Travel is on the minds of many Australians right now, whether as a form of lockdown escape, or a true escape for those not currently stuck at home.
But given how suddenly states can impose travel restrictions and fluctuating caps on international arrivals, booking interstate or overseas travel next year carries a risk: travel could be canceled without a refund or, worse, you might get stuck, unable to easily get home.
Dr Barbara Holland, professor of mathematics at the University of Tasmania, teaches students how to use mathematics to make better decisions in the face of uncertainty. Holland says this may include determining whether to book a vacation around the time of Covid-19.
The process is simple: you write down what your choices are and what the possible outcomes are for each of those choices. You then assign a probability to those outcomes and determine how bad it would be if those potential outcomes materialized.
For example, one choice might be to book a trip to Paris in the middle of next year. You could come and go without a hitch. The trip could be canceled before your departure which would be disappointing and potentially costly. Or you could have your return flight canceled and be forced to pay for an extended vacation in a foreign country.
Then you rank the severity of each situation and the likelihood of it happening. The problem: It’s hard to say exactly how likely the border restrictions are to go into effect.
“You’d be making a really big guess as to what the number will be,” Holland said. “In the past this has worked great for something like trying to determine the likelihood of my child being a boy or a girl. But maybe not so good at predicting the future in an epidemic situation. “
In this case, Holland says you can apply a “maximin” strategy – you choose the option where if the worst thing happens, it’s always better than the worst possible outcome of the other options.
“If you were maxing out right now, you’ll probably never go on vacation. Because you always said, well, to be stuck somewhere and not be able to get home, that would be terrible.
Staying at home wouldn’t be as bad, for example, as losing money on canceled flights or being stranded abroad. A car vacation in your own state is less risky than interstate travel, while a vacation is the lowest risk of all.
But with Qantas announcing new international flights starting in December, you might want to take the gamble and book overseas travel anyway. Especially since, jokes Holland, “the mental pleasure you get from planning your vacation, as we all know, is often better than the vacation itself.”
So how can you mitigate risk when planning a trip?
Since the most likely reason your trip would be canceled right now is border lockdown or closure, one would assume that these circumstances would be covered by pandemic insurance.
Wrong. Jodi Bird, Travel Expert at Choice
, says he is not aware of any travel insurance – national or international – that covers cancellations due to Covid-19 lockdowns or government restrictions.
Qantas planes on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport. International travel has been banned for the past 18 months, but airlines are pushing for a return to flights. Photograph: Phil Noble / Reuters
Most pandemic insurance packages will only cover the cost of canceling your trip if you or someone you are traveling with catches the virus. Some insurers will also cover cancellations if the accommodation you’ve booked has a positive coronavirus case and needs to close.
“Travel insurers should state in advance whether their travel insurance covers Covid,” Bird said. “Because a lot of people are going to buy travel insurance assuming it will cover… travel restrictions or even if they get Covid, and that won’t necessarily be the case for all insurance. “
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But he says that “it is also the consumer’s responsibility to consider [what the policy covers] and know what you are really buying ”.
Bird suggests that potential travelers take the following three precautions before embarking on vacation during the pandemic:
1. Read the Travel Insurance Product Disclosure Statement
Before purchasing any type of travel insurance, Bird recommends reading the Product Disclosure Statement – a document that describes all of the situations in which your insurance will apply.
But Bird acknowledges that often policy documents aren’t clear or transparent, even if you have excellent English, let alone English as your second language. He recommends calling the travel insurance provider you are considering to clarify coverage and ask questions before making a purchase.
“When you call the travel insurer, the call is usually recorded, and it’s kept as a transcript. So if you call them up and say, does this cover me for Covid-19 if I get it, or does it cover me for government travel restrictions, the response will be recorded and it will be your proof later if you have a problem with the travel insurer when it comes time to make a claim, ”says Bird.
“It will also help clarify up front exactly what they are trying to say in their convoluted terms and conditions.”
2. Book flexible airline tickets and accommodation packages
While pandemic insurance does not cover you for lockdown-related cancellations, some accommodation and airlines will refund or credit your booking if Covid-19 prevents you from traveling.
Flight Center spokesperson Haydn Long said that at the height of the pandemic, their team in Australia alone has helped customers secure around $ 1.5 billion in refunds from airlines, hotels and other suppliers, and has helped thousands of clients successfully modify their travel plans.
But Long warns that while customers have generally been able to change their reservations, policies vary from provider to provider, and “not all airlines or hotels will automatically offer a refund, so it’s worth asking. or check at time of booking ”.
3. Get your cancellation policy in writing
While many travel providers are keen to help people, Bird says Choice is aware of a few “unscrupulous providers” who do not offer flexible reservations in advance and will not reimburse customers if there are restrictions on travel. trip are imposed.
He recommends always getting something in writing before booking accommodation or a plane ticket to clarify the policy on what happens if travel restrictions make vacations impossible.
“Even if this is a trailer park, check the website, take a look at their terms and conditions and see if it’s written there,” Bird says.
“Some of the smaller providers may not even have updated [their policies around Covid-19 cancellations] on their website, but they could still have this policy unofficially.