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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Buy now, fly later? What travel experts say about today’s low prices for future flights

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There has never been a worse time to fly. With coronavirus cases increasing in some states and more international borders closed than open, the friendly sky is not so friendly. But there is a silver lining. Many rates have never been so good. Considering that airlines are skipping dizzying modification fees and lowering prices to fill empty seats, buying this $ 275 return ticket from San Francisco to Costa Rica in September is terribly tempting, even in the midst of a pandemic. world.

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“Almost all airlines have flexible booking policies at the moment, so we strongly encourage people to book reimbursable trips because there are good deals to be had,” said Raj Mahal, founder of the flight deals website. PlanMoreTrips. A few months ago, when coronavirus nearly shut down the airline industry and prices were plummeting, Mahal found a record $ 293 return ticket on United to London. He leaves from San Francisco in December. For the price of a ticket in normal times, he scored four tickets for his family.

Mahal said the best deals were in April – before the airlines landed no more planes and no one traveled.

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Fortunately, most airlines have responded to the unpredictable pandemic by cutting modification fees (which often cost more than the fare).

Fortunately, most airlines have responded to the unpredictable pandemic by cutting modification fees (which often cost more than the fare).
(iStock)

The founder of Cheap flights from Scott, a similar flight aggregator, agrees.

“At the start of the pandemic, there were many flights on which airlines essentially charged fares – like coast to coast for $ 23 round trip – but those days are over,” says Scott Keyes. “Having said that, we see a big increase in two highly sought after offer groups: error fares, when an airline accidentally sells a ticket for much less than it was supposed to do, and high offers season during summer, Christmas and New Years. “

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Last week, Scott’s Cheap Flights sent subscribers to the United States in late 2020 and early 2021, including fares of $ 375 in Bali, $ 180 in Aruba and $ 419 in business class in Mexico. Meanwhile, PlanMoreTrips’ latest round-trip offers include $ 400 from San Francisco to Thailand, $ 286 from Washington, DC to Bogota and $ 389 from Los Angeles to London. Of course, as the world prepares for a second wave of coronavirus, there is a good chance that these flights will not take off.

Fortunately, most airlines have responded to the unpredictable pandemic by cutting modification fees (which often cost more than the fare). Scott’s Cheap Flights only sends offers to its members from airlines with flexible policies. They include American Airlines, United and Delta, all of which waive change fees for flights issued until June 30. If coronavirus infection rates continue to rise as new states reopen, these policies will likely be expanded. In addition, the United States Department of Transportation has mandated travelers are entitled to a full cash refund – even on non-refundable tickets – if their flight is canceled for any reason.

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However, travelers should read the fine print before booking.

“Even if modification fees are waived, travelers are still responsible for ticket price changes,” said Jen Ruiz, author of The Affordable Flight Guide: How to Find Cheap Airline Tickets and See the World on a Budget. “This may cancel the deal that travelers thought they would get in the first place,” said Ruiz, adding that it is important to take note of quarantine periods upon arrival for international travel. Airlines are not required to refund tickets if passengers are unable to make a 7-day trip because a mandatory 14-day quarantine is in place.

For the first time in a long time, countries are not welcoming Americans with open arms. With the United States has the highest confirmed number of coronavirus cases, the value of the American passport seems to decrease from minute to minute. For this reason, Mahal and Keyes both cite domestic flights as the lowest risk.

You don't want to book a last minute ticket abroad if you can avoid it.

You don’t want to book a last minute ticket abroad if you can avoid it.
(Photo by Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

“Domestic flights are much less likely to be canceled at this time than international flights given the fluid travel restrictions in many countries,” says Keyes. He even noted that the normal price dynamics for domestic flights have reversed. Instead of the last minute tickets being the most expensive, Keyes finds that they are now often the cheapest. “In addition, you can be more confident that the flight will be a boost compared to that planned for several months,” says Keyes.

On the contrary, you don’t want to book a last minute ticket abroad if you can avoid it. According to Mahal, these are the worst deals. Because capacity has been severely restricted – Delta and others airlines don’t sell intermediate seats – Mahal says to expect to pay “an arm and a leg” for tickets departing within a week or two of booking. For example, a TAP Portugal Round trip ticket from Boston to Lisbon the first week of July starts at $ 618. The same flight departing the first week in October costs $ 200 less.

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How does a traveler find these offers? The easiest way is to subscribe to free email alerts from sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and PlanMoreTrips. Scott’s Cheap Flights has a team of experts who monitor fares around the clock. PlanMoreTrips uses AI and machine learning to scan thousands of airfares. Travelers planning to book an award trip should follow The Points Guy. Most importantly, now is the time to book. According to Mahal, as people resume the journey, airfares will increase. In some cases, they will cost more than at the same time last year.

Whether you use money or miles, it is wise to consider travel insurance. Even with fees waived, Mahal considers air travel to be “a gamble.” However, he does not lose sleep over the prospect of not flying to London in December as planned. His tickets are 100% refundable. “I don’t know if we will make the trip because it seems that there is currently a second wave of COVID infections,” notes Mahal. He will play by ear. If he does not feel safe or if United cancels his flight, his family will take a road trip. Why not also take advantage of favorable gas prices in the event of a pandemic?

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