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Are you itching for travel but not sure if you should travel this fall? If so, how far in advance should you book travel plans? Your travel habits may be different in 2020 than what you would normally do, but now can be a good time to travel, depending on a few factors. Here is what you should consider.
Is There a Travel Ban?
It’s possible to travel, but you must be strategic with where you go. Several states require a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival. If you’re planning a weekend trip, these quarantines require you to spend the entire time in your lodging.
Some states waive the mandatory quarantine if you show a negative PCR test result from within 72 hours of arrival. You might also avoid the quarantine if you live in a nearby state with a low infection rate. The health situation can change frequently so check the state’s COVID-19 traveler page for the latest policy. Doing so can help you plan an epic road trip to see corners of America that are new to you.
Here are three state quarantines you should be aware of that can impact your fall foliage tour or an end-of-summer hurrah.
One of the most expansive quarantines in the United States is the Tri-States Quarantine. Tourists and returning residents to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut likely have to quarantine for 14-days. You don’t have to quarantine if you’re passing through to a final destination and not staying more than 24 hours. The restricted states list changes regularly as statewide infection rates change.
If flying into the Tri-States (i.e., JFK, La Guardia, or Newark) you will complete a Traveler Health Form or face a $2,000 fine. Passenger trains and hotels are also rolling out capabilities to complete the form when checking in.
Going to Hawaii is off the table until at least October 1, 2020, and potentially later if the rolling quarantine expiration date extends another 30 days. Hawaii requires a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving from the mainland US or Pacific. Interisland travel is subject to a 14-day quarantine, with some exceptions.
One glimmer of hope to forego the quarantine is Hawaii’s Pre-Travel Testing Program. Once this program launches, a valid negative COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) within flying to Hawaii waives the mandatory quarantine. Once this program goes live, consider booking a flight to Hawaii.
Another state with strict quarantine measures that’s a popular East Coast getaway is Maine. The “Keep Maine Healthy” initiative exempts visitors from these states from the mandatory 14-day quarantine or a negative test within 72 hours:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- New Jersey
From other states, you must quarantine for the first portion of your stay or show a valid negative test result.
Booking international travel may not be possible as most international borders remain shut to US travelers. Some of the lone exceptions include Mexico and most Caribbean islands if you can arrive by plane. Cruise ships most likely won’t operate until 2021, at the earliest.
Some transoceanic places you might be able to fly to are the Maldives plus some eastern European nations like Albania and Croatia. Each country has its own entry policies. You may have to quarantine at a connecting country to reach a country open to international travel.
Know Airline and Hotel Cancellation Policies
Before you book travel, it’s good to know what cancellation policies are in place. Your credit card trip protection and standalone travel insurance policy is highly unlikely to cover coronavirus-related cancellations. The pandemic threat is now a known event similar to a named hurricane.
If you’re planning on renting an RV, note that they have separate RV insurance policies.
Airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies loosened their cancellation and rebooking policies at the start of the pandemic. Those policies appear to be getting stricter as we approach the fall travel season.
Most airlines waive the change fee for up to one year on flights you book before early September 2020. More people are flying daily versus the pandemic onset. However, the daily number of TSA screenings is one-quarter of the same travel dates in 2019.
Airlines are also making public statements of huge layoffs starting October 1, 2020, because of the decades-low travel volume and the expiration of the CARES Act. Your flight selection might be slimmer but ticket prices can potentially be cheaper.
Many of the large hotel changes will let you change or cancel a reservation up to 24 hours before check-in that you book before September 30, 2020. You might avoid booking an advance reservation even if the nightly savings are phenomenal. These reservations are most likely non-refundable unless a supernatural event happens such as a natural disaster.
As people are not traveling often, you might decide to wait until the last minute to book a room. One advantage of waiting is to find a clean hotel room before you book.
Some hotels are offering special promotions to encourage longer stays. Several hotel credit cards also have larger signup bonuses.
Most vacation rentals from Airbnb and VRBO have stricter cancellation policies than hotels. Each host can set their own policy. You might look for ones with more flexible policies so you will forfeit less cash on last-minute cancellations. For instance, you might get everything but the first night’s rent and service fees back.
Will There Be a Fall Infection Rate Spike?
The looming question on most people’s minds is whether or not the world will see a surge in new cases once fall and winter arrive (also on top of flu season). If so, we might see another round of total lockdowns like March and April where we stay home except for essential reasons.
Wait Until the Last Minute to Book Travel
Advance reservations are usually the best way to pay the lowest travel costs and to get peace of mind knowing your key travel plans are set in stone.
But, because anything can change seemingly overnight, booking your flights and hotels at the last moment can be the better travel planning strategy. The potential rewards of saving a few dollars may not be worth the risk of canceling a non-refundable travel reservation.
One travel theme of 2020 is traveling to nearby places on a road trip. Driving a car or renting an RV (such as with RVshare) gives you the flexibility to change course and adjust your travel dates as necessary. Instead of getting stranded in an airport or hotel on the other side of the country, you can be home in a few hours if a last-minute travel ban happens.
Related: Best Credit Cards for a Road Trip
Avoid Busy Travel Days
The airports and highways will likely be less crowded during the fall and winter holidays than usual. However, you may still choose to book travel in-between weekends to maintain social distancing.
For instance, you may not travel over Labor Day Weekend but maybe plan for mid-September. If you don’t have school-aged children, pay attention to your local school calendars. Families may take a quick trip over fall break or a long weekend that doesn’t coincide with a federal or state holiday.
Now can be a good time to book travel but only for the trips you’re certain to go on. Instead of booking your award flights and reward nights several months in advance, you might wait until two weeks or even a few days before your departure date. Waiting until the last minute lets you find the best destination for the current situation.
Should I avoid traveling internationally?
International travel isn’t a good idea for most US tourists in 2020 due to travel restrictions. Most countries require a 14-day quarantine or may not even accept travelers arriving for unessential reasons.
Also, the US State Department has a Level 4 travel advisory for most foreign destinations. This is the highest advisory level and signals “Do Not Travel.”
If you decide to go abroad, consider going to Mexico, Belize, or the Caribbean Islands. Most beach destinations are open and may not require a self-quarantine upon arrival.
How far in advance should you book flights?
Booking your flight within 14 days of departure can be the best time to book a flight under the current world health situation. Normally, the best time to book a flight is six weeks before departure to get the best price and have decent seat selection.
Airlines are still relaxing change fees and extending elite travel benefits. You can book a flight far in advance like usual. However, you may receive a travel credit instead of a refund if you cancel at the last minute.
What is a vacation road trip?
A vacation road trip takes more prior planning than a standard road trip where you drive with a tentative travel plan and find a place to stay when you’re ready to stop driving for the day.
One example of an extensive vacation road trip can be driving across the country. You might make some advance reservations for lodging and attractions. However, as few people travel than usual in 2020, you might be able to make last-minute bookings if your travel plans change from unexpected travel bans and closures.
If you do plan on taking a road trip, we’ve got a few tips for you. Here are some articles you might find helpful:
- 7 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip
- Organizing a Car Check Before a Road Trip
- How Much Does It Cost To Rent A Car For A Road Trip?
- What Should I Bring On A Road Trip? Here’s A Summer 2020 Guide
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.