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How to book an overseas trip for 2021 – without losing your money

Should you book a holiday abroad right now? With international travel on the horizon, here’s how to book risk-free

Huw Oliver
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Huw Oliver
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The global rollout of the vaccine has given many of us hope that holidays will be possible again this summer. At least two of the approved shots have been proved to curb transmission of the virus, as well as reduce severe symptoms. That means that by late 2021, there should be little stopping destinations from welcoming travellers – even if you might need a vaccine passport to make it past the border.

So should you book a holiday abroad for this year? There’s plenty of evidence that popular destinations are already getting booked up for the second half of 2021, especially because prices are still relatively low.

But as we all know far too well, everything can change overnight. By the time your trip rolls around, there’s no way of predicting whether your destination will still allow you to enter – nor whether you’ll have to pay for expensive tests or quarantine on your return. There’s also still a risk you could fall ill with the virus just before your trip. And many of us also don’t know when we’ll get our vaccine, which may soon become a condition of entry to some destinations. 

So if you do have to cancel your holiday, how can you make sure you won’t lose your money?

Well, one way to mitigate the risks from the start would be to consider a holiday closer to home. Travelling within your own country would help you avoid issues over border restrictions, changing travel advice, tests, quarantines and vaccine passports. And if you’re worried about whether it’s safe to fly, you’re more likely to be able to avoid plane trips if you stay on home turf.

But if you are rolling the dice on an overseas trip, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from disruption such as ever-shifting travel rules, having to self-isolate, or your travel company refusing a refund – or even going bust.

Here are six top tips to consider before you book that big trip.

How to book a holiday abroad in 2021

1. Pay less upfront

This one’s simple. Try and reserve accommodation through a travel firm or booking site that requires no or very low deposits – that way you’re almost certain to reduce your loss if you decide to cancel before the rest of the money is due. Also: make sure to check the T&Cs to check you don’t have to pay an additional fee to cancel.

2. Look for flexible booking policies

There are a number of reasons you might want to change the dates of your booking: for example, cases might be rising your destination, travel rules may have changed, or you may have fallen ill. 

Many travel companies will now allow you to change the date of your stay at the very last minute. Ideally, you’ll want to go for firms that will allow you to change dates right up to the day of departure (as many problems may only become apparent just before you leave).

Hotels and hotel booking sites may well charge a higher rate for flexibility, but it may well be worth paying a little extra for this luxury. And when it comes to flights, it should be noted that some airlines have also started waiving change fees over the past year – we’d recommend checking whether this is the case with your carrier before you book.

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3. Find accommodation that’s fully refundable

If you do have to pay a lot upfront, you will want to make sure that you will be able to get all your money back in the event you have to cancel. Many individual hotels already offer this, and hotel booking sites like Booking.com also offer free cancellations on many properties. 

Staying in an Airbnb? Here it gets a little more complicated. Whether or not you are entitled to a refund depends on the individual property’s cancellation policy and when you cancel – you can check this on the booking page. The company will only guarantee refunds for those who contract Covid-19; rules vary from host to host when it comes to travel rules and lockdown restrictions.

When it comes to booking through other sites, it is worth checking to see how the firm handled refunds over the past year. If there are a lot of complaints about their customer service, it might be wise trying to book elsewhere (even if that means paying more).

4. …and, if possible, fully refundable travel too

Many airlines will now offer fully refundable flights – at a higher price. Otherwise, there is little guarantee that you will get your money back if you can no longer travel. If your government’s travel advice changes at the last minute and you are no longer permitted or advised to travel to your destination, it is possible (but not guaranteed) that your airline will cancel your flights. In that particular case, you should be entitled to a full refund. 

And if you’re renting a car on your trip? Make sure to check the company’s cancellation policy. Like accommodation and airlines, many rental firms have started offering more flexibility when it comes to cancellation and date changes.

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5. Consider a package holiday

You may never have thought about booking a package holiday. But, in the UK at least, this is a surer way of protecting your money than booking flights and accommodation separately. British ‘Atol’ regulation means that if the company goes bust, you will be entitled to all your money back (as all package-holiday firms must pay into an insurance fund run by the Civil Aviation Authority). There is no similar scheme for customers who book flights and hotels separately.

If travel is banned to your destination before you fly, a package holiday may also provide a further safety net. When travel advice changes, airlines are less likely to cancel flights than tour operators are to cancel package holidays, and you should be able to claim a full refund.

6. Get travel insurance that covers pandemic-related disruption

No cover is fully comprehensive, but it is worth looking around for travel insurance that will cover you if you fall ill or your holiday is disrupted due to the pandemic. Many policies will pay up if your flights are cancelled or delayed, or if you test positive before departure. Several will also cover you if you have to self-isolate for a period that overlaps with your holiday. 

However, it should be noted that no insurer will pay up if you cancel because of changing travel advice, and no policy will cover you if you simply change your mind.

Some airlines, tour operators and hotels are also offering free Covid-19 cover, but you’ll no doubt want to buy general travel insurance either way. There’s never been a more unpredictable time to go on holiday – so now more than ever, it’s worth splashing out to be even slightly better protected.

Find out more about the future of travel

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