What do I need to know about travelling right now?

Peggy's Cove, NS

14JUL20 – There has been a lot of great news about international travel opening up around the world. Canada is on the EU ‘safe list’. Caribbean Islands are welcoming guests from various international destinations, including Canada. Flights have resumed to many destinations, encouraging tourism, albeit on a less frequent schedule.

Beware!

There is much more to consider outside of being welcome in your destination country. Just because we are welcome, does that mean you should book the next flight out?

Travel is possible, but very risky at the moment. The Canadian Government still has the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place and our border with the USA is still closed. Even within Canada, our movements are restricted and quarantines are required for travel between many of our provinces.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Here are the top four things that you need to weigh deeply before deciding if now is the right time for you to travel:


POTENTIAL TRAVEL COMPLICATIONS

Travel as you know it, basically no longer exists. Your favourite flight routes may not be operating, or are at a much lower frequency. Masks are mandatory on most flights. New check in procedures are in place. Many international airports remain closed to international flights and are only accepting domestic arrivals. Almost everything is done contact-less, which means you’ll need to travel with a smart phone. Some destinations require you have a negative Covid test before boarding your flight. Other destinations require you to be tested on arrival. Sometimes tests are at your expense, sometimes they are free. The middle seat is blocked on some flights and on others, it is not. Every airline, hotel, tour operator and cruise line has a slightly different cancellation and change policy. It is not one size fits all.

Four complications to be prepared for:

1. Denied boarding – You get to the airport, have your temperature checked and you are denied boarding. No amount of arguing, pleading or smiling will get you on board that flight. At this point you may simply be asked to leave the airport, asked to get tested on site (if available), or you may be asked to self-isolate or quarantine.

On departure for your vacation, your flights / hotels / tours will likely all be non-refundable at this point, so you’ll also lose the money you’ve spent on your vacation. At least you’ll be in your home country if you do have Covid.

If you are denied boarding on your return to Canada though, you’ll need to be prepared for the costs of medical, accommodation, transportation and new flights from your destination depending on how long you are sick for and if it is just a fever, or a positive Covid result.

2. Testing Positive on Arrival – When you arrive in destination, you may be tested at the airport for Covid. Should you test positive, even if you are not exhibiting symptoms, you will be required to quarantine for that countries’ designated length of time. You will not be allowed to return home by flight until you have been cleared by a negative test. Depending on the country, you may be quarantined at a government facility or, you may have to find and cover the costs of quarantine on your own. This comes with exceptional difficulties of avoiding public transportation, seeking medical attention and having groceries delivered, all in another language.

3. Becoming Ill with Covid while Traveling – There’s nothing worse than enjoying a beautiful vacation for a few days and then becoming sick, be it with a cold, a stomach bug, or Covid. You’ll need to seek medical attention where you are, even if it is the tiniest of tiny towns. Medical and transportation costs will be yours to cover, as well as the loss of any pre-booked services that you won’t be able to make it to. You also have to consider that medical services may not be as reliable in another country, or if there is another outbreak in the area you are in, even the best of medical systems have become overwhelmed.

4. The dreaded Second Wave – While many countries are progressing well and some have gotten down to zero active cases, it is nearly impossible for the entire world to be rid of Covid. Because of this, as long as travel between provinces, countries and internationally continues, cases will continue to pop up. It’s just a matter of how prepared each country is to control it.

If you are traveling in the next few months, you have to be prepared for the dreaded Second Wave. It is possible that you may be enjoying your vacation with not a care in the world, taking all of the pertinent precautions and then within a day (or days), the world could be shut down again completely, leaving you with few (or no) options to return to Canada.

In this case, you’ll need to shelter in place until the bans are lifted and flights begin again. This could be a few weeks, or a few months, so make sure you have access to sufficient funds to support yourself abroad. At this point, the Canadian Government has made it clear that they are not planning any further Repatriation flights as the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory is still in place. Traveling during this advisory is done at your own risk.


INSURANCE

Every insurance company and policy is different, so there is not one single answer for ‘Will I be covered for Covid?’ but chances are, right now, you will not be. There may be some exceptions, such as if you purchased your insurance policy prior to March or if you have Cancel for Any Reason insurance, but you’ll need to check with your specific insurance company about their rules. For policies being purchased now for future travel, most do not cover cancellation, interruption or medical due to Covid, at least not while there is an Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place due to the Covid pandemic.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should go without insurance! Insurance is still a very important part of travel and can protect you from all kinds of unexpected situations. If a loved one passes away suddenly (not a pre-existing condition or Covid-19), then you may be able to make a claim for any non-refundable items. If you have a stop over and your connecting flight is cancelled (maybe due to mechanical malfunction, not due to Covid) and you have to spend a night, or three … or when you are abroad, if you get in a car or pedestrian accident, fall and break your arm, chip a tooth or have a heart attack (not related to a pre-existing condition or Covid), then you likely qualify to make a claim. It’s very important to remember that insurance covers you for a multitude of reasons and unexpected circumstances. It is not meant to cover you for things you already know about, it is designed to protect you from those you don’t.

