If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the old cliché of expecting the unexpected has never been more accurate. In 2022, a lot of people are hoping to resume doing the things they love that maybe they skipped or did less of doing the pandemic, including traveling.
Whether you’re thinking about a family trip to Branson or you’re hoping that you get the opportunity to travel internationally, flexibility is key.
Flexible travel planning can give you peace of mind and provide you with some financial cushion if something unexpected comes up, causing you to change or cancel your travel plans.
With that in mind, the following are some things to remember when you’re planning a trip with flexibility as a priority.
Use Third-Party Booking Options
In some cases, if you use a third-party booking option, you might be able to find special deals, but you might also get more flexibility than you would if you booked directly with the company, whether it’s a hotel or attraction.
For example, some third-party booking engines have their own cancellation policies so that if you do have to make changes, you either qualify for a refund or a travel credit.
When you’re booking anything, third-party or otherwise, you need to make sure you read all of the details carefully.
Otherwise, if you’re booking directly with a hotel, you should be aware of the flexibility policies or lack thereof.
For example, at least initially, Hilton changed their cancellation policies during COVID-19. Then, the standard hotel policies were put back in place in October 2020. However, most of their hotels offer the option to change or cancel up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date.
Booking Through Airbnb
If you’re going to book a homestay through Airbnb, the company has recently pushed to offer more flexibility in the midst of the pandemic. The company unveiled a feature called Flexible Dates. This lets you search for options like a month-long stay or a week-long getaway rather than putting your dates in. Then, you might be able to access more options if you can be flexible on your travel dates around Indianapolis.
The idea here is to focus more on where you want to go rather than when.
As far as cancellation policies, hosts set their own, and they have to fall within one of a few categories.
The flexible policy lets guests cancel until 24 hours before their check-in for a full refund. The moderate policy allows guests to cancel until five days before check-in for a full refund. Guests have to cancel at least 30 days before check-in for a full refund with the firm option.
In the strict booking option, if you’re a guest, you have to cancel within 48 hours of your booking, and that cancellation has to happen at least 14 days before your check-in.
Airlines have been a mess over the past few months, and that’s putting it gently. The holidays saw long lines, canceled flights, and other disastrous situations. Even now that we’re past the holiday season, there have been high-profile situations with cancellations and flights turning around mid-air because passengers wouldn’t comply with guidelines like mask mandates.
If you can plan a trip that doesn’t involve the need to fly, that might be a better option.
If you are going to fly, be aware of the airline’s cancellation policies before booking anything.
The major airlines have significantly loosened their change and cancellation policies from before the pandemic.
For example, Delta announced new temporary rules even for their basic economy tickets, giving more flexibility to a fare class that was previously very rigid.
If you want to save money and fly a budget airline, be aware they tend to have the least flexible change and cancellation options.
In some cases, if you book a non-refundable ticket, you may be able to get an eCredit if you have to cancel or change it. Even some of the tickets designated as non-refundable on airlines like Delta may still be eligible for changes under the changeability waivers.
On American Airlines, all domestic, short-haul international, and long-haul international flights with Main Cabin, Premium Economy, and Premium Cabin fares aren’t subject to change fees.
Southwest Airlines never changes change or cancellation fees, and if you find a cheaper flight, the airline will refund the difference.
When booking airline tickets, regardless of airline, make sure that you read the policy before you book. It can end up being a better option to book a higher cabin class because they usually give more flexibility. You might pay more initially, but if you have to make any changes, you could end up saving a significant amount of money.
Be Cautious with Travel Insurance
During the pandemic, many people thought they could deal with uncertainty in their travel plans by using travel insurance. They often realized travel insurance didn’t provide a lot of protection for issues directly related to COVID.
You may get emergency medical coverage and trip interruption coverage if you book travel insurance. However, there are some pretty big restrictions with most of these policies.
The best way to protect yourself in the COVID era with travel insurance is to ensure you get Cancel for Any Reason or CFAR coverage. This is usually an add-on, and you have to pay more for it on top of your travel insurance policy, but it tends to be the only way to get any protection due to changes related to COVID.
CFAR is something that not all travelers will qualify for, and you still need to read the fine print carefully. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you’re probably not going to get a 100% refund. Instead, the reimbursement is usually anywhere from 50-70% of the insured, non-refundable, and pre-paid portion of the trip.
Some travel insurance companies are offering tools specifically related to COVID to help you make sure you can choose the best policy for your plans.