Sunday, April 26, 2020

Coronavirus travel deals: It's a buyer's market, but should you buy?

Today’s post is by consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, whose latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.

The coronavirus travel deal was too good to pass up. For just $500, Danielle Tedrowe could enjoy a week at the five-star Live Aqua Beach Resort in Cancún, Mexico this fall. "It was a phenomenal rate," says Tedrowe, a property manager and travel agent from Austin, Texas. 

Beach vacations are popular with people planning to travel this summer.
An 80% discount for an oceanview room at the Live Aqua Beach? That's not a deal; it's a steal.

The travel industry is in a tailspin. Everything -- I mean everything -- is on sale.

"We're seeing flight prices that are 30% to 40% lower than historical averages," says George Zeng, CEO of Moonfish, a company that analyzes global flight data. "I suspect flight prices won't get much cheaper."

Book now?

If you see a flight deal, grab it.
Restless travelers who are confined to their homes are seeing these coronavirus travel deals and wondering: Should I book before the bargains are gone? If I buy, will the airlines, cruise lines, and hotels be there when I travel, given the state of things? Is it right to buy a cruise or resort stay at such low prices?

The conventional wisdom seems to be: If you see a deal you like, buy it now. Travel companies will try to raise prices as soon as they can to make up for the revenue lost during the lockdown. They won't keep their 80%-off sales going longer than they have to. 

For Tedrowe, the decision to book the Live Aqua Beach Resort was easy.

"The hotel was offering free cancellation up to a week before check-in," she says. "If the pandemic is still going on in early fall, I can cancel or reschedule without penalty. This gave me a sense of security while also providing me with something to look forward to."

It's best to book with larger, established companies
rather than smaller properties.
Will Hatton has seen fares as low as $5 on Ryanair. He says he would have booked them but wasn't sure he could get to Europe to take advantage of them in the coming weeks.

"As tempting as it is, I have actually passed up opportunities like this," says Hatton, who writes the Broke Backpacker blog. "I don't know how long it may be before we can travel freely again.”

Will the company still be there?

Travel experts are worried that some of the companies discounting their products may not survive. Adrienne Sasson, a travel advisor with Rubinsohn Travel in Jenkintown, Pa., says she's seeing a lot of aggressive discounts from luxury villas and boutique hotels. 

"My concern is their financial health," she explains. "Will some of the smaller boutiques and villas have the funding to remain open and in good repair while they have no income from guests?"

With so many future credits, cruises
are booking fast for 2021.
We've already seen the demise of the online travel agency and the Alaskan regional carrier RavnAir. But look for many more cessations soon.

Her advice: Book with some of the bigger brands of hotels, resorts, and cruise lines. They're far less likely to go under during these difficult times.

Is it morally right to take the deals?

There's another question that these coronavirus travel deals raise. Is it morally right to buy such a deeply discounted product? Is grabbing a $5 airfare taking advantage of a situation -- or helping a company get through hard times?

Will you be able to get good deals to places like Sydney, Australia's famed Opera House?
"I'm not concerned about the ethics of buying a deeply-discounted plane ticket," says Nelson Sherwin, a manager at a human resources company in Palm Harbor, Fla. "If they don't want people to make the purchase, don't offer it for sale. The reality of a capitalist economy is that companies have the freedom to succeed or fail."

Kaitlin Ray, a former hospitality company employee who now writes a travel photography blog, agrees that there's nothing wrong with taking the deals. 

"In terms of the morality of buying a product so deeply discounted, all businesses are currently struggling and trying to make ends meet," she says. "As long as the sale even just allows the company to break even, it's helpful to the overall longevity of the company."

Look for deals, but book carefully.
Ray also says her former employer made "astronomical" profits and that the coronavirus issues probably won't make a dent in its earnings. So don't feel too bad about taking that deal.

Here's another way of looking at it. If the tables were turned and it was a seller's market for travel, do you think companies would hesitate to charge you top dollar for their products? Of course not. So buy now especially if the cancellation terms are generous. 

Protect yourself when booking a travel deal

Read the cancellation terms very carefully. Look for the ability to cancel your trip without paying any penalties. Make sure you get the rules in writing before making a reservation. That means print out a hardcopy or take a screenshot.
Paying by credit card is smart.

Use a credit card. If the airline, cruise line or hotel goes out of business, you can file a chargeback and obtain a full refund. If you pay by check or cash, your money will be gone.

Keep up with the news as conditions
change almost daily. 
Follow the news closely. Coronavirus is affecting destinations differently. For example, you may be fine visiting New Zealand in the near future, but you'll want to avoid Italy. Keep an eye on current events as your trip gets closer, and don't be afraid to invoke those generous cancellation terms if the situation takes a turn for the worse.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and from free sites. 


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