This holiday travel season will look a lot different because of the pandemic. Some people can’t imagine booking a trip. Others are checking flights, pricing, or calling a travel agent.
Kathy Facione of Rochester Hills loves to travel.
She’s been exploring the globe in recent years – visiting Italy, Ireland, and Iceland – to name a few.
Facione has not flown since February due to the pandemic, but she is planning a fall trip to Wyoming.
“I’ll have a half day in Grand Teton, all day in Yellowstone, I have a chuck wagon dinner scheduled one night, and a horseback sunset trip planned another night,” she said explaining her itinerary.
I had to ask her, “Have you had anybody say, ‘You’re flying during a pandemic?! What?!’
“Yeah, yeah. A few people think I’m crazy. They think it’s too early,” she replied with a smile.
But Facione wears her mask consistently and follows health and safety guidelines. Now she’s ready to explore.
BOOK NOW? OR LATER?
But what do people need to know if they’re considering booking travel over the holidays this year with coronavirus still a concern around the world?
I asked Jill Jones for some advice.
Jones is a Travel Concierge with Cadillac Travel in Southfield, and she’s been keeping track of all the COVID-19 travel advisories and how the industry is responding.
“You need to understand completely what you’re buying. Like, what is your ability to change this? What’s your ability to get it refunded? What is the window for that? So that, all, you need to understand all of that before you put your money down,” Jones said.
Of all the airlines, Jones said she thought Delta has been doing the best job with cancellation policies, cleaning protocols, mask mandates, and social distancing.
Delta just announced it is extending its policy of blocking middle seats and limiting the number of customers on every flight through January 6 of 2021 (Delta will make the middle seat available for parties of 3 or more traveling together).
Jones said Delta – like other airlines – has also been fairly flexible during this health crisis.
If you buy a ticket right now with Delta, Jones explained that you can change that without the airline’s normal $200 change fee or get a voucher that’s good for almost two years.
But if you’re considering booking travel for the holidays this year, Jones advises you not to wait.
“If you wait until November to decide to make your December reservations, you’re probably not going to get what you want, and you’ll pay a lot more than you need to. But people are stuck in [that mindset] – ‘Do I really want to do this?’” Jones explained.
She said if people are hoping for some big “Covid fire sale” of sorts, that’s not going to happen because airlines – like Delta – are blocking 30-percent of their inventory, and eventually prices will go up.
As for warm getaways this winter, Jones said places like Mexico, Aruba, Jamaica, and St. Lucia are open – for now – but some may require a negative COVID-19 test.
Bottom line, Jill Jones said travelers need to understand what they’re buying -- including details about the cancellation or change policies.
“So, I encourage all my clients to book in a format that they can either change it right up until the day before or they can get a full refund if they just decide not to go,” Jones explained.
Jones said it’s also very important for people to monitor each tourist area’s coronavirus situation and entry requirements.
“The airlines are not deciding the rules. It’s the governments of these countries that are deciding the rules. So, you can well get on a plane and not have what you need to get off that plane because it wasn’t up to the airline to tell you that,” said Jones.
The U.S. Virgin Islands just closed to leisure travelers August 19 for at least one month to help contain the spread of the virus.
Hawaii will not re-open to tourists until at least October first due to a surge in positive cases there.
And when it does re-open, Hawaii may still require a 14-day quarantine – meaning tourists must stay at their hotel or rental lodgings for two weeks before venturing beyond those properties.
As for Kathy Facione, she is already thinking about booking a getaway in December.
“I’d like to take another trip around Christmas time just to get away and out of the cold -- maybe do something like a spa or something like that,” Facione said
So, the Red Rocks of Sedona may be calling for Kathy despite the coronavirus.