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More Safely Book Flights in Post Peak COVID-19 World

Tail section of a plane landing at Orlando International Airport MCO with a brilliant sunset in the background.

Step by step below, you CAN significantly reduce your 1) financial risks and 2) chances of having your airline trips ruined.

Already faced with a COVID-19 pandemic whose future has not been determined a profound reduction in airline passengers beyond anticipated levels adds additional risk.

During April United had been flying with just some 3 percent of the passengers it flew a year ago. Although still abysmal compared to normal, TSA inspections have risen from a low of 87,534 on April 14 to 352,947 on May 30 and 731,123 on July 5. 2020.

Given how extraordinarily low airfares will likely be on many routes during the coming months you may find the risk/reward ratio quite acceptable especially if you follow the advice here.

As of July 7th, 2020, American and Southwest (with its frequent sales) continue to offer the most extensive lowest prices on the many routes I check. However, after adding more flights this month United has started to be competitive. It will have 25,000 more in August. Be flexible on dates!

Delta and Southwest are guaranteeing extra space for physical distancing at least through September 30.

Bankruptcy danger

While not guaranteed in the future, traditionally bankruptcy has not usually meant flights stopped operating. Think of American, Delta, United, and others that carried on.

Moreover, as happened with Continental, Eastern, Northwestern, Pan Am, etc., other airlines often took over routes of the larger U.S. airlines either during the bankruptcy process or when their finances deteriorated earlier.

In all cases mentioned tickets were honored and frequent flayer miles protected.

International travel risk

Sudden lock downs and complete border closures have stranded tens of thousands around the world. International travel adds a heavy burden of additional risk. On the other hand, airfares on some routes are now markedly lower than many people have witnessed in their lifetimes. Your decision.

Prepare for unstable flight schedules and service disruptions

Book flights to and from major airports when reasonably convenient.

These give you the most options if your flights are cancelled either beforehand or at the airport.

For example,

Favor airlines that have traditionally provided frequent service on routes, such as Delta between Atlanta and Orlando.

These will most likely maintain flights and not petition the government to stop serving.

In my opinion, that means avoiding in most cases airlines like Allegiant and Sun Country, which often offer just one flight per day on routes and sometimes as few as one or two per week.

Choose airlines that will put you on other airlines if problems develop.

When a mechanical difficulty or other significant delay pops up these airlines can endorse their tickets to be used on other airlines, such as Delta to United or Alaska to American. That greatly reduces your possible inconvenience.

On the other hand, Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, and Sun Country will not. You are at their mercy and delays can be long.

Southwest Airlines stands as an exception. Although in nearly no case will it endorse its tickets to another domestic airline, its extensive fleet of planes and numerous route alternatives significantly lessen your risk in emergencies.

Allegiant Air case study

At times when it has had no alternative planes available Allegiant refunded fares paid to credit cards while passengers were still waiting at the airport, instead of booking them on other airlines.

Think of that. These passengers then faced much higher last-minute airfares on other airlines. In addition, because in some cases it can take several days for refunds to show as a credit on their card accounts passengers were unable to buy new tickets that day.

Pad your itinerary

If planning to attend a key event fly out early the day before. Avoid short connections. These are the sane ways to plan travel now.

That possible extra night in a hotel serves as a relatively cheap insurance policy against your sister forever thinking unkindly of you for missing her wedding!

Protect your airfare investment

BidOnTravel's best tip to protect your post peak COVID-19 trip

Book airlines that allow free changes of itineraries over long periods.

Booking flights that you can change without penalty becomes the foundation of your financial risk management. If a virus spike pops up at your destination, your ticket can be changed to later or possibly to another destination.

Currently, most airlines will allow you one free change of travel up to one year after date of ticketing. Of course, you must initiate the change before the departure time of your currently booked flight.

With rules rapidly changing, please >

Although you will not be charged for making changes, most (but not all) airlines will charge you the airfare difference if higher when you rebook. Note that some will allow you to apply the cost of your current reservation to a new destination.

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Pay with a credit card and NOT by cash or debit card.

If your airline goes entirely out of business asking your credit card company to stop payment in most cases gives you the best chance of not losing all the money you spent. Cash and debit card payments put you on a list of creditors who may eventually receive just pennies on the dollar or nothing at all.

Do not depend on emailed or texted airline schedule updates.

Once booked, routinely check if your itinerary has changed to make sure any changes are acceptable. Waiting until the last minute to find out could leave you with no viable options.

Remember airlines are operating with an extraordinarily reduced number of flights available for changes.

When booking hotels and rental cars choose those that do not require a nonrefundable payment for your stay in advance, unless 1) offered a deal so attractive you do not mind the risk of losing money or 2) are booking at the last moment when risk becomes less.

These companies—both car rental and hotel ones—in general are hurting badly. Guarantee your hotel reservations with a credit card, but be sure you can cancel at least until 72 hours in advance without penalty.

For hotels, I prefer 6:00 p.m. local time or at least a time on the day of booked arrival in case delayed.

Normally, you need not guarantee rental car reservations with a credit card.

Find out the latest time you are allowed check in AND when you must reach the gate and pad, pad, pad these times.

Expect 1) boarding processes to take longer as physical distancing procedures kick in and 2) additional screening procedures such as temperature checks and questionnaires to delay you.

Your ticket may become worthless if you do not show up in time.

Make sure your travel insurance allows COVID-19-related cancellations.

Some do not. Verify that in the written policy terms and not go by an agent’s word. If traveling internationally I urge you to take out medical evacuation insurance.

Please take these suggestions seriously. You have the power to greatly reduce your travel risks.

Have a comment or a suggestion? @DonNadeau at Twitter.

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Wishing you happy, safe, and smooth travels!