The great Australian holiday gamble: can we Covid-proof our travel plans?

The great Australian holiday gamble: can we Covid-proof our travel plans?

Many Australians are thinking about travel at the moment. This could be as a way to escape from the daily grind or for those who don’t feel trapped at home.

Booking a trip interstate or abroad in the coming year is risky, given that states can suddenly impose travel restrictions and fluctuating limits on international arrivals. The trip could be canceled without a refund, or worse, you may find yourself stuck and unable to return home easily.

Dr Barbara Holland teaches her students to use mathematics to make better decisions when faced with uncertainty. Holland says that this includes deciding whether or not to book a vacation during the Covid-19 period.

You write down your choices and the possible outcomes for each option. Then, you assign a probability for each of the possible outcomes and calculate how bad things would be if they came true.

Booking a trip to Paris for the middle of next summer is one option. You could leave and return without any problems. The trip may be canceled, which could be costly and disappointing. You could also have your return flight canceled, leaving you to pay for an extended vacation in a foreign land.

You then rank each scenario according to how likely and bad it would be. It’s difficult to predict how reasonable border restrictions are to be implemented.

Holland: “You would be making a very big assumption if you said what the number will be.” In the past, this method has worked well to determine whether my child is a boy or a girl. “But maybe not as well when predicting the outcome of an outbreak.”

Holland suggests that, in this case, you could apply a “maximin” strategy. You choose an option where even if it’s the worst outcome, you still prefer it to the alternative.

If you are maximizing right now, you probably won’t ever go on vacation. You’d say, “being stuck somewhere and not being able go home would be awful.”

For example, staying at home is not as bad as being stranded abroad or losing money due to canceled flights. Driving within your state is less risky than traveling interstate, and a staycation has the lowest risk.

Qantas has announced new international flights starting in December. You may still want to book an overseas vacation. Holland jokes that “the mental satisfaction you get when planning your vacation, as we know, is often more enjoyable than the actual trip.”

How can you minimize the risk when planning your trip?

Pandemic insurance would cover you if your trip were canceled due to border closures or lockdowns.

Wrong. Jodi Bird, a Choice travel expert, says that he’s not aware of any domestic or international travel insurance policies that cover cancellations caused by COVID-19 lockdowns and government restrictions.

Qantas aircraft on the Melbourne airport tarmac. Airlines are pushing to bring back international travel after 18 months of no flights. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Most pandemic insurance policies will cover cancellation costs only if you, or someone traveling with you, contract the virus. Some insurers cover cancellations when the accommodation you booked has been diagnosed with coronavirus and must shut down.

Bird says that travel insurers should state up front whether or not their insurance policy covers COVID-19. Bird says that many people will buy travel insurance assuming that it covers travel restrictions, even if COVID-19 is prescribed. But that’s not always the case.

He says that “it’s the responsibility of the consumer to know exactly what they’re buying and look into the details [of the policy].

Bird advises travelers to take three precautions prior to booking a trip during the pandemic.

1. Please read the product disclosure statement for travel insurance.

Bird recommends that you read the product disclosure statement before purchasing any travel insurance. This document outlines the conditions in which the insurance will be applicable.

Bird admits that policy documents can be confusing, even for those who speak excellent English. Before purchasing travel insurance, he recommends contacting the provider to ask questions and clarify coverage.

When you call a travel insurance company, your call is usually recorded and kept as a transcription. Bird explains that if you ask a travel insurer if they cover you for Covid-19 or government travel restrictions if you get it, their answer will be recorded. This will serve as proof if there is a dispute with your travel insurance when you make a claim.

This will help to clarify what the convoluted terms of conditions are all about.

2. Get flexible flights and accommodation packages

Some accommodation and airline providers may refund or credit you if COVID-19 stops you from traveling.

Haydn Lang, a spokesperson for Flight Centre, said that their team in Australia helped customers receive about $1.5bn from airlines, hotels, and other suppliers during the peak of the pandemic. They also helped thousands of customers change their travel plans.

Long warns that while most customers are able to make changes to their bookings, the policies of each supplier vary. “Not every airline or hotel automatically offers a refund. It pays to ask at the time you book.”

3. Your cancellation policy should be in writing

Bird said that while many travel companies are willing to assist, Choice knows of some “unscrupulous” providers who don’t allow flexible bookings upfront and refuse to refund customers if they are forced to travel with restrictions.

He suggests that you always get something in writing before booking any accommodation or airline tickets to clarify what will happen if there are travel restrictions that make your holiday impossible.

Bird advises that you should check their website and read the terms and conditions to see if this is stated.

Some smaller providers may not have updated their policies regarding COVID-19 cancellations on their websites, but they could still have this policy unofficially.

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