With tour companies advertising great deals and sunny destinations opening up, many Canadians are hoping to book a getaway soon. But a pandemic-era trip may come with a few more line items on your budget than the carefree, cheaper travel of the past.
Travel is showing signs of picking up. A summer survey by travel company Sunwing found that 58 per cent of Canadians planned to travel in the following 12 months.
What they might now know is that travelling now comes with additional costs, everything from extra insurance to COVID testing and small items like N-95 masks – which, if they haven’t travelled for two years, may come with a bit of sticker shock.
Montreal-based animation producer Melanie Schaffer is one Canadian who recently left the country for holidays.
An experienced traveller who writes about her trips on her blog BRB Travel, the thirtysomething had been watching post-COVID travel trends and was expecting additional expenses when she and her husband booked their August trip to Florida to visit family.
In addition to their airfare and pricier-than-usual hotels, Ms. Schaffer saw how other costs began to add up. For example, although she decided they had sufficient travel health insurance coverage through her employer and credit card, they did purchase additional cancellation insurance for around $100 through the airline.
They also set aside $150 a night for hotel costs and $50 a day for food in their budget to cover a potential two-week hotel quarantine at their destination, and budgeted for extra masks on the aircraft and for the required COVID tests at the airport upon departure and arrival.
“What surprised me was the cost of the PCR tests – those are expensive,” she says. They paid $200 each when they left and another US$200 (about $250) each on their return to Canada.
With uncertainty continuing around COVID rates and airline scheduling, Richard Vanderlubbe, president of TripCentral.ca, has seen an uptick in changes to travel plans, as well as cancellations, both by travel companies and customers. As a result, where prepandemic travellers were exclusively focused on low prices, that has shifted to an increased focus on terms and conditions as people already hit by pandemic-related issues were forced to navigate a confusing process of cancellations, credits and refunds.
For many, this means purchasing extras with their basic airfare or travel package. One option people are looking at is traditional cancellation insurance coverage, he says, given the number of potential plan-disrupting events still happening. These plans cover the cost of your trip against a number of unexpected risks, such as the emergence of a non-pre-existing medical condition for yourself or your travelling companions, jury duty or the involuntary loss of employment.
For a seven-night all-inclusive package that costs $2,000 a person, for example, basic cancellation coverage might cost just more than $130 a traveller, going up to nearly $200 for a more comprehensive plan that also covers trip interruption and theft at the destination. Adding a “cancellation for any reason” benefit – which would allow a traveller to cancel their plans for any reason at all and get 75 per cent of their money back up to 15 days before departure, Mr. Vanderlubbe says – will cost an extra 25 per cent, on top of the comprehensive plan.
Stacey Aarssen, president of travel broker Better Travel Insurance, suggests travellers carefully read trip cancellation policies to know what is and is not covered. Most providers, she says, do not offer “trip cancellation for any reason” policies, and those that do often only allow it to be purchased within a short window of putting down a non-refundable deposit.
In addition to buying a cancellation policy, which would cover a list of reasons that would allow people to get their money back, Mr. Vanderlubbe says travellers should consider the optional cancellation waivers offered by travel companies that can be purchased at the time of booking. These usually allow customers to change travel plans for a future date.
“A lot of them, they’re not expensive – it could be $50 and it gives a whole bunch of flexibility and the difference between completely losing your money within 21 days, let’s say, of departure, and actually having a credit that you could reuse within a year,” he says.
One example of an add-on protection plan, says Toronto-based travel expert Barry Choi, is Air Canada Vacations’ Carefree and Careflex Plus plans, which have been available for a number of years. These plans, he says, allow travellers to purchase optional coverage at the time of booking for as little as $59 to change, cancel with a travel credit and partial refund or full refund up to 25 days before departure.
Before COVID, it may have been something you never would have considered but now it looks like a good investment, he says.
Travel insurance is another cost that was important prepandemic, Mr. Choi says, but is arguably something many are paying more attention to, post-COVID.
Now that COVID is a “known risk,” many travel plans aren’t covering it, Mr. Vanderlubbe says. One option is to purchase an additional plan to cover the impact of the virus – although he says he has seen less demand for this add-on now that many travellers are vaccinated.
A lot of insurers offer optional coverage or an additional policy that would cover medical and other costs associated with catching COVID abroad, such as being quarantined and having to change your plans, Mr. Vanderlubbe says. “It’s still a risk that can be covered.”
In the air: Many airlines, Mr. Choi says, are only providing prepackaged in-flight snacks, such as chips or pretzels, as he discovered on a recent trip to Vancouver – so don’t forget to purchase and bring your own food. Stocking up on extra masks and sanitizer for the journey is also something you may wish to budget for.
On the ground: As Ms. Schaffer explains, if you’re travelling to an area hit hard by COVID, consider whether you’d prefer to take private rather than public transportation during your trip, and budget accordingly. Some tours may also have reduced the size of their groups and increased prices as a result.
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