News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Scratch that travel itch?

COVID-fatigue is setting in at the same time vaccines are starting to be distributed. Airlines are hemorrhaging and hotels are largely empty so extraordinary travel deals stare you in the face. It is now a game of chicken. Who will blink first: the travel industry or travelers starved for the good old days?

The good news for the most part is airlines have waived change fees to give more incentive to book even if the pandemic forces you to cancel or rebook down the road. They desperately need your cash. However, you need to read the small print. Waivers are often based on booking class and the rules for domestic travel are not as generous as foreign travel. A basic — stripped down — economy fare won’t get you the same waiver as a flex, regular, or premium economy fare, depending on the airline.

Changes are not the same thing as refunds. You will only get a refund — by U.S. law — if the U.S. airline cancels the flight. Otherwise they still have your money and you will likely get to rebook without penalty. Know the rules!

Hotels, in even a more precarious position, are vastly more flexible in cancellations than a year ago but you still need to understand their rules. The bigger the chain or larger the hotel will get you the best options. Airbnb and VRBO require the most care in knowing what your cancel and refund rights are. Keep in mind these are mom-and-pop lodging operators with only one room, cabin, or house. They cannot be as flexible and remain viable.

Is it safe to travel? Basically yes, but government guidelines still strongly discourage nonessential travel. Notwithstanding that IATA (International Air Transport Association) is an industry trade group with a dog in the hunt, I find them to be the best, one-stop source to answer questions of cabin air, transmission risks, airplane cleanliness and precautions. And they are the most up-to-date — literally to the hour — on where you can and cannot travel and what restrictions are in force:

Three weeks ago, you could have flown in January or February from pretty much anywhere in the Pacific Northwest to Cabo or Maui for $226. Today, it’s in the high $300s or low $400s. Just 10 days ago the Delta non-stop from Seattle to Paris for May was $982 and today it’s $1,557. It’s a simple law of supply and demand. It will be a year or more before the airlines un-mothball the 16,000 planes they parked in 2020. Fares will accelerate more quickly as there are millions fewer seats to sell.

Can you get trip insurance with COVID coverage? The short answer is yes. You can get coverage if your trip is disrupted or if you contract the virus. Here’s a typical premium: Age 70, 15 days in France in June with a total trip cost of $6,000 yields a premium of $290 to $430, depending on pre-existing conditions, medical air taxi, etc. The lowest and the highest premium both cover 100 percent if you catch COVID and 100 percent to 150 percent of trip interruption by the carriers or tour operators who cancel due to the virus.

Deciding if and when to travel is a very personal choice. Discretion is the better part of valor. Don’t chase a deal if travel is the least bit risky for you. On the flip side, if you need to scratch that travel itch, bargains will soon be in the rear-view mirror.

Editor’s Note: Bill Bartlett is the owner of Cascade Travel & Photo in Sisters.


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