Updated: March 2021
As we write this, the UK has recently celebrated 20 million people receiving the COVID-19 vaccination and is now on track to gradually lift the restrictions we’ve all become very familiar with. Overseas travel suddenly seems a more distinct possibility than ever but we’re not quite there yet. It’s important if you’re hoping to travel this summer that you hedge your bets and prepare for short notice changes to your plans.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand your options, how the airline industry has adjusted, and what to expect as we transition away from lockdowns and quarantines.
Note: While we’ve checked everything here is accurate at the time of writing, the rules, regulations and recommendations can change on a day by day basis. Make sure you double check everything you read. Now more than ever, it’s worth the extra effort to understand the nitty gritty in companies terms and conditions and to check with official sources for up to date information on entry requirements for each country.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of deals has Jack’s Flight Club been sharing?
Our primary focus is deals as far into the future as we can find. Luckily for us, airlines generally release their schedule 11 to 13 months in advance, at the moment that means trips in late summer this year all the way up to March 2022. Aside from being further into the future, this is a focus for us as it seems especially likely this year that booking well in advance will be the best way to find a deal for next year’s high season in South/South East Asia, the Caribbean, South America & Australasia.
This isn’t to say we’re totally ignoring deals earlier than that. If we see a really nice deal somewhere in June and think there’s a good chance that that country is safe and will allow travel, you might still see it pop up in your inbox. Cyprus & Portugal are good examples who are welcoming vaccinated visitors from May.
We’ll keep sharing the low-down on airline’s flexibility policies and the latest on entry requirements in our deal alerts, so you decide for yourself if you’re willing to risk having to change plans later on.
Should I be looking to book a new trip now?
That’s the big question, isn’t it!
You should definitely not be traveling except in special circumstances before the end of May, 2021 at the very, very earliest and we reckon it’s quite sensible to hold off your holidays for longer than that.
Still, at the moment you can book flights for dates as late as March next year. It’s important to do your research before you book anything to have a good understanding of the likelihood of countries having entry requirements that can make or break your plans.
You’ve probably already seen in the news that certain countries have stricter requirements and others have kind of stayed open throughout the pandemic, somehow. Countries with economies that rely heavily on tourism, such Thailand, Mexico & most of the Caribbean (can you tell we miss the beach?), will be more likely to make things as easy as possible for holidaymakers.
On the other hand, if we’re trying to guess (don’t hold us to this!) which countries might still be totally closed to tourism 7 or 8 months from now, not many come to mind - assuming all goes well with vaccinations.
One lesson we’ve all learned is that the future is very hard to predict, so wherever and whenever you plan to go, it's essential that you plan for the worst and make sure you’re covered if you need to cancel. Thankfully, even the least generous airline policies generally waive change fees for flights up to the end of summer. The best airlines cover you for practically any new booking, sometimes for multiple changes and with other benefits.
If I book a new trip, how can I protect my plans from unexpected changes?
If you’ve been thinking about travel insurance as a way of covering your future holiday, you should carefully research what coverage you’ll get for COVID-19 related issues. Generally, when there is cover available it will only apply when you or a close family member gets sick, not if there’s a change in policy in a country’s entry requirements. Money Saving Expert has a useful breakdown of the cover that is available.
Most airlines will give you at least some flexibility around changing your dates and some will let you cancel for credit or a refund. See the next few questions on this page for more on how that works.
It’s always a good idea to buy holidays with a credit card if possible, which gives you the most comprehensive chargeback & section 75 cover, in case a company you use goes out of business. It’s usually the easiest way to get a refund if you haven’t been provided the service you paid for.
Is it safer to book with an airline, rather than a travel agent?
With very few exceptions, the answer to this question is yes. Airlines usually offer generous flexible booking options, while travel agents are likely to hit you with a change fee instead.
Either way, it’s important to check if the airline or travel agents policy around flight changes and cancellations specifically, because they vary wildly depending on the company. If you decide to book with a travel agent because the savings seem to be worth it, be very sure that the flight will definitely be going ahead or you might find changing your plans later costs you more than you saved.
You can read our general advice on booking with travel agents here.
What’s the catch to airline flexibility policies?
Why would you assume there’s a catch in an industry that charges you a fee to carry anything bigger than a fanny pack? :-)
The big catch to watch out for is around their change fee waivers - they usually come with a clause that says something like “you will need to pay the difference in fare”. That sounds reasonable, but it means that you have no idea how much extra you’ll have to pay if you decide to change your dates later on because flight prices can fluctuate wildly.
