These are interesting times for travelers, particularly those who want to fly internationally.
There are two indicators that seem to be moving in different directions.
On the one hand, barriers to travel are dropping significantly. The worldwide tourism industry is anxious to kick into high gear after 18 months of hibernation. U.S. travelers who are fully-vaccinated are welcome in Europe, Mexico and Canada, although there still are wide swaths of the globe that are off-limits to vacationers. Specific entry and testing requirements vary widely — and are subject to frequent changes.
On the other hand, the CDC constantly updates its do-not-travel guidance regarding COVID-19. Currently, there are about 75 countries which have very high COVID-19 levels. The CDC recommends unvaccinated travelers avoid these destinations, including France, England, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
There’s one other important component: airfares. Right now, prices to key European destinations have dropped. This happens periodically, but the timing is particularly interesting, given the CDC guidance.
From Anchorage and Fairbanks to Madrid, low fares start at $457. The best fares are available between Sept. 4 and Dec. 16 and between Jan. 4 and Feb. 28, 2022. The exact fare differs a little bit depending on the airline.
On the specific itinerary I booked (Oct. 2-14), Alaska Airlines and its international “oneworld” partners had the cheapest rate ($469 roundtrip). To get the rate, you have to book it at American Air’s website.
United, Delta and American all are offering the cheap rates. If you look closely at the cost breakdown, the airlines are charging about 50 cents each way. The rest of the fare is made up with “carrier surcharges,” taxes and fees.
Popular destinations include Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Athens, Amsterdam, Zurich, Milan, Venice, Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Stockholm, Oslo and Lisbon.
Depending on the specific routing, the lowest fares range from around $450 roundtrip to around $600 roundtrip. The fares can vary significantly from day to day. Some of the routings are really crazy — and the most convenient flights almost always cost more.
Fares are valid for travel this fall through mid-December. Then, fares to most destinations are available through the end of February of next year. Some rates also are available in March and April.
The cheapest fares are “Basic Economy.” That means you’ll pay extra for seat assignments and for checked bags.
United Air does not have a “ticket by” date in the rules, but Delta does: Aug. 23. So you’re likely to have access to these European fares until Monday evening.
The worldwide pandemic has fueled an increase in travel insurance sales. But it’s important to remember that most travel insurance policies are designed to cover things that actually happen rather than the fear of things that might happen.
Meghan Kayata with InsureMyTrip.com writes “canceling for Covid-19 fear is not covered in traditional comprehensive policies.”
InsureMyTrip is a website that offers a side-by-side comparison of travel insurance policies, based on specific criteria that travelers provide.
Many travel insurance providers have modified their policies to accommodate specific COVID-19 conditions.
“Allianz Travel Insurance added several components last year specific to COVID-19 coverage including the ability to cancel or interrupt your trip or to receive emergency medical care if you get sick with COVID,” said Daniel Durazo, the firm’s director of marketing.
There is an option with most travel insurance providers called “cancel for any reason.” This all-encompassing option covers “fear of COVID” as part of the policy.
“You can decide you don’t want to go if the sky is blue,” said Durazo.
The cancel-for-any-reason policies cost more.
“Our cancel-for-any-reason policies are available through leading travel agents, such as AAA Travel,” said Durazo.
“You’ll get 100 percent of your prepaid non-refunable trip costs back if it’s covered. Or, you’ll get 80 percent back if you cancel for most any other unforeseen reason,” said Durazo.
Checking through InsureMyTrip’s plans, the cancel-for-any-reason reimbursement varied from 50 to 75 percent of the total cost of a trip.
Travel insurance is filled with provisions, exceptions and lengthy descriptions of what’s covered and what’s not covered. Further, each state has specific regulations. So not every policy is available in every state.
“When we make modifications to a policy, we have to file with every single state,” said Durazo.
The InsureMyTrip website is designed to protect travelers for individual trips. Allianz offers individual trip protection as well. But I’ve purchased Allianz’s annual plans which cover multiple trips. This year I let the policy lapse, since we haven’t traveled out of the country.
Many travelers may learn they already have some travel insurance. That’s because almost every credit card has some sort of insurance included. That includes the Alaska Airlines Visa card, the American Express card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
As usual, there are exceptions and conditions for each policy.
So if you want to travel to Europe, you might take some of the money you’re saving and hedge your bets with some travel insurance. Whether or not you choose the “cancel for any reason” option depends on if you want the expensive “fear of COVID” coverage.