Travel Planning in the Age of Uncertainty
Last week I finalized my spring travel plans for three months in France. Travel planning during a pandemic is definitely more challenging and a bit worrisome. It’s not so much the health concerns about Covid that have me anxious. Afterall, I’m traveling to a country with the best medical care in the world, where over 82 percent of the population (in Brittany, France) is full vaccinated, where everyone entering a restaurant or museum must be fully boosted, and masks are required in every store. I take Covid-19 very seriously and will be taking every precaution to keep myself and others safe while traveling. I’ll write about those safety measures in a future post. What has me most concerned is the impact the pandemic could have on my travel plans and the risk of losing a great deal of money.
Purchasing travel insurance
This is where travel insurance comes in. I hate to admit it, but this is the first time I have ever purchased travel insurance. My World Nomads policy covers trip cancellation, trip delay and medical expenses while traveling. They will reimburse me if I am too sick to travel or if I have a medical issue or emergency while traveling. It also includes the typically travel insurance benefits like reimbursement for lost or delayed luggage, medical evacuation and repatriation. The recent rash of flight cancellations and delays due to staff shortages is another reason to have travel insurance, which will reimburse for expenses incurred in these situations.
My Chase credit card includes coverage for some of these same travel loses but does not include the medical benefits. Some Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans include emergency medical care, but for only your first 60 days. While there is some overlap, the World Nomads policy is reasonably priced and has the best rates for extended travel.
While it’s good to have travel insurance in the age of Covid, be aware that there are many Covid related events that travel insurance doesn’t cover. What if another variant pops up right as I’m about to leave? My policy will not reimburse me if I decide not to travel due to fear of Covid, no matter how dire the situation might be.
As World Nomad travel insurance states on their website: Cover is not available for loss arising from: government intervention including travel bans, border closures or broadly imposed quarantine requirements; events for which the Government (see your policy) has issued a ‘Do Not Travel’ warning or its equivalent, for your destination(s); or failure to follow advice from official bodies. Your ability to travel may be affected by travel restrictions.
My coverage is also not affected by warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which currently has France at a Level 4: Very High Risk. Nor by the US Department of State having France at a Level 4 – Do Not Travel. Nor by France’s travel warning, which recently moved the United States from an orange country to a red one. None of these are a valid reason for cancelling my trip under their policy.
They also won’t reimburse me if the country I’m traveling to decides to close its borders to Americans. France recently closed its borders to all folks from the United Kingdom (and have since reopened borders). It’s always a possibility, but I believe a small one.
The only travel insurance that will reimburse you if you don’t feel comfortable traveling is a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance policy. This would also reimbursement you if the country you're traveling to closes its borders to Americans. These policies add 40 percent to a medical and trip cancellation policy and only reimburse up to 75 percent. World Nomads does not provide this type of insurance, so if you want a CFAR policy you will be paying a lot more. The kicker is you must obtain the insurance within 21 days of making your first booking. This might have been a good idea, but I already booked the first month of my trip back in November.
Mitigating your risk when booking reservations
Even with a CFAR policy, you could lose a significant amount of money if you have to cancel your trip. In this age of uncertainty, the best solution is to make as many reservations as you can that are changeable or that offer free cancellation. Get familiar with the cancellation policies of your airline, hotels, Airbnb, rental car agency and any other services you are booking through.
Fortunately, I’m using United Airlines frequent flyer miles for my trip and changes made 31 days or more before travel are free, and 30 days or less before travel are $125. I’m renting a car through Auto France for the entire trip. The cost is fully refundable even if I cancel the day before my reservation. I’ll tell you more about this economical and unique car rental service in a future post.
Where I risk losing money is on my long-stay Airbnb accommodations. At the start of the pandemic, Airbnb reimbursed for Covid related cancellations through their extenuating circumstances policy. But this is no longer the case. If France decides to close its border to Americans, I can’t look for any reimbursement from Airbnb as they now consider Covid and everything surrounding it no longer “unforeseen.” Gee, I wish I had their crystal ball!
Unfortunately, every Airbnb I’ve found in France has a strict cancellation policy, which means if I can’t go, I can’t get my money back, except for the $25 cleaning fee. Airbnb has a more generous long-stay policy where the strict cancellation policy doesn’t apply to the portion of your stay that’s over 28 days.
I had originally planned to stay in three different Airbnb accommodations for four weeks each. However, by booking only two long-stays of over five weeks each, I was able to mitigate some additional risk. It also gave me the opportunity to plan a five-day road trip in between. Even though French Airbnb accommodations have a strict cancellation policy, they give terrific discounts on stays of 28 days or more. On the first I received a 25 percent discount and on the second a whopping 63 percent discount.
On my way back to Charles de Gaulle Airport, I’ll take another five-day trip through Normandy. I booked all my road-trip accommodations through Bookings.com, which offers free cancellations, in some cases up to the day before check in. This eliminates additional risk.
Now my trip is booked and, finger crossed, in three months I'll be enjoying a much-needed getaway in the French countryside. The pandemic has been a reminder that nothing in life is certain, and we shouldn’t let uncertainty hold us back. Let’s learn to thrive in the age of uncertainty, to be more proactive and less reactive. My wish is for everyone to be fully vaccinated and the pandemic to morph into an endemic (and eventually a nasty head cold) so we can all safely travel this year.
Happy trip planning! Stay safe and stay healthy.