Can you sum up the 2021 holiday travel season in one word? We can – and the word is uncertainty. Uncertain weather, health, flight availability, and destination safety are all making this an unsettled holiday season, making holiday travel safety more of a must than ever before.
Here’s what you need to know about travel this holiday season, with the focus on maximizing your safety in a year of uncertainty.
Where to go
It’s the holidays, so travelers looking for getaways are all over warm-weather destinations. That means:
- Riviera Maya
- Punta Cana
- Puerto Vallarta
- Charleston and Myrtle Beach
- San Juan, P.R.
- Orlando, Sarasota, and Palm Beach
(Concerned about safety at these destinations? Check out our in-depth safety reports on Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cancun, and the Dominican Republic, as well as our post-hurricane recovery report on the Caribbean.)
If you’re really safety conscious and only want to visit the world’s safest destinations this holiday season, we have a special treat for you – the world’s safest cities and countries, according to our latest travel research.
Here are the top five safest countries:
- New Zealand
And the top five cities:
Watch for a full-length rundown on these destinations, coming soon. Now, book away.
Flight booking tips
Booking holiday air travel is all about timing.
While booking well in advance can yield savings, if you can be flexible with your travel dates it becomes a safety and a money play. You not only avoid the busiest travel days with the greatest potential for cancelled and delayed flights but save money in the process.
The flight-data prediction tool Hopper predicts about 1.9 million travelers a day will fly through the Thanksgiving holiday. That would be around 75% of 2019 passenger levels and double 2020 levels.
Hopper also projects about 2 million travelers a day through Christmas, a 20% decrease from 2019 and a 100% increase from 2020 (assuming the weather and the airlines play along, that is).
Now, when the question is what are the cheapest airfares over the holidays, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Save the dates
According to Expedia, the most expensive travel dates around the holidays are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) and Thursday, Dec. 23. And for those planning a post-Christmas trip, avoid departing on Tuesday, Dec. 28.
Here are some other important dates to remember when it comes to holiday flying – if not for this year, then at least for next year:
- Halloween, for Thanksgiving flights. Domestic flight prices spike 40% the week before Thanksgiving and an additional 25% for week-of-Thanksgiving purchases.
- Thanksgiving, for Christmas flights. The holiday booking season actually started in September, but as long as you book before Thanksgiving you’ll get a pretty good price.
Not that prices are cheap. According to Hopper, airfare is up 71% from 2020 and up 10% from 2019, so don’t expect any huge bargains.
In terms of the best days to fly, Tuesday, Dec. 21, is the cheapest day for domestic flights, while the cheapest day to depart on an international flight is two days later.
Try the holidays’ "shoulder season"
Instead of trying to fly a couple of days before each holiday, back it up a little and take advantage of “shoulder season” availability and pricing. For instance:
- Flying the week before Thanksgiving could save you 15%
- Flying the week before Christmas could save you 10%
- Flying the week between Christmas and New Year’s could save you 15%-20% (though accommodations are more expensive that week)
And if your family has the flexibility to shift holiday celebrations, flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day can save you 10% or more, with some of the greatest savings on international flights.
For the absolute best prices, leave on New Year's Eve and spend the first week of the year on vacation.
Accommodations and other costs
Hotel and vacation rental prices are generally lower over Thanksgiving than the week of Christmas.
Car rentals have been on a roller-coaster since the spring, up 78% year-over-year, but they’re trending lower, even for rentals that include free cancellation. Because there’s no guarantee what weather or vehicle availability might do to these rates, it’s best to lock in now.
Flexibility and travel safety
We’re talking about travel at one of the busiest travel times of the year, in the midst of a global pandemic, with a world full of people itching to go somewhere and do something, in a time of rampant personnel shortages, traveling through weather that can dial up typhoons, blizzards, and everything in between.
If you want to make it through safely, you’re going to need to be flexible.
Flexibility really means two things:
- Staying cool, calm and collected when things go wrong when you travel – because things are bound to go wrong; and
- Building flexibility into your travels, so that you can handle upheavals.
When a travel catastrophe strikes, it does no good to throw your hands up to the heavens, and declare, “I have a flat tire!” You need to take a deep breath, keep calm, and do something about it.
If a flight is cancelled while you’re in the airport:
- Work the phones and social media while you’re waiting in line.
- If you’re having trouble connecting with domestic customer service, try the international lines. They may be available when domestic agents aren’t.
