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‘There’s a lot of pent-up demand’: Is it time to book your post-COVID-19 travel?

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If you’re contemplating post-pandemic travel, you’re probably facing a dilemma.

On the one hand, you may be tempted to book that flight, reserve that room or buy that vacation package now before all spots are taken or prices shoot up. On the other hand, even as vaccinations ramp up, Canada is still in the midst of a devastating third wave of COVID-19.

Should you hurry up to plan your next trip or wait until the pandemic uncertainty has lifted?

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Travel experts say paying a small sum now toward a future vacation makes sense — as long as you take the time to read the fine print.

The concern about planes, hotels and resorts booking up fast for travel in late 2021 and 2022 is well-founded, says Richard Vanderlubbe, president of Tripcentral.ca.

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“It’s a classic supply-and-demand situation,” he says. And right now, he adds, “there’s a lot of pent-up demand.”

And an onslaught of bookings could very well push up rates, Vanderlubbe warns. 

“Travel pricing is dynamic,” he says, adding that for both flights and hotels, algorithms often automatically increase prices when they detect an uptick in demand.

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And Vanderlubbe, whose travel agency specializes in international travel, says he’s already seeing an increase in bookings for trips starting in November or later.

Your risk of running into fully-booked flights and hotels depends on where you’d like to go, he adds. The Caribbean, for example, is a very popular destination with only a limited supply of resorts, he notes.

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Cancún, Mexico, is the second most searched destination after Las Vegas by Canadians looking up hotel rooms abroad on Expedia for the period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, according to data the company shared with Global News.

The degree to which Canada’s own tourism industry will be able to accommodate the first wave of post-pandemic travel will also depend on how the government handles the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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The U.K., for example, where over half of the population has received at least one vaccine jab, has rolled out a roadmap with benchmarks for easing the country’s lockdown. Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britons would soon be allowed to dine indoors and go to the movies, with some international travel also set to resume.

A similarly clear and gradual reopening plan in Canada would help the domestic tourism sector plan ahead, says Vanderlubbe. For his part, he says he’s concerned about potential staffing shortages at Tripcentral should some of the company’s experienced travel agents who’ve been furloughed for months decide to move on to a new career. 

If Canada doesn’t develop a step-by-step blueprint for a return to normality but eventually removes most travel curbs altogether, “we could see a massive onslaught of demand at once,” Vanderlubbe says.

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If you’re itching to pack your bags once it’s deemed safe to travel, you may want to put down a deposit on your future trip now, Vanderlubbe says.

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Travel deals abound

There are no signs yet of Ottawa lifting its travel advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada. Currently, incoming travellers must take COVID-19 tests both before and after entering the country, as well as spend 14 days in quarantine, with air passengers mandated to start their period of self-isolation in a government-designated hotel.

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Read more: Domestic flights account for 80% of COVID-19 cases among air travellers

But as Canada’s vaccine rollout picks up speed, the tourism industry is trying to whet consumers’ re-emerging appetite for travel with flexible booking options and a barrage of discounts and special offers.

Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat are waiving change or cancellations fees for travellers booking flights by late spring or early summer.

Canadians can now pay low deposits of $100 to $200 per person for all-inclusive vacation packages, with the full amount not due until six weeks to 25 days before departure, Vanderlubbe says. Before the pandemic, it was common to see deposits of $250 per person with the full balance sometimes due as early as four months in advance, he adds.

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The deals extend to travel credit cards, according to personal finance and travel expert Barry Choi. The American Express Platinum Card, for example, now offers a welcome bonus of 50,000 reward points, equivalent to $500 in travel credit, Choi notes.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite has a welcome bonus of 20,000 points, which may be enough for a short-haul round trip in economy class, plus a pass to bring along a companion for free for flights in North America.

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Some of the offers require that cardholders spend a certain amount on the card within a certain period from signup, Choi warns.

But if you have a major expense coming up — a home renovation or the annual payment for your home or auto insurance, for example — you can simply sign up for the new card and use it for bills you would have paid anyways, he adds.

If it feels too soon to be making travel plans, you can at least start piling up your travel reward points, he notes.

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What about travel insurance?

If you’re hoping travel insurance will protect you from the risk of medical bills and cancellations due to COVID-19, don’t hold your breath, says John Shmuel, director of content strategy at LowestRates.ca, a financial products comparisons site.

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“Most travel insurers are using COVID-19 as an exclusion in policies,” he says.

In other words, insurance will cover part of your medical expenses if, say, you break your leg running on the beach. But if you contract COVID-19 abroad and must be hospitalized, you’re likely on your own, Shmuel says.

A handful of insurers, including BlueCross, are offering COVID-19 coverage, but that usually comes at a higher cost, he adds. And even policies that include COVID-19 risks may come with caveat and caps, Shmuel cautions.

“You need to understand what you’re buying and what you’re covered for so that when you get out there and you’re on vacation, you’re enjoying it and not worried or not stressed over over your insurance,” he says.

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