As temperatures rise and more people get vaccinated, plans for summer travel do not seem so out of reach anymore.
There was hope earlier in the week that the UAE would be placed on the UK's Green list after it was announced the country would be using a traffic light foreign travel regime. However, on Friday, it was revealed the UAE was not included on the list.
Despite this, there are still other countries that are now opening up to fully vaccinated travellers.
While there are some challenges that remain in terms of vaccination rates and how travellers might prove their vaccinated status, there remains a growing appetite from travellers who are keen to get back in the air.
“There is definite pent-up summer travel demand and people are eager to plan a holiday while adhering to all safety precautions and hygiene norms in the upcoming travel season,” says Raj Rishi Singh, chief business officer at online travel website MakeMyTrip, GCC.
With the possibility of summer travel on the cards, here are a few tips worth considering if you’re thinking of booking a trip.
1. Take advantage of flexible booking policies
Although travel restrictions are easing, there is always the risk that a spike in Covid-19 case numbers or another pandemic-related setback could see countries restrict flights in the future or add quarantine policies for arriving travellers.
To navigate this period of uncertainty, many airlines are offering flexible booking policies that allow travellers to make changes to their trips without incurring huge fees.
Not all airlines offer these flexible fares, however, so be sure to check the rules when you're booking. Some only offer flexibility on more expensive fare categories, but it can often be worth paying extra for this as it means, if something changes and you can no longer travel, you’ll have the option to change dates, destinations or opt for credit that can be used for future travel.
In Dubai, Emirates offers a 24-month validity period on all tickets booked from April 1, 2021. Within this timeframe, travellers can change their dates or request a refund with no charges, other than any fare difference. You can even change the destination you're flying to, so long as it is to another place in the same region. This is useful if you're flexible on where you go; if you'd been planning to visit a country in Europe that closes its borders, you can simply pick another European city and head there instead.
The national airline of the UAE has a similar policy in place. Etihad Airways allows unlimited changes on all new bookings with travellers having the option to rebook trips to any destination on the airline's network. If you're making changes before September 30, there is no fare difference to pay if you rebook in the same fare class and travel within the same zone, even if it’s to another destination.
If you have to cancel a flight, you can use the value of it towards your next flight, and you'll also get some bonus Etihad Guest Miles in your account. And if your flight is cancelled, Etihad will keep your ticket open and, if you don't use it within 12 months, you can request a refund.
2. Don't wait for last-minute bargains
With additional paperwork to complete before travelling and arranging PCR tests within a set timeframe, last-minute travel is no longer as simple as it used to be. Furthermore, hanging off for a bargain could backfire.
That is because airlines are currently trying to get people back in the air by offering sale fares and promotional rates on tickets. But when the demand for travel returns, as it's likely to do as soon as countries relax restrictions or reduce quarantine times, these lower fares are likely to disappear.
If you know where and when you want to go and can afford to do so, lock in your fare while you still can. Book with an airline offering a flexible ticket and you can simply make changes down the line if you need to.
"Avoid last-minute bookings, especially during the upcoming summer period, in order to ensure the best price," advises Mamoun Hmedan, managing director for Mena at travel metasearch engine WeGo.
"Pre-booking is one of the best solutions to get the most favourable rates. Keep an eye out for offers from your favourite airlines and hotels."
3. Book all your summer travel on one reservation
Multi-city holidays are now a bit of a navigational minefield with different destinations and airlines having their own travel rules. If you can, find a way to book all of your travel on a single reservation to help streamline the procedures you need to follow before, during and after travel.
Most airlines allow you to create a multi-trip search for flights, where you can input different arriving and departure cities, and add many flights. Search platforms, such as those available from WeGo or Skyscanner, also allow users to perform these types of searches.
For holidays, if you can book flights and accommodation in a single reservation, you'll have less complications should travel plans change. Many travel agents and operators have ramped up their flexibility when it comes to booking terms and conditions in the pandemic, so read the small print before booking. Make My Trip is one such company that offers flexibility to travellers.