- If you have travel insurance, inform them of your plight and get the travel assistance team involved. All BHTP plans come with 24/7 customer service, so they’re on call and ready to help.
If it looks like your flight might leave you stranded a while, consider buying a one-day pass to an airport lounge. The $50-$100 you might spend will be more than offset by the relative comfort of the lounge.
On the other hand, if you’d just rather not wait it out in the airport, investigate car rental availability as well as flight statuses at nearby airports. Maybe your ability to navigate bad weather on the road is greater than the airlines’ ability to fly you out of this mess. This is one way to find out.check out our travel insurance plans
Issues on the road
So your trust in your ability to drive out of the storm turned out to be misplaced. Don’t panic and stay where you are. Your chances of survival are better inside than outside.
Fortunately, most of the country has cell service that’s largely unaffected by weather. If that’s your situation, call 911 and tell them where you are, who’s with you, your exact location, and how much food, water and gas you have. Then call a friend or relative with the same information.
Even if you don’t have service, it’s vital to keep your phone charged, ideally with a portable power bank.
Warmth is crucial, so focus on conserving your body heat. Wrap up in anything you can find and run the car, but only enough to get the cabin moderately warm.
If you hit the holiday road travel in your own vehicle, prepare by packing a shovel with a telescoping handle, some sand or cat litter, or some cardboard.
If that’s the case and it’s stopped snowing, take this approach:
- Keep your flashers on, and clear out an area around the exhaust to prevent carbon monoxide from seeping into the cabin.
- Wipe snow off the roof, then the sides, then shovel out the tires, and finally shovel a path in the direction you want to go.
- Make tools from whatever you have on hand. A credit card can double as a scraper, and a Frisbee makes a passable emergency shovel.
- Turn your wheels from side to side. Rock the car back and forth to get traction.
- Go slow. If your tires are spinning, giving it more gas will only dig you deeper.
- If you get out, keep going slow and easy. You just got unstuck; you don’t need to get stuck a second time.
Build in flexibility
While staying calm is good advice in all travel situations, what might be even better is building a low-risk vacation that makes it easy for you to stay calm.
Among the strategies you can try are:
Book refundable flights and stays
Search on your favorite online travel site for terms like “free cancellation" or "reserve now, pay later."
Also, when searching flights online, look closely at what’s included with the ticket, paying special attention to flight changes and cancellations. You may have to pay more for refundable tickets, but for this holiday season in particular it’s worth it.
Choose your flights wisely
Especially at smaller airports, the later in the day you fly, the greater the risk of having a flight delayed or cancelled. Very often planes servicing small airports go back-and-forth to larger hubs, and if something disrupts the process, everything gets messed up.
Try taking the first flight of the day whenever you can.
Book in advance
The further out you book, the more choice you have of departure dates, connections, and ticket types. The clock starts ticking on holiday travel in late September.
With that said, you still may be able to get the type of ticket you want to the destination you want. However, it may require you to be a little creative with arrival and departure airports and dates.
Do what you have to health wise
If you have to supply proof of a negative COVID test, book your test early. If it’s going to be easier for you to get around if you’re vaccinated, get the shot.
Again, having the flexibility to go where you want and need to is harder now than in the past, so it makes sense to have the health stuff buttoned-up on your end to allow as much flexibility as possible.
A couple other safety tips on travel through what we hope is the tail-end of the pandemic:
- Keep mitigating. In our most recent research, 60% of travelers said they plan to do safety measures like washing their hands more frequently and wearing a mask long-term. It might be a good idea to follow their lead.
- Ask about protocols. If you’re staying at a hotel or rental property, ask how frequently rooms are sanitized, laundry procedures, and cleaning protocols for common areas.
- Minimize the total number of trips. If you can consolidate a Christmas and Thanksgiving trip into one, that’s better.
- Be that person. Indoor gatherings where people with a mix of vaccination statuses are in close proximity have the potential to be “super-spreader” events. It’s acceptable etiquette to decline to attend such gatherings on health grounds.
Buy travel insurance
We’re not saying that travel insurance will make all the craziness of this holiday travel season miraculously vanish, but it will give you the peace of mind to travel confidently knowing you can be reimbursed if covered travel issues mess with your trip.
Additionally, the travel assistance offered with BHTP travel insurance can help smooth the literal and figurative bumps in the road.
Travel insurance is also surprisingly affordable for most types of holiday travel. You can get a quote today and see that for yourself.
And with that … safe and happy holiday travel, everyone! May your travel days be merry and bright.
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