Travel can be very unpredictable in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As vaccination rates rose and cases fell in the spring and summer, many popular destinations opened up to U.S. visitors, and people started booking their long-awaited vacations accordingly. But with increased hospitalizations and rising concerns about variants in recent months, a number of those same destinations have imposed new restrictions on nonessential travel from the States.
While this is disappointing for would-be travelers, it’s particularly upsetting for those who had already booked their dream trips to these places and now find themselves unsure of how to proceed. But the good news is, they have options.
HuffPost asked experts what travelers should do if new restrictions in a particular tourist destination affect their upcoming travel plans. Below, read their recommendations for steps to take if you find yourself in this situation.
Do thorough research.
Before you take any action, make sure you fully understand the new restrictions and what they mean for U.S. travelers.
“If you’ve planned a trip to a destination and you see a headline announcing a change, there are a couple things you should do,” Willis Orlando, member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, told HuffPost. “First, be thorough. Be sure to check official government sources as news headlines have tended to oversimplify or exaggerate restrictions.”
Orlando advised consulting the U.S. Embassy’s website for your given destination to get complete, up-to-date information. You may find that your trip is still feasible with the proper advance preparation.
It’s also important to do this research periodically in the time leading up to your travels. Be prepared for further updates or changes.
“Entry requirements and restrictions can change quickly, so make sure to always check official government sites a few days before your departure,” said Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app Tripscout. “Don’t rely on old blog posts or the research you did while booking.”
Check the flexibility of your bookings.
Once you understand the rules in place at your destination, determine what the options are for your bookings for flights, accommodation and other aspects of the trip.
“It really depends on what the restrictions are,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “If it is a quarantine rule for international travel or something else that will severely affect your trip, you need to be aware of refund policies for your itinerary.”
Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to pandemic travel.
“Ideally, you book a stay at a hotel offering free cancellations close to the start of your stay,” Dengler. “Even if you do not, you still may be able to get your money back or reschedule your stay. I recommend asking the hotel for a refund. If they say no, ask about a credit to rebook for different dates. If they refuse to budge, dispute the charge with your credit card company.”
With flights, he noted that most major carriers no longer have change fees, and you may have the option of a cash refund or an airline credit.
“The good news is many rental car companies allow you to cancel without a fee as long as you did not prepay your reservation,” he added.
Whatever travel you book, go into it with modified expectations.
“Expect that your plans could be canceled or changed,” Waliszewski said. “Do not book anything that’s not able to be fully canceled and refunded if new restrictions or bans are put in place. This will give you peace of mind if you need to make any last-minute changes to your plans.”
Pick an alternative destination.
You may find through your research that you won’t be permitted to enter your destination of choice or that you’ll be subject to a quarantine that makes the trip you planned undesirable. But you don’t have to completely give up on your vacation.
“If you booked a ticket with no change fees, you can look to change your ticket to a different destination,” said Orlando. “Amazing deals are popping up regularly right now. If, for example, you were scheduled to go to Amsterdam but feel deterred by recent changes to entry requirements, take a look at other deals to Europe. A little flexibility can go a long way, and much of the world is, and will likely continue to be, open to vaccinated Americans.”
Look into the other destinations your airline of choice services, and if you booked accommodations through a hotel chain, see if it has places to stay there as well. You may be able to put together a very similar trip.
Wait to cancel if it’s nonrefundable.
When it comes to nonrefundable airline tickets, the situation may not be completely hopeless if you find your destination instates a travel ban. You just have to wait and hope for the best. Even if the restrictions aren’t lifted, you may still be able to get a refund in time.
“If you booked a ticket with change fees, we recommend that rather than canceling the tickets immediately and eating the cost, you are better off setting a calendar reminder for a date one or two weeks before the trip is scheduled as your final date to cancel the trip if conditions don’t change,” Orlando said.
“If you cancel the trip voluntarily, the airline owes you nothing, so there’s literally no benefit in canceling too quickly,” he continued. “But by holding out, you increase the odds that the airline will cancel or significantly alter your itinerary. When restrictions are put into place, airlines often reduce the number of planes they fly on the given route, which increases the odds of a schedule change or cancellation. If they do so, you are then entitled to a full refund under federal law. A little patience can save you hundreds of dollars.”
Consider investing in travel insurance.
While it may be too late to protect the trip in question, the latest travel restrictions serve as a good reminder to look into travel insurance when booking future vacations.
“We saw an increase ― up between 3 and 5 percentage points ― in travelers adding travel insurance to their trip in 2021 when compared to 2019,” Matt Clarke, senior vice president of marketing at Kayak, told HuffPost. “Following this uptick, Kayak will start offering the option to purchase ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage at the time of your booking this fall so users can rest easy if they need to cancel their trip for any reason up to 24 hours before a flight. For example, if something pops up at the last minute like a new travel restriction causing you to cancel your trip, you can do so, no questions asked.”
Make sure you examine the fine print and know what you’re getting before you commit to a particular insurance provider or plan.
“Do a comprehensive read of each insurance plan to find out what is covered under your policy,” said queer-travel expert and “Gaycation Travel Show” host Ravi Roth. He recommended HTH Worldwide, Allianz Travel Insurance and Travel Guard by AIG.
So if any unexpected changes arise that affect your upcoming travel, take advantage of the flexibility and resources you get from your insurance plan.
“Lastly, there is always help from the U.S. Embassy if you find yourself in a jam regarding COVID while traveling,” Roth added.