If you are choosing to travel despite the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory, I highly recommend Cancel for Any Reason insurance. This allows you to cancel for any reason (including Covid), giving you a percentage refund, dependent on how far in advance you cancel. Only a few companies currently offer this product, but it can give you extra peace of mind knowing that you can recover some of your costs if you decide not to go. Feel free to contact me for a no-obligation quote at any time.


COUNTRY ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Only some countries are currently open to receiving International Travellers. And only some of those are allowing Canadians. Some require Covid testing on arrival. Some require 10 day quarantine on arrival, others 14 day quarantine. Some countries have split districts where the north is allowing tourism and the south is not, or it may vary by province. How they are enforcing this, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think I’d want to be wrapped up in being a foreigner somewhere that I’m not supposed to be.

And the most difficult thing is that the rules of today could be better or worse tomorrow, or in two weeks or two months. You could book a trip today because Canadians are allowed in and there is no quarantine required, but two weeks from now when you travel, the rules could be changed. Instability is the name of the game for the next few months, at least.


RETURNING TO CANADA

If you’ve decided to travel abroad, for tourism or to visit family, you need to be prepared to quarantine for 14 days upon your return to Canada. At this time, you are allowed to be ‘in transit’ at Canadian airports to get to your home destination, but once you arrive, you are expected to do a full quarantine. For us, in Canada, that means 14 days where you remain inside or on your property regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. You do not go out for groceries or to get gas. You cannot use public transportation and you’ll need to have your food delivered either by a grocery service or a meal service. You don’t go for a drive or a walk down the street. You don’t invite friends over and socially distance by six feet. You isolate yourself so that you don’t potentially infect anyone else.

Different provinces have varying degrees of enforcement to ensure you are following the public health guidelines. Make sure you know the rules for your home province.


2020 – YEAR OF THE STAYCATION

For these reasons, most people are still staying home and traveling locally, within their province or within their provincial ‘bubble’. For the average person, it’s simply too complicated and risky to travel far, for leisure purposes.

Trust me, as a travel agent who makes my entire living based on people traveling abroad and who is deeply passionate about travel, this is not the message that I’d like to be sharing, but it’s only fair to be honest and transparent about the risks.

Many people are traveling to visit family abroad that they’ve been apart from for too long. Some people are returning to their home to stay and a few brave souls just can’t wait any longer to explore; wanderlust is strong within them!

As a travel agent, I am still here to help you plan your vacation, visit your family, put your insurance in place and help you navigate all of the changes. If you are planning to travel abroad in the coming months, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

While I understand most people do not need a travel agent’s assistance to travel within their own province, if you decide you are interested in traveling across Canada and would like help planning some amazing experiences in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario or Saskatchewan, which are all currently open for domestic travel without quarantine, or the Yukon or Northwest Territories when restrictions are lifted, I’d be pleased to help. If you are ready to start booking international travel for 2021, with many great deals and relaxed booking policies, I’d love to hear from you! Contact me today.

Stay safe at home and in transit. Things are getting better, it’s just going to take time.

Airline Prices in a Crisis

Covid-19 has set the world into a frenzy that saw thousands of people in difficult situations, trying to get home on some of the last flights departing many destinations. I understand that people are frustrated by not being able to find flights at a reasonable cost, but I’d like to clear up a common misconception.

AIRLINES DO NOT RAISE PRICES DURING A CRISIS!

At any time of a ‘normal’ year, if you try to book a one way flight anywhere internationally, on short notice (1-5 days, maybe even up to 14 days), prices are going to be high, you’ve probably just rarely had to do that, so you are surprised when you see it. The airline is not out to get you. They haven’t raised their prices. They aren’t trying to gouge you, but yes, the ticket price could be five times higher than what you paid.

Here’s what’s happening.

There are a fixed number of seats on any plane. Each airline has a variety of options ranging from the most restrictive of fares in economy class to the most flexible of fares in Business Class. While you and your bestie may sit side by side on the plane, have the exact same size seat and get the same meals and service, you may have paid two very different prices. Sometimes they could be hundreds of dollars difference.

How can that be?

Most people just think of it as Economy, Premium Economy or Business class, each with their own section of the plane, but it’s far more complicated than that.

It’s not just about the physical location on the plane. The prices are based on a package of benefits. It includes the location of your seat on the plane, the leg room, if your luggage and seat selection are included, if your ticket is non-refundable, changeable or refundable for a fee and how many loyalty points you earn. Then it is also based on the level of service you receive on board, how many flight attendants per passenger there are, the quality of food and extra amenities like hot face cloths and champagne served before take off, just to name a few.

