The best travel plan this holiday season: A backup plan


PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

It’s not even the busiest time of year for travel yet, and 2021 already has been chaotic, even for the most seasoned travelers.

And so, as you book 2021 holiday travel, don’t overlook the best type of plan you can make: A backup plan.

Here are some ways to build one:

Be flexible and pack light

This summer was brutal for U.S. air travel. According to the Department of Transportation, 1.7% of domestic flights were canceled in July, compared to 0.8% that same month last year. Further, the July on-time arrival rate dropped from 90.5% to 73.4% year over year.

With that many challenges, you might find yourself catching a different flight last-minute — but only if you’re nimble. Avoid checking bags so you’re not separated from your possessions should you need to rebook.

Be prepared to extend your trip

While aiming to avoid checking bags, pack enough to survive a trip that lasts longer than expected. A one-day flight delay likely only requires minimal extra clothing. But should you test positive for COVID-19, you might need 10 days’ worth of supplies.

For international trips, pack enough medications and other items that can’t easily be purchased abroad.

To avoid overpacking, wear versatile clothing that matches any outfit or occasion. Bring items that can be washed in the sink should you not have laundry access.

Book flights that easily can be canceled

This probably is not the year to book budget airfare. Though airline change and cancellation policies have improved, basic economy fares typically aren’t eligible for easy trip modifications.

Don’t get yourself in a situation where you can’t get refunded because you booked the cheap seats.

For low-cost airfares, you might look to Southwest Airlines, which has one of the best change policies out there. The cheapest Southwest fares can be canceled up to 10 minutes before scheduled departure in exchange for a travel credit toward a future flight. That generous policy was around before COVID-19 was part of the vernacular.

Know the alternatives

Since the pandemic started, many rideshare drivers stopped driving. These days, Uber says there are more riders than drivers available, so don’t count on rideshares, even if you pre-scheduled a trip. Download multiple ridesharing apps for the largest selection of drivers, and familiarize yourself with local taxi services.

If you’re headed to a place that requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, know multiple places where you can get tested. If your results don’t come back in time, you might scramble to find a rapid test. You might take two COVID-19 tests from different companies to ensure at least one returns in time.

Get travel insurance

If you need to cancel your trip, have an outlet to get refunded. While most premium travel credit cards charge hefty annual fees, they can be worth it for one underrated perk alone: Trip insurance. It’s not uncommon to find a travel card that will reimburse up to $20,000 for eligible expenses paid for with that card.

If you don’t have a credit card with built-in travel insurance, it might behoove you to purchase a separate travel insurance policy to counterbalance the unpredictability of these days.

The bottom line

Even the best-planned trips are turning out to be canceled, rescheduled, cut short or sometimes stressfully extended. That’s because if there’s one thing we can be certain of in 2021, it’s that nothing is for certain.

To avoid getting stranded, spending more money or losing luggage, make sure that your overall travel plan includes a backup plan.

Sally French writes for NerdWallet.

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