“We offer free cancellation at hotels up to 48 hours prior to departure and a no-cost date change option to flyers – guaranteeing travellers against any uncertainty in the current environment,” says Singh.
If you simply can't book your reservation on one ticket, at least use the same credit card to pay for all aspects of the trip. That way, if you have to seek any refunds, you'll only have one card operator to deal with.
"We advise travellers to book their trips using the same credit card, and choose frequent flyer programmes, as that guarantees them earning more points and air miles," says Hmedan.
4. Stay up to date on travel rules
Before you book any travel, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with all the documents needed for your destination. It also pays to do your research on Covid-19 case levels and to find out more about local policies on mask-wearing, social distancing and other safety precautions.
Once you've picked where you're going, be aware of any changes that may occur both there and in your country of origin. The UK authorities have said that Red, Amber and Green lists will be updated every few weeks, and the same applies with Abu Dhabi's Green List, from where travellers can fly to the UAE without quarantine.
If the country you're travelling to or from changes category or drops off one of these lists then you will have new rules to comply with.
Travel rules and regulations have been changing frequently over the past year and new restrictions, flight suspensions and testing requirements are constantly being introduced. Things can change without a lot of notice, so stay up to date on what's going on.
“It’s always advisable to keep a close watch on the evolving medical and travel guidelines to avoid any last minute adjustments to the itinerary,” says Singh.
Your airline or travel agent is a good source of information for any changes related to future travel, so ensure they have your correct contact details and check their website frequently for updates. You can also visit the International Air Transport Association's interactive map, which is updated a few hundred times a day with the latest regulations for countries across the world.
5. Be prepared and splurge on premium seats if you can
Flying in a pandemic is a little bit different than it was before and it pays to be prepared. Airlines expect travellers to wear personal protective equipment on flights and people are encouraged to limit their movements around the cabin and reduce their interaction with crew and other passengers.
The Iata recently extended a regulation that states all passengers must wear masks when travelling via public transport. For James Michael Lafferty, chief executive of Fine Hygienic Holding, a wellness company that manufactures reusable and anti-viral face masks, it's important that people put some thought into the type of mask they wear when travelling.
“While the opening of air corridors will be a boon for airline operators and passengers eager to visit their friends and family abroad, one thing remains the same: the importance of personal safety," says Lafferty.
"Disposable N-95 masks have a tendency to get easily contaminated during long-haul flights. Alternatively, cloth-based masks – preferably those treated with anti-viral tech – offer more effective protection from airborne pathogens and effectively neutralise Covid-19."
As well as being careful by wearing appropriate PPE, another top tip is to splurge for premium economy flights if it’s an option and you can afford it.
The fare difference between economy and premium economy is often not huge, but the fact you'll be sharing a cabin with fewer people, and may also have a bit more space around you, will help make flying in the pandemic easier to navigate.
Finally, keep in mind that some airlines have altered on-board food and drinks services and things like blankets and pillows are not as freely available as they were before. Think about this before you fly, and perhaps pack some snacks, water or neck pillows in your hand luggage.
6. Have a plan B
It pays to have some "what if" scenarios planned out in your head before you travel. Find out what will happen if you test positive for Covid-19 in your destination, for example. Some places require mandatory quarantine in government-appointed buildings, while other destinations will let you remain in the hotel you’re staying at.
You should also check your travel insurance carefully to see what is covered and whether your policy includes costs upfront or if you will be required to pay first and claim back incurred expenses.
Also check with your hotel or accommodation provider what would happen if the destination you’re staying in suddenly closes its airspace. Some hotels can offer stranded travellers a reduced room rate, but this is by no means mainstream. Do your research to see if there are cheaper accommodation options nearby that you could move to should your trip be unexpectedly extended.
Having an idea of what your plan B is before you leave will help everyone stay calm should any unfamiliar scenarios arise, and lead to a more relaxed and enjoyable summer travel scenario.