If you’ve been to the airport this summer, you know that travel is back.
As vaccination rates increased and pandemic restrictions lifted, people booked flights for delayed vacations, family reunions and much-needed getaways. By July, traveling for leisure had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
But the delta variant has is making travelers hesitant to book trips again. So how should we go about planning for fall trips and holiday travel?
Host Angela Davis talks with two travel experts about the trends they’re seeing and what you should weigh as you make your fall travel plans.
Nick Serati is the co-founder of Thrifty Traveler in Minneapolis.
Adit Damodaran is an economist at the travel site Hopper.
Here are five tips from our guests. To hear more advice from the conversation, use the audio player above.
1) For international travel, plan for COVID testing (and staying put with a positive test)
Currently, the federal government requires that travelers have to have a negative COVID-19 test before a departing flight back to the U.S. Thrifty Traveler co-founder Nick Serati said if your COVID test returns positive, you’ll have to quarantine in whatever country you are visiting at the time.
“If that happens, you are potentially making your trip much more expensive,” Serati said. “You’re talking about lodging, food, whatever it is — you’re going to be stuck there for 10 days.”
Adit Damodaran, economist at the travel site Hopper, said that’s part of the reason locations like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, without the same travel restrictions or proof of a negative COVID test to get home, are being strongly considered by Minnesota travelers.
Most major international destinations are going to have decent access to COVID tests, Damodaran added.
“That makes it much easier to meet that 72 hour, three days testing interval where you have to show that negative test, in general,” Damodaran said, “especially just because international travel is so heavily reliant on tests. A lot of countries have tried to kind of work with travelers to make it easier to acquire those tests.”
2) Changing flight plans is easier due to COVID
There aren’t a lot of silver linings with the pandemic, but one of the few we can note for travelers: Airlines are offering the ability to change and cancel tickets in ways that weren’t possible before.
“As long as you are booking a ticket above basic economy. So if you are putting yourself into [the] main cabin, all of the airlines right now are offering the ability to change or cancel those tickets for a voucher,” said Serati. “Right now if you book a ticket for the holiday travel season, and then the next couple weeks, that goes down a couple $100, it is actually possible right now to work with the airline, and they will issue you a credit for the difference in that pricing. Before COVID, that was something that wasn’t possible.”
That means buying early for holiday travel. Even if the price may drop later, it means you might be able to recoup some of the price change. Those adjustments in price depend on which airline you’re traveling with, and Serati said those adjustments are more likely to happen with an online account than over the phone since customer service lines are still struggling to keep up with demand.
3) Plan and monitor travel restrictions and advisories beforehand
As pandemic conditions change globally, restrictions and requirements are also going to vary by country. It’s a challenge.
These restrictions are actually helping travelers feel more at ease. Both Damodaran and Serati said the feedback they’ve heard from travelers is that the restrictions throughout Europe and on federal travel — masking requirements, providing proof of vaccination and negative COVID tests — help ease concerns.
“All of those measures, where travelers can rest assured that those around them have either been vaccinated or tested negative, I think that overall really improved travel sentiment, especially for international travel,” Damodaran said.
If you’re traveling to more than one country, Damodaran advises keeping in mind that even within Europe, travel restrictions and advisories can vary greatly.
Speaking of varying advisories, keep in mind that both the U.S. State Department and the Center for Disease Control have different sets of advisories for traveling internationally. Damodaran says it’s best to follow both advisories, because one advisory may be more recently updated.
4) Consider your comfort level when you travel
Even when you check travel recommendations from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your goal destination may be advised against when you plan to travel. But each country’s COVID prevention measures differ. Serati said many travelers to Europe that he’s talked to feel comfortable within European Union nations “just because of the mass compliance and because of the restrictions that are currently in place.”
Even with all the restrictions, you might not feel comfortable with traveling by air at all. Some are opting to stick with traveling by road only.
5) Follow the restrictions and requirements for vaccines, masks and social distancing
The CDC advises against traveling until you are fully vaccinated. Flights and airports require masking even while fully vaccinated.
Gabe from Minneapolis called in to share that during work trips, he notices one or two people flying or using public transit that refuse to mask.
“It’s ridiculous to think that you can participate in public transportation, but not participate in society’s rules right now,” he said.
Both Serati and Damodaran mentioned that part of the reason travelers are more comfortable with traveling in Europe is because of the restrictions and compliance within various EU nations. Recently a bill was introduced in Congress to require travelers to be fully vaccinated or test negative before flying domestically, but that requirement isn’t yet in place.
“I think, you know, largely that's why a lot of people feel safer if they are willing to travel, if they are going to a destination that requires the proof of vaccination,” Serati said.
Hear more advice and tips from callers by using the audio player above.
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