by Maurie Backman | April 22, 2020
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The short answer? It depends on how flexible you're willing to be.
Back in the day, booking travel was a simple matter of researching the best deals and, in some cases, maximizing credit card rewards to make your trip as inexpensive as possible. But since COVID-19 became a pandemic, just leaving the house is so daunting that many people don't have vacation planning on the brain.
Still, you may have noticed that hot deals and special offers keep hitting your inbox, and that flights and vacation packages are unbelievably inexpensive right now. So should you take advantage and book something? Or is it better to play it safe and wait till the crisis is over before putting down a deposit on a trip or paying for future travel?
Making travel plans may not be such a bad idea right now -- you can score some pretty good deals. But if you're going to book something, prepare to be very, very flexible, especially if you're talking about a trip within the next few months. We don't know what restrictions will be in place come June, July, or August, so if you're planning your summer vacation, prepare to have those plans completely upended. If you're okay with that, then go ahead and lock in that deal -- but do your research first to make sure you're covered financially.
One thing you should know is that many airlines are offering free flight changes and cancellations right now, so if you book a ticket and your plans fall through, you're not out of luck. Hotels, which are generally flexible with their cancellation policies to begin with, may be offering even more leeway than usual. So if you book a trip that ultimately doesn't work out, you may get your money back, or the option to rebook for a different time.
That said, before you put money down for any travel that's set to occur in coming months, do a couple of things. First, make sure you have a decent emergency fund and aren't already in debt. You should only be spending money on travel if you can truly afford to do so.
Next, read the fine print carefully before booking a trip and make sure your plans really are refundable or adjustable if the COVID-19 situation doesn't improve by your scheduled travel date. It also pays to book your trip on a travel rewards credit card that offers some built-in protection like trip insurance. If you don't have a travel rewards card, consider buying travel insurance, which protects you from trip interruption, and can also offer medical benefits if you're traveling overseas.
Keep in mind, however, that travel insurance generally won't pay you if you cancel your trip due to COVID-19 fears. In other words, if you book a trip for August hoping things will be better by then and they're not, you may not get to cancel because you're scared you'll be quarantined. The only way to get the flexibility to back out of a future trip for that reason is to buy a policy with a "cancel for any reason" feature -- but you'll pay a premium.
Though right now may seem like a terrible time to make travel plans, if you're strategic about it, you could wind up snagging some very good deals. Booking travel will also give you something to look forward to, which could work wonders for your mental health. Just make sure you know exactly what your cancellation and rebooking options look like before putting down money, so you won't wind up regretting your decision after the fact.
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