Reconsider Your 2020 Summer (and Fall) Vacation Plans
Last updated 7/24/2020 at 5:27pm | View PDF
Now that summer is here, consumers wonder when they will be able to "get away" or take another family vacation.
ExpertFlyer.com went one-on-one with several travel industry experts to get their thoughts and advice on summer and fall travel options this year and create a roadmap to help consumers determine when and where to travel over the next 12-18 months.
In addition, experts offered tips on a number of topics, including how travelers can protect themselves against ongoing cancellations, when they should consider booking a flight or stepping aboard a cruise ship.
For the sake of planning, if not for their sanity, consumers need to place future travel options into buckets, or phases, with "Phase 1" including the most realistic short term options, and subsequent phases incorporating additional options over windows of time, such as air travel, cruising and specific destinations.
"The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the 'Year of the Staycation,' and the sooner travelers understand and embrace this, the quicker they can begin to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives," said Chris Lopinto, president of ExpertFlyer.com.
Many travel industry professionals agree and suggest this is the year to experience what's in your own backyard. That long-anticipated trip to Europe or that cruise through the Panama Canal will have to wait, at least for a little while.
"Now that we seem to have moved from the 'crisis' phase of the pandemic to the 'rebuilding' phase, travelers have dozens of questions about future travel that are probably best answered by a trusted travel advisor," explains Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel.
"Should I take insurance? How do I know my money's protected? Is it safe to travel there? When can I go? Consumers are looking for someone they can trust to answer these, and many other questions," she said.
Who Needs Insurance?
Insurance is an area travelers need to seriously consider as they begin to plan future trips, even those close enough to reach by car. But the stigma about insurance has kept millions of travelers rolling the dice, hoping their trips are not interrupted for any number of reasons.
But what type of insurance is right? What is covered? More importantly, what isn't?
"Consumers planning to travel within the U.S. should review their current healthcare policies to determine which benefits might be active while traveling," said Jonathan Breeze, CEO of AardvarkCompare, an online travel insurance marketplace. "The benefit of a travel insurance policy is that it can pick up medical costs while on the road, as well as cover medical evacuations, as required."
On the other hand, "Cancellation Insurance" is designed to cover travelers when illness, injury, and other unforeseen events prevent travelers from taking the trip. Although most policies cover illnesses, including illness due to COVID-19, Breeze recommends reading each policy carefully.
"For the range of COVID-inspired challenges consumers face today, beyond contracting the virus, 'Cancel for Any Reason' travel insurance is the way to go," he said. "It allows for 75% of the trip cost to be reimbursed in the event of cancellation."
Breeze adds that Cancel for Any Reason insurance policies tend to be a bit more expensive but the increased coverage is significant. These policies must typically be purchased within 20 days of making your first payment on a trip.
"As always, it is worth comparing policy options," he added. "It is not unusual to see a 100% difference in price between the least expensive and most expensive Cancel for Any Reason policies."
Phase I: Road Tripping
For both safety and economic reasons, travelers should look at vacation opportunities within their respective states and neighboring states that are within a few hours' drive.
"Weekends at the beach, local camping trips and other (local) outdoor activities will likely be the extent of our travels this summer," explains Lopinto.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to experience locations and activities we take for granted because they are in our own backyard," said Jay Singh, deputy content manager and journalist at Simple Flying.
"This is a great opportunity to reflect on past vacations and use the time to research and prepare for next year," he said. "Museums and other destinations around the world are creating virtual experiences, which can help determine where your next vacation might take you."
Phase II: Domestic Air Travel
"I think that Phase II will include increased levels of confidence with airline travel in the fall, this year," said Wetty. "I also think that diehard cruisers will begin considering options at this point."
For those hoping to land a great deal on an airline ticket this fall, Lopinto says "go for it," but do your homework.
"If you can get a cheap fare on future travel, go for it, but make sure you understand what the airline's cancellation policy is for that booking and travel date in case you need to cancel," he explained.
"It is my opinion that cruisers might realistically be able to take a cruise vacation again from September onwards," said Douglas Ward, cruise industry expert at Cruise Voice and author of Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2020.
"However, it is important to understand that ships will be selectively re-introduced and sourcing crew will take some time. In addition, things such as shore excursions and transport facilities will take some time, so the overall cruising 'experience' may be lacking at this stage of the recovery."
Phase III: Cruising & International Air Travel
The major cruise lines have sufficient cash reserves to keep them afloat without a single passenger through 2021, and the U.S. government will likely take an equity stake in the airline industry with loans and grants.
"I believe that many ships, particularly the large 'resort ships' with 2,500-plus passengers, will not be in service until the beginning of 2021," Ward suggests.
"For anyone able to defer their cruise vacations, 2021 appears to be a better choice, given the uncertainties of the present situation and challenges that lie ahead in the relative short-term."
Cash or Credit?
While airlines, cruise lines, and other tourism destinations are offering customers credit toward future services, and often with additional incentives, many consumers simply want their money back.
Experts agree that the decision is for the most part, personal. Travelers who fully expect to rebook a trip in the near future should seriously consider taking the credit, along with other incentives they're offered. Those who are less certain about future travel plans should probably opt for a refund.
But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Airlines in particular are strapped for cash and the last thing they want to do is provide a refund. In fact, they may tell customers they aren't entitled to a refund – only a credit. According to Lopinto, it's important for passengers to know the rules, and their rights.
"The bottom line is refunds are not optional for canceled or severely delayed flights," Lopinto says. "Both the DOT here in the USA and EU regulations for European airlines clearly state that this (a passenger refund) is a requirement."
Lopinto suggested that dissatisfied travelers can register a complaint with the DOT, or dispute the charge with their credit card company.
For passengers concerned about losing award miles or their status on airlines, Jay Singh at Simple Flying says passengers should not be concerned. "Most airlines, including the big three U.S. airlines, have extended status by a full 12 months, meaning you'll keep your current status through the start of 2022, even if you don't fly this year."
For cruisers, the thought process is essentially the same.
"If value is important to you and you have travel flexibility, using credits to enhance your future cruise would provide a better overall vacation experience," says Ward.
"If you take a refund instead, it means you will need to start planning all over again and, judging by the way bookings are flooding in for 2021, you may not have as many choices."