This issue is kind of compounded by the huge pent up demand for travel, meaning it’s likely that we’ll be seeing higher than usual fares later in the year, especially on the most popular destinations that have made welcoming back tourists a priority. It could be the case that all of the dates they’re offering up are way more expensive than what you originally paid.
Our advice is to pick from airlines that have more generous policies where you can get your cash back in credit or refunded, even in situations where you simply don’t want to travel any more. By getting credit you can pick and choose your moment to use it so you can get the best value for your money.
How do I get my money back if my flight has been cancelled or the airline isn’t giving me a refund?
Have airlines/travel agents caught up with their customer service and refund backlogs?
Most have, although a few notable exceptions have been in the news for delaying this process. The sensible ones have put automated systems for issuing refunds, vouchers or changing flights as needed. That’s something you might want to look for, when you’re deciding which airline to book with.
If you do need to phone in, airlines are still getting more questions and requests than usual and you might have to sit on hold for longer than you might expect. Some airlines have also introduced, or increased, fees for making changes to your booking over the phone, rather than through their website or app.
What do I do if my flight isn’t cancelled but I don’t want to travel any more?
This will vary depending on when you booked your flight and how the company or airline you booked with is deciding these cases. There’s no one-size-fits all answer to this one, so check with your flight provider to see what they’re offering. If you think they’re not treating you fairly, ask to raise a complaint.
If you booked with a travel agent, their policies should mirror the airline policy around the flight, perhaps with some additional fees, so it may be worth seeing if they differ and using that research to challenge their policy. Travel agents do retain some rights to charge a fee for administering your booking.
Am I going to need a vaccine passport to travel internationally?
This isn’t totally clear yet and it’s ultimately going to be decided by a bunch of different parties. It’s useful to break down the different angles to understand what we might see in the future.
- For your home country: You will be offered documentation once you receive a vaccination for the virus. They may opt into schemes in agreement with other countries when there’s a strong interest in having two way travel between them.
- For your destination: Many countries will probably opt in to some kind of passport requirement for evidence you have received the vaccination.
- For your airline: They may insist that you use some kind of app to verify your eligibility for travel, and if your destination or home country demands a vaccination certificate or passport, you may need to submit this to them.
When there’s clearer information on this we’ll collect it into a guide for your reference, but we’re not confident yet on how things will play out, it’s all very up in the air.
Where’s the best place to get information about entry restrictions?
https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice - For the latest on entry requirements for UK citizens who plan to travel.
https://ec.europa.eu/consularprotection/content/travel-advice_en - The EU has collected the links for each European country's foreign departments for official information.
https://travel.state.gov/ - For the latest travel advisories for US citizens.
https://www.skyscanner.net/travel-restrictions - Has a cool visual map tool for understanding restrictions from most countries.
Which airlines have the best flexibility policies for new bookings?
This information is up to date as of March 5th 2021, it could change in the future so double check before booking.
KLM/Air France - All tickets for travel up to the end of 2021 have no change fees and are refundable in the form of a voucher, valid for a year from the date of issue. It can be used on flights with Virgin Atlantic & Delta Airlines. The voucher is also refundable!
Note: Double check this on the ticket conditions before you book, we have seen them exclude certain flights.
British Airways - Free changes and the option to cancel for the full value in credit for all flights up to April 2022. Your credit must be used on travel before the end of April 2023.
Virgin Atlantic - Unlimited free changes for flights up to end of April 2022, for new dates up to the end of April 2023. You can also change it to credit to use by then. They also let you assign the ticket to someone else.
Note: They haven’t been great customer service wise so far, according to Money Saving Expert.
Icelandair - Offering a travel credit voucher that's valid for 3 years, so you could even use it for travel in 2024!
Singapore Airlines - Unlimited free changes up to June 2021 and one change after that on new bookings. Using this policy, you can postpone your travel up to February 2023.
Cathay Pacific - For tickets booked by the end of March 2021 you can make unlimited changes up to the end of the year. You’ll be able to select dates in early 2023 by the time unlimited changes expire.
Emirates - All tickets for travel up to the end of September 2021 will be accepted for up to 2 years after the date you booked, on flights travelling to any destination in the same region. You can also request a refund, with a possible fee.
Etihad Airways - Their policy is light on details, but they claim to offer unlimited changes on all new bookings. You might want to double check with their customer service for any small print on that one.
Have any more questions? We'd love to help! Contact us at [email protected] for more information, and safe travels :)