Should you take advantage of cheap travel during coronavirus?

Posted: 5 March 2020 1:10 pm

Woman staring forward trying to make a decision.

As the pandemic continues to reduce the cost of travel, here's what you should consider before jumping on those cheap trips.

With over 90,000 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases reported in over 80 countries and territories, flights around the world have been cancelled due to health concerns and lack of demand.

And this is starting to take a toll on the cost of travel.

In China, domestic flights are down to as little as $4 each way and the price of cruises from Asian ports has dropped from thousands to hundreds in a bid to encourage internal travel.

From Australia, flights to Los Angeles have plummeted to $672 return on Qantas – almost half the average cost we generally pay for the journey.

Domestic sales have started to follow suit with Jetstar currently offering one-way flights from $31.

Prices are incredible, but are they worth the risk? Here's what you need to know:

China is still on a "do not travel" alert

Due to COVID-19, China is still on the highest level of travel alert on Smartraveller and should not be visited. Even if the price is right.

While a limited number of flights are still in operation, they're actually not as cheap as all that. For example, according to Skyscanner, flights from Melbourne to Guangzhou start at $339 return on Scoot. That's only $100 cheaper than sale fares prior to the outbreak.

The best deals are to less-affected areas

Most notable on the chopping block are flights to the USA which range from $600-800 return on major airlines such as Qantas. That's a massive bargain and you won't be flying through any heavily impacted cities to get there, either.

But while the US hasn't had a mass outbreak, chief economist at BetaShares Exchange Traded Funds David Bassanese told Finder "we may just be on the tip of the iceberg in terms of the US impact – especially as they go into flu season".

There are hefty discounts on local travel

COVID-19 has effectively grounded China's tourism industry to a halt, and it's had a flow-on effect on Australia. Due to our current travel restrictions, we stand to lose a good chunk of their tourism dollars.

By the numbers, Chinese tourists are one of our largest markets, accounting for approximately 120,000 short term visitor arrivals per month. And while there are no latest numbers (yet), if past pandemics are anything to go by, Bassanese suggests this could decrease by up to 80%.

The aftermath is that we're seeing Australian airlines offering big discounts such as Jetstar offering up one million discounted seats on flights from May until December to keep the momentum going. It's definitely an option particularly for anyone who still wants to travel and support the local industry.

Looking at Expedia traveller data, the booking site told Finder that "the average ticket price for domestic airfares is lower compared to last year, making it an affordable option for Aussies".

Cruises haven't been hit as hard with the best deals at $74.50 per night on Carnival Cruises. However, as it's currently wave season, a time when cruise sales are rife, there's an expectation for more deals to be released soon.

You can book in advance where there may be less concern

The sales range from immediate travel to dates as far into the future as 2021. By booking well in advance there's a chance that the pandemic has eased off enough to allow safe and undisrupted travel.

Of course, there's never a guarantee. "It could be 3 months, 6 months or even a year," says Bassanese. Similar to pandemics of the past such as SARS and swine flu, he predicts a V shape recovery to the tourism industry once contained.

Be prepared for delays in the case of an outbreak

As the situation continues to evolve, a destination that may be safe today may not be in the future.

If an outbreak occurs and restrictions are put in place while on holiday, or in the event that you contract COVID-19, you could be in for a lengthy quarantine period when you come back to Australia.

Travel insurance might not cover you

As COVID-19 is a known event, a standard travel insurance policy might not cover you for any related expenses, including medical, while away. However, it can still cover you for unrelated medical or travel misfortunes.

Many insurers also don't cover for pandemics or epidemics with an analysis by Finder of 32 travel insurance policies finding almost half excluded such events.

If in doubt, it's worth contacting your insurer for confirmation on what is and isn't covered.

An alternative that could save you a pretty penny is cancel-for-any-reason insurance. This gives you the opportunity to cancel your plans for a refund, even if it is out of fear.

warningPlease note that Cover-More has announced a suspension of any new Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policies as of 5pm AEST on Friday 13 March 2020 in Australia and New Zealand, in the face of the global coronavirus crisis. If you've already purchased CFAR before this date, you'll still be covered as per the usual terms and conditions.

Even without insurance, you may be able to cancel your flight for a refund. This depends on the level of advice provided by Smartraveller as well as the flexibility of your airline or travel agent.

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