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Protecting Travel Plans in 2021

With the hopes of a coronavirus vaccine and a building desire to travel, travelers may be tempted to book future trips. However, the future is uncertain as to when you might be able to travel freely, given the frequency of virus surges, shifting quarantine requirements and border closures. Furthermore, travel is likely to be more expensive once everything reopens. So how can you protect your travel booking

The best deals to consider are those for the second half of 2021 and beyond, when travel and prices are expected to pick up. For some, travel planning is a psychological lifeline. For now, deals on later 2021 trips, if you can get them, are a reasonable bet as long as you consider the following steps

Look for flexible terms
Hotel bookings have historically been easy to cancel without penalty within a day or two of arrival. Since the pandemic, airlines, too, have become much more consumer friendly by waiving cancellation penalties and allowing fliers to rebook their trips without fees.

It’s important to look at cancellation policies and know if you’re getting anything back, what are you getting back, a refund or travel credit, when the credit expires and any blackout dates. Refunds remain challenging to get so be careful and expect to get a voucher / credit instead of a refund. 

Like the airlines, tour companies have altered their cancellation terms to entice bookings. There is much more variation in cancellation policies among home rental services, so read carefully before you book. Airbnb includes a listing’s cancellation policy as part of the top-line description of a rental. Hotel-affiliated rentals may offer more flexibility. 

Pay with points
If you have loyalty points or frequent flier miles, now is the time to use them, say experts. Not only will you avoid spending cash, you’re unlikely to lose them if you have to cancel. Airlines are typically allowing you to cancel and get your miles and taxes and fees back and using frequent flier miles these days is like booking a totally refundable ticket.

Once travel resumes wholeheartedly, expect a deflation of point valued as airlines and hotels bump up point thresholds for tickets and rooms. Airlines will need to build on their dynamic pricing for award tickets - charging more during peak flying times rather than sticking to a point schedule. If in your plans, consider soon travel-rewards credit cards with sign-up bonuses in points based on meeting initial spending requirements.

Charge it and insure it
Compared to cash or debit cards, paying via credit card offers financial protection. In the event a travel company goes out of business, and you’ve paid it through a credit card, you can dispute the charge with the credit card company, a process that usually takes time and persistence.

Cards may offer travel protections, including benefits that cover trip cancellation, delays, interruptions and lost and damaged bags. In general, the more expensive the card, the more generous the benefits. However, the onus is on the consumer in all credit card insurance cases to prove anything. If you’re concerned your travel provider is in financial trouble, call your insurer and ask if it’s on an exclusion list. More than ever, you’ll need to do your homework to find the right policy, particularly one that covers Covid-19.

Negotiate, and stay flexible
Don’t like the terms you’re offered? Try asking for a better deal. Depending on your powers of persuasion, diplomacy and enthusiasm, you might be able to negotiate. Make sure to put the new terms in writing.

For far-horizon trips, the likelihood of changes in things like flight schedules or cruise ship ports of call increases as travel companies set dates and rates long before the pandemic is over. Alongside taking money-protecting steps, prepare yourself to stay flexible - stay in a mindset where you expect things to change. 

Source: NYTimes

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