Coronavirus (COVID-19): should I be booking flights now?

Do your research before booking flights. The below is our personal point of view of whether you should be booking imminent travel.

The airline industry has taken a hit because of the coronavirus outbreak, with some airlines even on the brink of collapse. Passenger numbers have fallen dramatically, with reports of empty planes flying and airports like ghost towns seen on the media. It seems like only the strongest airlines will survive COVID-19. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know if you should be booking flights in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. We recently booked flights to Santiago, Chile (just today!) and we answered a list of questions to help us decide. Being financially protected is an important deciding factor for us. Should things change, or if we are unable to travel, we do not want to be out of pocket. We hope the below information will help you decide, but please keep a close eye of how the situation is evolving. Just this week, the US has banned all flights from Europe, UK and Ireland, as it’s now the new epicentre of the Global pandemic.

Airlines have employed different tactics to build passenger confidence. This is to keep revenues up and ensure they survive the coronavirus outbreak.

Offers and reward seats?

Some airlines are slashing prices and increasing the number of reward seats. As much as these offers pose a good deal for people willing to travel, you might be wondering if it’s the right time to book any travel? For us, we are still booking flights and will still be travelling but this is dependent on a couple of factors, which we’ve outlined below. After a lot of research, we’ve decided that we will not travel for until mid-April, but we will still book flights if we see a good deal.

If you have already booked a flight and wondering if you should cancel, then our blog on coronavirus and flying – should I cancel my flight? might be useful. Bottom line, we would still travel, but it will depend on the destination and we would respect the seriousness of the situation.

Flight offers: should I be booking flights now?

You might have seen some great offers from airlines and wondered if it’s worth booking? Firstly, we would use “How much should you pay for a business class seat? to decide if it’s a good deal. If the price works for you, then it would be important to look at other factors that might affect your trip due to COVID-19. Given the unpredictability of where the coronavirus outbreak might happen next, we have been cautious with booking flights. We consider different factors to make sure we’re protected from hefty cancellation or reschedule fees in case coronavirus takes hold.

Fare rules: what is the cancellation policy?

With so many flight changes, diversions and potentially cancellations due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s more important than ever to read and understand the small print before booking flights. These are often called the “Fare Rules” or “Rules and Restrictions”. Airlines will list these with any ticket that you book. In general, the more flexible the ticket the more expensive the ticket, as you pay a premium for the flexibility. The airline industry can be very draconian when it comes to sticking to these rules, so do check before you book. Make sure you’re comfortable with these terms. These can usually be found in the “cancellation” or “penalties” section of the booking rules.

The things you should look out for in the Rules and Restrictions section:  

  • Cancellation policy: What is the cancellation policy and will you be charged if you cancel? Look out for words like “Cancellation Permitted”
  • Changes: Can you change the date and time of your travel and how much will it cost? Look out for words like “Changes – before departure permitted for a fee or fee applies”
  • Date changes: is there a specific date that you need to be aware? Look out for words like “These conditions are subject to changes within 24 hours before travel”
  • No show penalty: some allow a refund if you don’t show up for your flight but will incur a charge. Look out for words like “You may incur a No Show fee. No Show penalities apply if cancelled 48 prior to check-in”

Having an idea on what you can do in the event that you no longer want to travel or can’t travel, will be critical if you don’t want to incur a hefty penality. Booking fully flexible tickets will generally cost more so it’s important to ensure you have adequate travel insurance.

Booking with confidence? Can I change my flight?

Some airlines have launched a “Book with Confidence” campaign that gives you the flexibility of changing your flight at no charge. However, this does not allow you to cancel your tickets. British Airways programme is valid for all flights booked between 3 March to 16 March 2020. This is a way for airlines to help with managing coronavirus and booking flights. It’s a good scheme, but be aware that it does not allow you to cancel and get a refund. Again, check the fare rules.

Do you have travel insurance?