Each class of service has a different set of rules, and a different amount of flexibility. The cheaper the price, the fewer benefits you get and the more restrictive the fare is. If you pay for a business class flexible ticket, you can change or refund for no fee in some cases. If you pay for a cheap, basic economy ticket, if you need to change, you are SOL my friend. You get to buy a brand new ticket and you don’t get a refund for the cheap one you bought earlier.

Keeping in line with this, as you can imagine, the bulk of the seats on a plane fall into Economy Class. Within that, there are various pricing levels with different flexibility options when it comes to inclusions, refunds and cancellations. You might have paid $100, but have a fully non-refundable ticket, pay for your luggage separately and only collect 25% loyalty points. The person sitting to your left might have paid $300, have a change fee of $150 and be getting 50% loyalty points. The person on your right pay have paid $500, have a change fee of $50 and be getting 100% loyalty points. All of you are in Economy seating.

Woah! Did I just blow your mind?

Covid-19 Crisis

Now, let’s bring it back to Covid-19, or any crisis, really, where people for whatever reason need to buy flights on short notice.

Airline tickets are normally available for purchase somewhere about 10 – 11 months in advance. It varies a bit by airline and route, but that’s a general rule of thumb.

Most people buy their airline tickets three to nine months in advance. Of course there are always people who buy flights, especially domestically, one or two months in advance.

The majority of people book into the Economy Class category where they are looking for the cheapest flight to get them to their destination. Let’s just say, for ease of math, there are 100 seats on a plane. 10 are business class, 20 are Premium Economy and the remaining 70 are Economy. Break it down further now and of those 10 business class, you have five basic business class and five flexible business class. In Premium Economy you have 10 flexible and 10 more restricted. In Economy, there could be up to four variations and different prices, so 17-18 seats at each level. In this example alone, that gives you eight different price points.

To complicate things further, the prices on International flights fluctuate not just with the class of service, but with the exchange rate of the connecting flights that are going through different countries and the taxes of each separate airport, which also fluctuate with exchange rate. Sorry, there is no ‘fixed price’ for an international flight.

If you are flying Halifax – Toronto – Frankfurt – Addis Ababa – Johannesburg and then return, you are affected by the taxes at five airports in four countries and the exchange rates of four different currencies that fluctuate daily.

If the majority of people buy their flights six to nine months in advance and are looking for the cheapest prices, what do you think is the first to sell out? That’s right, the cheapest fares on the flight with the most restrictive rules and fewest inclusions.

And, at two months prior to take off, what do you think is left? The higher priced classes of service within Economy, with more inclusions and fewer restrictions. By this point, you’ll also often find that Premium Economy is sold out as many people choose to pay extra for the extra comfort and benefits offered. Then you are left with Business Class, if it’s not full, and the most flexible options of Economy class.

Fast forward to the plane being nearly sold out one month in advance. People who were late buying their tickets missed out on the cheapest level of service and paid more. They likely don’t understand that they have a more lax cancellation policy or that the cheaper price didn’t included luggage.

Let’s say there are five seats remaining on the plane, because 95% of the plane sold out more than one month in advance. Let’s say there are three Economy seats, one Premium Economy and one business class seat available.

All of a sudden on March 13th, 2020 you are already in destination and discover that you need to get home before the borders close on the 15th at midnight due to a crazy pandemic. Let’s call it Covid-19!

There is one flight left and it has five seats available but 100 people trying to get those five seats. The prices of the five seats don’t change, but once the three cheaper economy seats sell out, all that’s left is Premium and Business Class. To make it more complicated, if you are searching for two seats, for you and your partner, and two of the economy class seats have already sold, you’ll get an error saying there are no seats available.

Not quite true! I’ll tell you a secret; one of you could go in economy and one in Premium Economy, but an online system won’t tell you this, or allow you to book this easily or quickly enough when there is high demand. You could get one seat booked and then the other one is gone and one of you is staying behind. How’s that for scary?

Travel agents have ways around this … It might literally be the difference in both of you getting on the same plane or not. You might not pay the same price for both seats, but you might arrive home together!

It is the same reason that your travel agent will tell you not to wait until last minute to book flights for your vacation and that it is very unlikely there will be a ‘sale’ if you wait until one month prior to travel. The cheap seats will already be sold out, therefore you end up paying a higher price. The airlines did not raise the prices, you are just paying the rate of the day for the class of service that is available at that time.

In a crisis situation, where countries are restricting travel and closing borders, it is also important to note that there are many fewer routing options available and much higher demand for those last few seats. If you don’t get on them quickly, you might miss out. It’s good to have a professional watching for these things for you while you are on vacation!

There are lots of reasons to book with a good travel agent. The intricacies of airline bookings are just one of many. If you get stuck abroad due to a natural disaster, or pandemic, do you want to deal with it alone, spending hours on hold trying to reach each airline or would you rather have a professional taking care of the arrangements for you and telling you what you should do next?

If you’d like to work with a professional on your next trip, for peace of mind and so many other great benefits, I’d be happy to hear from you at stucker@tpi.ca or 902 402 7646.