If you’re planning on taking a trip soon, you should know that traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be a different experience from what you’re used to. You’re going to need a lot more patience and be savvier than ever to save both time and money.
Money expert Clark Howard has taken several trips over the past few months, and he says that the factors that make traveling now more of a hassle — and potentially more expensive — can be overcome if you have a solid plan.
Booking a Trip Soon? Read This To Save Time and Money
In this article, I’ll share strategies that can help make your next trip a money-saving success. I’ll specifically focus on four key areas:
“A lot of Americans have discovered that they are losing money not being able to take trips they’ve booked, not for all the reasons we’ve talked about with airlines canceling flights and countries shutting down due to the pandemic,” Clark says. “No, it’s for something more basic: trying to get a passport or passport renewed.”
“What was an eight-week process is now taking as long as 10 months,” Clark says. “An expedited passport that you could get in five days could take three months.”
What To Do
Planning an international trip in the next 12 months? Think ahead. Review the expiration date on your passport.
“Your passport may be a 10-year passport, but it’s really a 9.5-year passport,”says Clark. “Because when you travel somewhere, you have to have at least six months left on your passport in most places. So your passport has to be renewed earlier than you may think.”
That means And you should consider renewing your passport much earlier.
“Imagine, if you have a year left on your passport, you may need that whole year to get your passport renewed,” Clark says.
Resource: How Your Passport Could Be Invalid
Clark says the largest players in the airline industry continue to play hardball when it comes to international travel.
“Three of the country’s full-fare airlines live off international travel: American, United and Delta,” he says. “International travel is what pays the bills, and they’ve got none of it going on.”
As a result, many airlines promote fares that penalize customers if modifications are needed. But Clark says you can get around this with a little effort.
What You Should Do
“For you and me as consumers, here’s the key: Do not book anything that either you cannot cancel penalty-free and get a refund or that you cannot reschedule for a date far in the future penalty-free,” Clark says.
Because a foreign country could choose to shut down at any minute because of the increasing spread of COVID-19, Clark says, “Buying something that is either completely non-refundable and not changeable or something that has big penalties is too dangerous for your wallet.”
Another Alternative: Domestic Travel
If you don’t want to deal with the hassles of international travel, Clark says, “Just don’t push it. Stay domestic for now, which a lot of people are doing.”
If you plan to book a hotel for your stay, you should know that many of them are either cleaning your room on intermittent days or not at all.
“That is something that started during the pandemic when people didn’t want their rooms cleaned when they were there,” Clark says. “Now hotels have discovered, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We’ve reconditioned people to not having their rooms cleaned regularly when they stay.’”
Clark says this may be a permanent change that allows hotels to charge an additional fee for daily cleaning. “There’s a lot of people in the industry that are talking out loud wondering, ‘Should we unbundle like the airlines? And if somebody wants their room cleaned, it’s an extra $30 a night, or something like that.’”
Another tip? Always ask for an itemized bill upon checkout.
What You Should Do
If you find a great rate online on a site like Hotwire or Priceline, always read the reviews to hear from customers about cleaning arrangements and other details. If you still can’t find what you need to know, call the hotel before your stay and ask about any fees for amenities you may not even use.
For added benefits, you might consider joining the hotel’s loyalty program. For example, among other perks, Marriott Bonvoy members get free Wi-Fi access on all their properties.
“Car rentals are ancient right now, and a lot of them are really getting pretty dirty and smelly and kind of broken down,” Clark says.
For this reason, you’ll always want to protect yourself so that the car rental company can’t accuse you of damaging a vehicle that may already have various issues.
What You Should Do
“Take pictures of the outside right away when you get a car rental,” Clark says. “If the inside of the car is nasty filthy, you need to take pictures of that. Or if your phone shoots good enough video, shoot a short video.”
The extra benefits of shooting a video are that it will be timestamped, and you’ll be able to talk about the damage you’re seeing as you record.
The bottom line is that traveling can still be a fun and relaxing experience, but you’ve got to protect your wallet more than ever.
“The reality is we’re in a different environment right now in the travel world, and you’ve got to know the ‘gotchas,’” Clark says.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
With that in mind, one thing you should always consider when you plan to travel internationally is travel insurance. Clark is a big fan of InsureMyTrip (our full review), which compares different policies so you can choose the one that’s best for you. Read our guide to travel insurance to learn about the various types of policies from international travel medical insurance to evacuation plans.
As a recap, here are some trip tips from Clark regarding some of the major issues travelers may face.
- Passports: Depending on your passport’s expiration date, get a jump on the renewal process. “The real answer is that they need to fix the problem with the U.S. passport office. That’s the answer,” Clark says.
- Refunds: “Booking anything that involves penalties for international travel right now … is really something you shouldn’t do,” he says.
- Hotels: Ask the front desk about any added-on fees before you check in to your hotel, especially regarding cleaning. Upon checkout, ask for an itemized bill. When it comes to hotels treating cleaning as an amenity, Clark says, “You’re going to see this kind of thing become more common.”
- Car Rentals: Document the condition of your vehicle before you drive off in it. Use your phone to record videos of the car’s exterior and interior and describe what you see.
Looking to book travel for less? Here are more ways to save on a trip.