As a growing number of businesses cancel conventions, postpone events and restrict employee travel because of the coronavirus, airlines are left with empty seats, which means cheaper fares. Until airlines can cut back on routes, you’ll find savings.
“When you spot a great deal, buy it,” said Misty Belles, a spokeswoman for the 22,000-member Virtuoso network of luxury travel advisors. “We aren’t seeing a decline in prices for other types of travel, such as hotels and tours. But airfare is definitely dropping.”
So, too, are some of the added fees airlines usually charged if you change or cancel your plans after you’ve paid for the tickets. Although the policy could revert back at any time, airlines including United, Delta, American and JetBlue are waiving those penalties for new ticket purchases booked directly with the carrier but not through online travel agencies such as Expedia.
“It’s basic supply and demand,” said Michael Holtz, whose New York-based Smart Flyer travel agency caters to high-end corporate and leisure travelers worldwide.
Usually the earlier you book flights, the less expensive they’ll be. That still appears to be true all the way into peak summer travel season. But I found incredible deals for round-trip flights from the Los Angeles International Airport. Given the volatility of airfares in general, these may no longer be available. Airfares here are quoted from LAX.
Want to eat at Paia Fish Market on Maui, one of our top restaurant picks in our 20 meals for less than $20? We spotted nonstop round-trip flights to Maui’s Kahului airport as low as $198 on United and Hawaiian airlines.
How about a dry-aged prime rib-eye at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Dallas, not far from DFW International Airport? American Airlines has round-trip fares to DFW as low as $151. Or pack up your skis and head to Whistler, Canada, by way of Vancouver for $195.
Even flights to Las Vegas during the first weekend of the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament (March 20-22) have been slashed: I saw several options to book round-trip flights there for as little as $57 on Frontier Airlines and $89 on American or Delta.
The downturn in travel has worried carriers, which have slashed their schedules to compensate for the loss in demand. Instead of parking their gigantic 787s and 777s that until recently flew to Asia, airlines have redeployed some of those comfy twin-aisle planes on busy domestic routes, including several at LAX.
On American Airlines, for example, that means some passengers booked on economy tickets to Las Vegas and Dallas-Fort Worth will find themselves seated in a comfy business-class seat instead of a squeezebox in the back, because the carrier sells only first-class and main cabin tickets but not business class on domestic routes.
Despite the loss of those foreign routes, travel advisors are seeing a healthy increase in travel within the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, Virtuoso’s Belles said.
“Customers are pivoting from Italy to Spain or staying in the U.S.,” she said. “Family adventure travel is hot right now, especially trips to national parks and ski destinations instead of traveling abroad, so leisure travelers are still traveling.”
Tania Swasbrook echoed that. “I have some clients switching from northern Italy to Spain,” said Swasbrook, the vice president of Coronado-based Travelworld International Group. “Other than that, if it’s not on the Department of State list [travel advisory list], they’re going.”
Right now is also a good time to book flights for summer travel, though be mindful about options for canceling, changing or rerouting flights if conditions change. If you book through a travel agent, he or she can often perform miracles that you may not get from an online travel agency.
For example, U.S. government travel advisories currently discourage travel to areas of Japan, Asia, Iran and Italy. But the list of affected countries could be entirely different a few weeks from now, Belles said.
Travelers can protect themselves by purchasing a cancel-for-any-reason, or CFAR, travel insurance policy. Although the policies usually have to be purchased within 21 days of making a trip deposit, they can be wise investments if you want to lock in an expensive summer trip now. CFAR coverage costs more, and generally pays out 75% (sometimes less) of your nonrefundable costs.
Concerns about becoming infected with the coronavirus aboard a plane are heightened, but airlines are taking extra steps to disinfect planes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily by surface contact. The bigger threat is from an infected traveler who coughs or sneezes.