With politicians now beginning to sound more positive about travel for the summer, you may be considering booking a trip. Here are some factors to consider when looking at your options.
When to book and who to book with
The first thing to do is to decide who you will book with. My most important deciding factor will be the airline’s cancellation policy. Quite a few airlines have some very generous policies.
- Qatar – are offering a full refund if you are prevented from travelling due to Covid restrictions – find more details here
- British Airways offer a voucher refund for any reason or no fee for changing dates (but you will pay any fare difference)
- Virgin Atlantic – When you book to travel any time up to 30th April 2022, you can make unlimited date changes and one name change free of charge (if you’d like someone else to benefit from your ticket). You’ll just need to use it by 30th April 2023.
- Emirates – Also offering refunds or if you keep your ticket it will give the flexibility to fly at any time in the next 24 months. These options apply to tickets booked for travel on or before 30 September 2021.
I would also not book at the moment unless you are using miles or you see a good offer. Due to all the restrictions prices are very high for most destinations direct from the UK. If the price seems higher than normal, I would hang on. I would expect a sale from the major airlines as soon as the date for travel restrictions to be lifted is revealed.
Your friend at the moment is miles or points bookings. This gives you plenty of flexibility and the most you will pay is around £35pp to cancel or change a booking depending on the airline.
It’s also worth considering whether to book a holiday package rather than flight-only as this gives different protections. For most packages, you only need to pay a deposit. This means if you have to cancel and accept a voucher then you have less money tied up. If the holidays is cancelled they must refund you within 14 days. For BA Holidays you also get extra Avios but they have been less flexible than usual. BA Holidays have been insisting that people can only move their dates by 14 days if their flight has been cancelled or get a refund. If it is a very cheap deal like the £999 from last year, this could be a problem as if you took a refund you would lose the fare.
If you decide to book separately then most hotels are offering free cancellation, but make sure you check the fine print. Our partners, Debonair offer free late cancellation on nearly all bookings plus lots of free perks such as hotel credit and upgrades. With airline schedules changing regularly, I would avoid booking extras such as parking now if you don’t need to, as it will just create a lot of hassle to change things later.
If you are considering self-catering accommodation, some Air Bnb policies can offer no cancellation at all, so make sure you check it with a fine-tooth comb before you book. Plum Guide is a good option for more upmarket rentals with choices searchable with full cancellation. We will be doing a full article about self catering accommodation shortly.
Direct versus indirect and ex EU
Normally I would be talking a lot about starting your trip from another country to save money. Personally, this is something I would avoid is many cases unless you need to or are certain that the country will be open. I would also be trying to fly direct if you can.
- If you fly via another country, it could affect your entry back into the UK even if you only transit depending on what the government decide
- Dublin (and Jersey) is an exception as it is covered by the Common Travel Area agreement which means it is treated as a domestic arrival. However, unless you are staying airside you would still need to consider what the rules are. For example, in Ireland, you have to isolate on arrival for 14 days currently but you are allowed to leave isolation to leave the country.
- Schedules are extremely changeable so don’t cut things fine with connections. I would normally recommend spending a night in between the initial flight to your EU start point and the long haul flight. Obviously, now that would mean that you have to consider more entry rules and testing requirements.
- You would also need to consider the timing of any PCR tests if you are doing multiple flights to make sure they would still be in date when you arrived.
- There are a number of airports around the world that offer Covid testing which could be an option in these situations. There is a list of the major ones here.
Even if you have existing insurance, it may not cover you for everything Covid related. You will also need to be aware that if the Foreign Office advise against travel to a particular country, your insurance will also be invalid. Which countries the warning will stay in place for are not known yet. There are two options if the country you want to go to is on the FCDO naughty list. Firstly, if it is in Europe then you could consider using Staysure insurance who offer a top-up scheme for most European countries (as well as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt) to cover your trip. They are offering 15 months for the price of twelve when you buy their yearly policy.
The other option is Battleface who specialise in policies against FCDO advice. You would be covered for emergency treatment under the new version of the EHIC scheme for Europe, GHIC, but you would not be able to claim for things such as delays, repatriation or things being stolen.
Some airlines are offering free Covid insurance which you can use as a top-up for existing insurance these include Emirates, Etihad, Virgin, Cathay Pacific and JAL. Check the terms carefully to see what dates are included.
Entry regulations for countries
Obviously, I can’t predict what regulations will be in place for every country by the time we are able to travel, but here is a list of countries that are likely to be open to Brits.
Part of the decision for reopening countries will be how many people have been vaccinated. This handy page from the New York Times shows the state of vaccinations around the world.
The main thing is to keep checking for updates. If you have a particular country in mind, most countries tourist boards have good information online. A great starting place for in-depth information is the FCDO countries page. If you want something simpler as a starting point for choosing a destination, here are a couple of good websites:
- Europe – Reopen.Eu has a website as well as an app.
- Worldwide – the IATA website has a map that shows very clearly the level of restrictions for countries which is good for initial planning. You can then click on the country to find more detail.
- For your return to the UK, you will need this page.
I would not rely on the airline’s website as often these are slow to update when things change.
Finding the nearest centre can be tricky and Skyteam have launched a new tool that shows available testing centres nearby by entering your city.
For testing, before departure you can read our articles on testing centres and how they were in practice. As well as the options listed below, Express test run mass drive through testing near many airports such as Heathrow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Gatwick and Southampton. These tests are among some of the cheapest and cost from £80 for a PCR with results expected next day by 10pm.
- Covid testing for travel – tried and tested reviews
- How do I find a Covid test for travel from the UK?
Return to the UK testing
Currently, you need to get a test within 72 hours of returning to the UK.
For returning to the UK, the easiest and cheapest option is likely to be the new return to England testing from British Airways in partnership with Qured. You can take these tests with you abroad and do the test by video conference for £33.
What are your tips for planning a trip in these challenging times? Let us know in the comments below.