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Why Travel Agents Think You Should Buy Plane Tickets Now—But Travel Later

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 3/25/2020 Carrie Madormo
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If you've been logging more hours on the couch than you're used to, put that time to good use with some vacation planning. Just because you're housebound right now doesn't mean you can't start preparing your post-pandemic life. We will all need a tropical getaway (and a plane cocktail or two) once life gets back to normal, and experts say it's smart to take advantage of today's low airfares for future travel.

Why you should be thinking ahead

Flights are being canceled daily, and of course, it's not a great idea to travel right now, regardless, unless it's absolutely necessary. This bleak reality is hitting the airline industry hard. According to early estimates, coronavirus will cost the airline industry $113 billion in lost revenue, though those figures may balloon even further now that a number of countries are closing their borders. As a result, we're seeing massive price drops and much more forgiving cancellation policies. Many airlines and travel sites have posted their cancellation and change policies on their homepages to help people take advantage of the low prices without missing out if they need to cancel. Here's more on how to get a refund if a world crisis forces you to cancel a trip.

When to book

As the news briefs continue to pour in by the minute, it's difficult to say just how long we'll be distancing ourselves from one another. But the experts we spoke with had a few ideas. "I, for one, am definitely booking holidays in September and December before the end of this month," says Andrea Crome, SN Travel's head of marketing. "Many of the big sporting events and carnivals have been moved to October, so with that in mind, October travel onward should, in theory, be fine."

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Plus, says Joshua Greenberg, a travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, if you book now, you'll not only get better deals—you'll also beat the inevitable mad rush. "It's definitely worth a look at booking now for the future because once this all 'lifts,' the demand is going to outpace supply and [it's] better to be ahead of that curve," he explains.

However, before you book, find out what your window is for canceling. This is always a good idea, but it's essential now. If you're booking air travel, be sure to study the change fees. On American Airlines, for example, all travelers who place their bookings in March for travel through January 30, 2021, will not be charged change fees if the reservation needs to be adjusted. Hotels are also making their policies much more relaxed in an effort to boost business. "Where [the cancellation period] once might have been two weeks prior to arrival, it's now 24 hours," says Greenberg.

While you're at it, make sure you know these new air travel rules.

When to travel

So, now that you know when to book, when should you actually travel? While no one is 100 percent sure, our experts offered their best estimates, given the currently available information. At this time, Crome recommends planning a trip sometime after September, while Greenberg is hopeful that travelers could have wheels up as soon as the end of spring. "The biggest unknown is when the lockdown(s) will end," says Greenberg. "It would seem prudent to not book travel until at least May."

International travel is the most unpredictable right now, so it's more prudent to consider booking a domestic flight if you want to travel sooner rather than later. If you have an exotic location in mind, plan for later in the year or sometime next year. For example, does a trip to the Southern Hemisphere next winter sound good? A roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, in January 2021 is currently around $350 cheaper than normal...and the average temperature in Sydney at that time of year is a perfect 79 degrees.

Where to go

Once you have your travel time frame in mind, you're ready for the best part: dreaming of where to go. "Presuming life as we know it is back to normal, the Caribbean is the perfect destination for traveling in December," says Crome. "Barbados is a good all-rounder, with a vibrant nightlife, stunning beaches and lots to explore—it ticks all the boxes." Christmas on a white-sand beach? Yes, please! If you're more of an adrenaline junkie, consider eco-friendly Dominica. "You can swim with whales, hike volcanoes, and enjoy many adventure sports," she adds.

Because this virus has traveled so quickly through densely populated cities and countries, Greenberg suggests looking at more remote locations for fun in the sun. "The first destinations that come back will be a mix of those that are closer to home and those that have been least impacted by COVID-19," he says. "Many of those are more remote places that are typically bucket-list destinations such as South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand." Looking for specifics? Check out these 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.

How to protect your trip

If you've always been a staunch "travel insurance is a scam" believer, you're about to become a convert. Any trip you book in the coming months needs full protection. This is absolutely one of those times when travel insurance is worth it. "We recommend getting travel insurance (make sure you have the level of protection you need) and checking with your travel consultant on the change policies so you are able to change in case any worst-case scenario occurs," says Crome.

Also make sure your trip is fully refundable in cash or travel vouchers. "We do not advise at this time to book anything that is non-refundable," explains Crome. "It's best to pay a bit more and have the flexibility to change plans if you need to. And with prices as low as they are, that doesn't actually make prices unreasonably high at all."

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