before arrival, so always try to book an option with free cancellation.
What about travel insurance?
We’ve all heard grueling stories of Aussies stuck overseas, running out of money and desperate to get home. That’s what travel insurance is for right? To help you out when unexpected events arise?
Well, yes and no. It all comes down to when you purchased your travel insurance and what your policy covers.
Consumer advocate Choice says, “people who bought travel insurance before the disease became a ‘known event’ may be covered for medical expenses that arise from contracting the disease overseas, and may even be covered for cancellation expenses.”
But they warn that once COVID-19 become a ‘known event’, in January 2020, the options for travelers were limited.
“If you haven’t purchased a policy by 31 January 2020 it’s unlikely you’ll get travel insurance that covers claims resulting from coronavirus since it was deemed a known event. Many travel insurers also suspended policy sales in response to the Australian government’s international travel ban…”
There are still some providers offering travel insurance, so if you’re planning to travel later this year or next year, shop around and see what’s on offer.
Staying safe while you’re away
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s really important to abide by the health and safety recommendations in place to help contain the spread of COVID-19 while you’re away.
That means appropriate social distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask in public places if you’re required to (although this is good practice in any case). By following these protocols, we can all help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic won’t last forever, but in the meantime, we need to stay positive and a change of scene in our local area could be just what you need.
With the right planning, there’s no reason why you can’t be enjoying a staycation in your own home state this summer. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, start researching your dream overseas vacation, and you’ll be ready to book and go once it’s safe again to do so.