It’s not looking good for 2021 holiday travel season. Even if you’ve booked flights, rental cars, or hotel rooms months in advance, the speed at which things are changing in the travel industry means that having a ticket or reservation isn’t necessarily a guarantee that your trip will take place as planned.
Between potential weather problems, COVID regulations that could change at any moment, staff shortages, and the fact that last year’s flexible booking and cancellation policies are, for the most part, a thing of the past, it’s best to go into the season with at least some backup plan. In an article for the Associated Press, Sally French shares a few different ways to be prepared this year. Here’s what to know.
If you’re flying, approach the trip assuming your plans will change
It’s not even Thanksgiving, and air travel is already (still?) unreliable. For this reason, French suggests going in prepared for your trip to be extended a bit, and flexible about your plans in general.
A slightly different approach (aka, mine) is to just assume that your plans will change, between delayed or canceled flights, rental companies giving the person ahead of you the car you reserved—that kind of thing. And then, on the off-chance that things do go according to plan, you’ll be extra grateful and it’ll seem like a holiday miracle.
Limit yourself to a carry-on
Again, if you’ll be traveling by plane, French recommends packing everything you need in your carry-on luggage, if at all possible. This way, if your flights do end up changing, you won’t be stuck without your stuff.
Invest in travel insurance
Even if you always click the “no thank you” button when offered travel insurance when you’re booking flights, French says that this holiday season is the time to take a different approach (and actually get the insurance).
First, check to see if any of your credit cards come with travel insurance as a perk—and if they do, make sure that the plan isn’t garbage and actually leaves you covered. If you don’t have that option, it’s time to click “yes” to purchasing travel insurance (or at least researching your options).
Have at least one alternative route and mode of transportation
Unlike Moira Rose in Home Alone, most people won’t have the option of hopping in a van with a polka band in order to get home for the holidays. This means that if your plans involve flying somewhere, you should arrive at the airport with a fully thought-out backup plan. It won’t be the time to find an outlet and do preliminary research on your phone: That’s something you need to do at home.
If driving to your destination is an option, figure out which rental car companies operate in that area, and know (roughly) how long the drive will take. You can try to price out different companies, but if your flight is canceled, other people are in the same boat, and costs will likely increase substantially.
You’ll also want to see which other airlines are flying to (or near) your final destination and the times of their flights, so you’ll know exactly where to book another ticket, if necessary.