There are plenty of coronavirus flight deals out there, but think before you buy

What if the plane ticket was cheaper than dinner or what you’d spend on the Uber or taxi?

Say, Boston-Orlando in mid-June for $ 41 (that’s a round-trip, tax included), according to data from airline ticket research firm 3Victors, or Philadelphia-Las Vegas from here. early November for $ 73 round trip? Maybe you’re tempted by $ 177 from New York to Los Angeles and back in early June, or $ 345 round trip Los Angeles to London in August, September, or October.

Should we reserve it?

As the coronavirus forces potential travelers to stay indoors, travel deals are appearing online. Don’t let yourself be swayed easily. Scott McCartney of the WSJ explains how to avoid risky travel. Photo: Getty Images

Don’t be dumb and dangerous traveling during a pandemic just because the fares are cheap. But for later in the year, the ultra-cheap home deals are worth the bet. For international travel, you’ll want to wait longer because there are so many uncertainties in the airline and hospitality industries. One exception: you might consider bookings for the fall, vacation, and next summer if you’re looking for an unobtainable luxury hotel, safari, or small boat expedition that would normally be full a year or two away. advance.

Homebound travelers undoubtedly spend some of their social distancing time thinking about the cheap vacations they will enjoy once the coronavirus coast is cleared. Many travel companies, desperate for money, are offering rates tailored to the depression market, not just for this summer, but for fall and next year as well.

Even luxury hotels trying to avoid price discounts are offering free fourth and fifth night deals and waiving prepayment and cancellation penalties, travel sellers say.

“This is a great opportunity to plan ahead for a type of wishlist trip that is normally difficult to enter,” says Misty Belles, Managing Director of Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel advisors. “It depends on your risk aversion. “

For many, there is now too much uncertainty and fear of job and investment losses to even think about booking a trip. Last week, bookings at travel agencies were 80% lower than the same week a year ago, according to Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes transactions for the agencies.

The lowest fares that 3Victors found in a study of airline deals in reservation systems are of course not available on all travel days. The Hopper booking app looked at overall fares on Friday and found that US domestic air fares for summer and fall travel were down about 28% from prices before the drop for the same trip, and down 36% from the same period last year. International flight prices this summer and fall follow a similar pattern.

3Victors chief executive Rick Seaney said tying up money for international travel could end up being an airline loan. Restrictions on international travel may remain in place for some time. Hotels and attractions can remain closed deep in a recovery, and airlines can abandon certain routes for a long time before restarting service to certain destinations.

Airlines are selling tickets this month with no cancellation or change fees, but your ticket will still become a voucher that could expire in less than a year if plans change. And even when you change your reservation, it will likely be at a higher rate and you will have to pay the rate difference.

Domestic travel, on the other hand, is more of a gamble that is more likely to pay off if you use this ticket. For $ 41 or even $ 141, why not book a trip for late summer or fall?

Mr. Seaney mentions the usually busy New York-Los Angeles route where a $ 200 round trip ticket has been the “holy grail of 30 years,” found only a few times in economic recessions and airline price wars. aerial.

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For travel the second week of June, Frontier offered fares as low as $ 115 round trip; American as low as $ 177 and JetBlue,

Delta and United $ 187 round trip, according to a 3Victors research of reservation system data Monday. The lowest fares for all of these airlines were $ 267 or less for a round trip through October.

However, the prices are not at favorable levels for the holiday periods. From Seattle to Maui, Hawaii, Alaska Airlines’ cheapest deal last week was $ 1,589 on Thanksgiving peak days Wednesday through Sunday, and $ 1,593 round trip December 19-26. . Between Detroit and Denver, Delta offers round trips of $ 114 for summer travel dates, but $ 531 for peak Thanksgiving days. From Washington, DC to Seattle and back over Christmas, United had tickets priced at $ 1,235 last week.

And you can forget to book cheap plane tickets for summer 2021: airline timetables don’t go out very far. Most airlines open their flights for booking about 11 months in advance. For now, Southwest and JetBlue are only available in October.

U.S. airlines have announced massive schedule reductions, but flights are just starting to be taken off schedules. Airline data company OAG said this week that the number of seats in the United States was only 6.4% lower than at the same times in January. Significant reductions in hours should be made in the next two weeks.

Airlines’ pricing systems will generally not start to increase prices until purchases start to increase significantly. Travel experts expect the discounts to continue well after an economic recovery to get people to start traveling again.

When the flights are reloaded in the reservation systems, it will be as if each flight is a brand new flight with low fares to compensate for the lack of reservations.

“Consumers will have the better side of the stick for months, if not quarters,” says Seaney.

Luxury hotels might try to resist discounts when the rebound begins, but Jack Ezon, founder of New York City travel consultant Embark Beyond, thinks only a few of the more exclusive properties – think the Coast. Azure or the Amalfi Coast in Italy – will be able to avoid lowering prices.

In past rebounds, one or two competitors in a market lower their prices and others follow to stay competitive, he notes. “I’m sure there will be tremendous value when this is all over,” Mr. Ezon said.

What is the right strategy for this summer? Since no one knows when the danger of the virus will subside, seriously consider planning a trip this year. Once the blockages are lifted and you must escape the walls closing in on you, check into the local luxury hotel or resort, the one with the golf course you can never play. Explore the best restaurants you never go to.

Also consider several short trips. We have tended to have shorter vacations anyway. This is not the year of three week global adventures. With short stays, you always have a ticket home for the next few days if an epidemic breaks out. Go find a beach and stay a few days. Then go find a mountain and stay a few days.

Write to Scott McCartney at [email protected]

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If you want to roll the dice now and get a good deal, consider the following:

• Make sure your airline, hotel or tour operator allows waivers on tickets purchased now. Don’t buy anything with cancellation penalties.

• Allow extra time in your itinerary, as the schedules will be muddled. Let’s just assume that the flight you are booking will change. Plan to arrive a day or two before any major engagement like a sail, wedding, or excursion.

• Realize that you may not get a refund, just credit for future travel, with an expiration date.

• Remember that travel insurance (except cancellation for any reason) will not cover cancellations in the event of a pandemic.

• Think about how far you would like to be away from home if the virus recurs.

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