If you're someone who usually travels during the holiday season, be it to your hometown to spend time with family or on an exotic getaway to take advantage of PTO before the year's end, you know it's always been important to plan ahead. Because it's the busiest time of year for travel, booking flights, hotel stays, and Airbnbs usually needs to be done early if you want to get good deals. But is that still true in 2020? COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, most especially how, where, when, and even if we travel, so we spoke to an expert to find out what we need to know before booking travel this holiday season.
First of all, it is important to point out that everyone should check CDC guidelines and local restrictions before making travel decisions. After you've done that and have decided it's both safe and smart to fly to your destination for Thanksgiving or the December holidays, please be sure to wear a mask on flights and follow your airline's COVID-19 safety protocols. Once you've committed to traveling safely, it's time to figure out when to purchase plane tickets.
When to book travel ahead of the 2020 holidays
"Historically, in advance of normal major holidays, flight prices tend to rise the closer you get and hotel prices tend to hold steady or fall," Devon Nagle, head of communications for Priceline tells Refinery29. "This is obviously not a normal time, but the basic supply-and-demand consideration holds true. Book flights earlier and hotels later."
Since Nagle says we can stick to historical rules of when to get the best deals on holiday travel, that means Thanksgiving and Christmas flights are best booked before the end of October.
When it comes to booking hotels during the holiday season, you don't actually have to plan ahead much. "Understand that hotels are very competitive and will adjust their prices on the very last day to book rooms that would otherwise go unused," Nagle shares. "A savvy traveler can save quite a bit by knowing this."
If you want to book a flight and hotel at the same time through a package deal on an online travel agency like Priceline, you should investigate those offerings on the early side as well, according to Nagle. If you decide traveling on a plane and staying in a hotel at your destination is the best option for you this holiday season, purchasing a package through an online travel agency might be the most economical approach as airlines and hotels often offer special rates that aren't accessible if you book the flight and hotel independently.
Will travel be less expensive this year due to COVID-19?
Because fewer people are traveling due to the pandemic, you'd think that travel would be less expensive. Nagle confirms that this assumption is true overall. However, airfare might not necessarily be cheaper than in years past. According to Priceline's head of communications, this is in large part due to the fact that some airlines are not selling the middle seat. "Fewer seats to sell can mean higher prices," he explains. "So move faster when you see a flight at a price you like, because it may not last."
2020 holiday travel refunds
The pandemic has made planning ahead precarious. With ever-evolving travel restrictions, COVID-19 could make last-minute flight cancelations a lot more likely. To avoid getting screwed financially by these, Nagle suggests travelers put in the research before committing. "Do your diligence to see what restrictions exist on the flight you plan to book," he explains.
Several major U.S. airlines, including United, Delta, and American recently announced they would be getting rid of flight-change fees for good. That means the risk of booking holiday flights early on these airlines is a little bit less risky than it may have been in past years. However, it's important to keep in mind that it still doesn't mean you're guaranteed a refund if your flight gets canceled. It also doesn't mean you won't have to pay the fare difference if you switch to a more expensive flight. It simply means there won't be a change fee, which used to run around $200 depending on the airline.
Refinery29 in no way encourages unsafe behavior. Check CDC guidelines and local restrictions/rules before making travel decisions.