Go to Google Flights, and you’ll see cheap tickets. In fact, the cheapest flights ever in history are currently being offered. However, while you could save hundreds—even thousands—of dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic, should you really book a cheap flight now to travel later this year or early 2021?
The answer depends on many factors, but here’s the No. 1 you should consider: Are you OK with a 50/50 chance your trip will work out?
I’ll explain why booking a cheap flight now to travel later is a huge gamble — and discouraged for now.
First, let’s took a look at why flights are so cheap.
Obviously, during the lockdown and travel ban, airfare is ridiculously inexpensive. Sure, nobody is flying right now, and flight occupancy is hovering the smallest percentage, so airlines will lower fares. It’s simple algorithm. You may ask, why are airlines even flying planes if they lose profit on a flight that has, say, two passengers? Because they are required to.
There are 2 reasons why airlines must continue to fly during the coronavirus pandemic. One: Airlines have been mandated to continue flying in order to accept coronavirus aid from the stimulus package. Two: Airlines have dedicated slots at airports, and if they don’t make their slots, they could lose them. These slots are incredibly valuable, and airlines pay a lot of money to have them.
If an airline has one passenger on a flight, they’ll lose revenue, but it doesn’t hurt as much as losing the slot in the long run. To learn more about this, I go into more detail in this story: The reason why planes are still flying with 0 passengers.
OK, so flights are cheap. Absurdly cheap. Should you book said cheap plane ticket now to travel at a later date in the future? I’ve been asked this question dozens of times.Would you want to book a cheap ticket now to travel later this year?
The short answer is YES — but A) *only* if you know the fine print for the airline’s change/cancellation fees and B) you are OK with the fact you may not actually take the flight you booked later in the future.
Every airline has offered generous and flexible change fee plans for tickets purchased now. For instance, Delta Air Lines offers a no-change fee for tickets bought March 1 to May 31, up to a year from the date of purchase.
Let’s say you see a Delta flight from NYC to Barcelona for an insane $100. You buy that flight today and book the travel dates of November 10 – 20. In November, hypothetically, the travel ban and lockdown have not lifted, so you need to cancel the trip. With Delta’s policy, you cannot cancel your flight, but you can rebook it to an even later date with absolutely no penalty (within the 1 year of booking).
However, and *huge* however here, if your new flight is more expensive, you have to pay the difference in fare. Translation: The amount you paid for your flight ($100) will not be honored if the new fare is more expensive.
The good news is that the possibility for fare increase for the remainder of the year is extremely low. The bad news is that it’s wildly unpredictable on whether your destination will increase in fare or not.
For passengers who bought a ticket already to travel through September 30, 2020, Delta instated a refund policy for up to two years — through May 31, 2022. This means that you can plan, re-book and make changes to your flight with the airline with absolutely no stress. You read that right. You can rebook your flight without any penalty, or cancel your flight without any penalty.
Every airline has a different policy (Delta’s happens to be among the best), so it’s your responsibility to know the rules.
So, OK, great, airlines are being flexible with cancellation and changes. What’s the catch?
Here’s the main catch: Scientists and experts predict a second wave of Covid infections over the fall/winter. Even if the number of coronavirus cases start decreasing now, how will you know you’ll be OK to fly this winter over the holidays? Buying a cheap ticket now to fly later this year is certainly a gamble with the uncertainty of the future.
Another reason you may want to hold off on purchasing your flight: You book with a low-cost carrier. It is very possibly budget carriers could go bankrupt during the recession, and you won’t get any money back on the flight you paid for. For that reason, if you absolutely want to lock in that cheap fare, I say go with a legacy carrier, like American, United or Delta, because we just don’t know what could happen in the current state of travel (though we have learned from previous recessions that airlines have gone bankrupt and/or merged…that’s a fact, and facts are good right now).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are only 3 officials who can greenlight travel after the pandemic. Once The CDC, The State Department and World Health Organization deem its safe to travel again, then you might want to book your ticket.
I know how tempting it is to lock in that ridiculously cheap airfare. Saving money is great. How often do you see flights to Europe or Asia for a few hundred bucks? But I will stress again and again, the uncertainty of the future is a heavy odd against you. Throw in the fact you have no idea what sort of condition the destination you’re looking to go to will be in the future, and you might as well hold out on buying that ticket.
If you book a cheap flight now to travel later in a smart way, let’s say a trip in April 2021 with Delta Air Lines, you have better odds the trip will go well — but that would be bold. Also, who books a ticket a year in advance?? 🙂
Again, should you book a cheap flight now to travel later? If the gamble is worth it, go ahead… but know that there are huge risks involved!
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