Updated: August 2021
As we write this, countries around the world are beginning 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 year 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
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.
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?
Right now, you’re able to travel to some countries just with proof of a recent negative PCR test, though many require you to quarantine as well. Some places are beginning to accept proof of vaccination as an alternative to PCR testing, but rules vary from country to country. 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 if you decide to get vaccinated against 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, e.g. many countries in Europe are now using the EU Digital COVID Certificate as proof of vaccination, recovery or negative test results.
- For your destination: Most countries will require you to carry official documentation from your home country. This may be proof of vaccination or simply proof of a negative test. You’ll often need to fill in a traveller registration form, too.
- For your airline: At the moment, airline requirements don’t seem to differ from the requirements of the destination country. You’ll need to show your PCR test results and any relevant travel form before boarding - usually in PDF format. Some airlines are starting to use apps like VeriFLY to help passengers make sure they have all their documentation in order before they fly.
As information becomes clearer and more consistent, we’ll collect it into a guide for your reference.
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. Getting credit means you can pick and choose your moment to use it, so you can get the best value for your money.
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.
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/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 July 29, 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.
Delta - The best of the US airline policies. Tickets in Main Cabin class or above for travel up to the end of 2021 have no change fees, and tickets can be cancelled and exchanged for eCredit.
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 September 2021 and one change after that on new bookings. Using this policy, you can postpone your travel up to May 2023.
Cathay Pacific - For tickets booked by the end of August 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 - Unlimited free changes on all new bookings until the end of March 2022 for travel to any destination on their network. You can also cancel your flight for credit valid for up to 2 years and get up to $400 bonus.
Qatar Airways - Unlimited free changes on all bookings made before August 31, 2022 or a travel voucher with 10% extra value, both valid for travel until end of May 2022. Full ticket refunds are also available without a penalty.
Eurowings - Unlimited rebooking allowed with all fares, or you can cancel your flight and get a voucher for the full value on bookings until August 31, 2022.
What kind of deals has Jack’s Flight Club been sharing?
Our primary focus is finding deals as far into the future as possible. Luckily for us, airlines generally release their schedule 11 to 13 months in advance - at the moment, that means trips later this year all the way up to July 2022. Aside from being further into the future, 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 October and think there’s a good chance that country is safe and will allow travel, you might still see it pop up in your inbox. Iceland and Greece are good examples of countries already welcoming visitors who can prove they’ve either tested negative, recovered from COVID or been vaccinated.
We’ll keep sharing the low-down on airline flexibility policies and the latest on entry requirements in our deal alerts, so you can decide for yourself whether you’re willing to risk having to change plans later on.
Should I be thinking about booking a new trip now?
That’s the big question, isn’t it!
Most countries have a “green list” of places it’s already safe to travel to, but many governments still advise against non-essential travel. We reckon it’s quite sensible to hold off your holidays a bit longer, especially if you’re looking at countries that aren’t on a green list.
Still, at the moment you can book flights for dates as late as July 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 as Spain, Mexico & a lot 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, it’s only really Australia and New Zealand that come to mind.
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 the year. The best airlines cover you for practically any new booking, sometimes for multiple changes and with other benefits.
Have any more questions? We'd love to help! Contact us at [email protected] for more information, and safe travels :)