The news that France is re-opening to British travellers is another welcome confidence boost and it will add rocket fuel to the huge surge in advance bookings that is currently being reported by the travel industry. It is a wonderful relief to be writing in such positive terms about the prospects for 2022 and I certainly don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm. But I do want to sound a note of pragmatic caution.
It certainly feels as though we are driving down a one-way street out of restrictions: borders are re-opening, there are no more countries on the red list and pre-departure testing has ended. And I am genuinely optimistic that we won’t have to negotiate any more u-turns. But we aren’t out of the covid woods yet. Omicron was only identified on November 23 – a little over seven weeks ago. This pandemic has been going on for two years. We simply don’t know what is around the corner and while I certainly think that for many of us it is time to start booking again, it is also vital that we do so with our eyes open. Here are five golden rules to follow.
If I have any regrets over the last couple of years it is that once or twice, I failed to take an opportunity to travel while it was still possible and then got caught out by changes to the rules. Whenever I did manage to get away, despite the annoyances of form filling and testing, I found that it was always more straightforward than I feared. So my first rule for those who want to get travelling again is to step through doors as soon as they open. If you can get to the ski slopes, fix a city break or head off for some winter sun in the next few weeks, I would take your chance now.
Make packages your priority
All package holidays must be licensed and they give you far more legal and financial protection than booking independently – something which is vital in uncertain times. Some people see them as a boring option, but a package doesn’t have to be booked from a pre-arranged list. Most operators are incredibly flexible at the moment and happy to tailor to your needs, while still offering you high levels of flexibility and protection. So look for the ATOL logo and you will get the best holiday with the best protections.
Independents – be cautious
The one area where relatively few tour operators still offer packages is city breaks. But there are some options. Easyjet Holidays, British Airways Holidays and Eurostar all sell packages which include travel and a hotel. If you do decide to go it alone however, make sure you book a hotel that you can cancel without penalty right up to the last moment. There are plenty offering this flexibility online.
Check the cancellation rules
While nearly all tour operators and airlines have made major adaptations to their booking conditions – the exact details vary from company to company, and all have time limits and might change in future. For example, one company might allow you to postpone your departure or even opt for a penalty-free refund if you change your mind about travel, but not all will.
Make sure that you are happy that what is being offered gives you the flexibility you need and covers the circumstances you are concerned about. So, for example, Eurostar allows you to change a standard ticket without charge, but only more than seven days in advance. After that you have to pay a penalty fee for £30. With BA you can make penalty-free changes right up until check-in for your flight closes. Check the individual company’s website for full details.
Insure, insure, insure
Buy insurance when you book your travel arrangements so you make the most of the cover offered, and don’t skimp – make sure it covers the eventualities that you need it too, including issues like the cost of getting stranded abroad – or having to cancel your departure because of covid. Read the full guide to booking insurance for travel here.
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