If you’re a frequent traveller, it is always advisable to have adequate travel insurance. The coronavirus outbreak has put a lot of people’s travel plans into disarray, so understanding what your policy covers will be important to make sure you’re not out of pocket if the situation changes. If the government advises against travel to particular regions, in general, your insurers should refund you should the airline refuse to. Importantly, if the airline goes bust, which is possible, you want to make sure you are protected against “airline failure”.

Is the country or region affected by coronavirus?

There are new cases of COVID-19 every day and the number of new countries affected by coronavirus are increasing. It’s important to look at the current data and understand which countries are experiencing increasing infection rates. At this moment in time China, Iran, South Korea and Italy are reporting high level of infections.

What’s my government’s advice?

Coronavirus has been the top of the news agenda over the last month. Like the virus, misinformation can spread quickly. Given the vast resources available online, we would always check official travel advice from the government.

UK government advice

The UK government had specified countries and areas with implications for returning travellers or visitors arriving in the UK into two categories. The regions and countries listed in category 1 and 2 have been changing depending on the evolving situation.

Category 1: Travellers should self-isolate, even if asymptomatic.

Category 2: Travellers do not need to undertake any special measures, but if they develop symptoms they should self-isolate.

USA government advice

The US has now banned all travellers from Europe (not UK). The CDC recommends that travellers avoid all nonessential travel to areas of high risk. These include China, Iran, Italy and South Korea – all with a level 3 warning. The entry of foreign nationals from China and Iran are suspended. For other regions, you’ll experience increased scrutiny if you have travelled there recently. For up to date travel notices visit the CDC website.

The CDC travel advice against nonessential travel to South Korea, Iran, Europe and China

Will the country you intend to visit let you in?

Even if you meet all the above, the country you’re intending on visiting might not let you in. The situation is evolving, and countries have imposed their own rules and regulations. The IATA website has the best summary of the restrictions. Tajikistan initially banned visitors from 35 countries, including the United Kingdom, but have since lifted the ban and imposed quarantine from people from affected countries.

Israel orders a 14 day quarantine for anyone entering. If you plan to travel to Bermuda, you will be subjected to a minimum of 14 days quarantine. This is applicable if you have been to China, Iran, Italy (northern regions), Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. If you show symptoms or have a relevant travel history, you will be put into immediate isolation. Perhaps not the best holiday if you’re stuck!

Travel to bermuda
Example of the travel restrictions from countries like Bermuda

Is the country in lock down?

Before you travel make sure you check if the country is in “lock down”. Many have banned mass gatherings and restricted the movement of people. Italy for example has asked all its citizens to stay home and asked tourists to leave. With key tourist attractions closed, and heighten sense of urgency and security, it’s hardly going to be a pleasant holiday. Poland and Ukraine have shut all museums, theatres and cinemas. It’s advisable to do your research before you book anything.

What does the WHO recommend?

The WHO advice for travellers is to be prudent if you’re sick, and to delay travelling, in particular for elderly travellers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.

General recommendations for personal hygiene, cough etiquette and keeping a distance of at least one metre from persons showing symptoms remain particularly important for all travellers. It encourages you to:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene
  • Refrain from touching mouth and nose
  • A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons

BG1 take on coronovirus and booking flights

So, should you be booking flights now with the coronavirus pandemic? Our advice is to do your research before booking. We have recently booked flights to Santiago, Chile and have answered all the questions above to guide us before we booked. We protect ourselves financially by understanding the fare rules and ensure we’re adequately insured. Common sense and remaining vigilant is the best preventative measure against the virus. We all have to do our part in helping to manage the spread of the pandemic. Don’t forget to wash your hands and respect cough etiquette (and you do not need 400 rolls of toilet paper!).

Notes: This is our take on the situation with coronavirus and flight bookings. You might want to do your own research before making your mind up before you book your flights. If you have a different point of view be sure to comment below and let us know.

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