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This year marked the first time many Americans traveled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. People tended to start small with short road trips, visits to relatives they hadn’t seen in a long time, or other domestic travel for events like rescheduled weddings.
But now that many of us have made up for lost time and adjusted to leaving our homes, some are starting to dream big again. Looking ahead to 2022, there’s even more hope for exciting vacations to farther destinations.
“Travel is of course a personal decision,” Val Anthony, lead research analyst at Tripadvisor, told HuffPost. “We do know this ― those who are booking for 2022 are booking bigger vacations. The average price of stays being booked for January 2022 is twice that of the stays being planned for September 2021. And 2022 trips are longer, more than double the duration of trips booked for the remainder of this year ― six- to seven-night stays versus three.”
But given ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, is it advisable to book those big 2022 trips now? Or is it better to wait and see how things shake out in the coming months? Below, travel experts share their advice.
Concerns over the delta variant and spikes in cases around the U.S. softened the demand for travel as the summer progressed. But as the numbers have started to stabilize and decrease in many places, there’s hope for a rebound in the industry. That means travelers may want to take advantage of the deals of the moment.
“I think travel interest is only going to increase in the coming months,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Many people have not traveled since the start of the pandemic and are eager to take a vacation. That was very apparent this summer as rental car and vacation rental prices skyrocketed in many parts of the country. I suspect 2022 flight, hotel and rental car prices will only increase as more people feel comfortable traveling and book their next trip. So if the price is right, I recommend booking as soon as possible for trips in 2022.”
The flight deals are particularly good for international destinations. According to Kayak’s booking data for the second week of September, flight prices to Europe for the first quarter of 2022 were down 13% compared to the same time period in 2019. Willis Orlando, member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, reported similar findings.
“We’ve been seeing some excellent 2022 deals recently,” he said. “While the very best domestic and Caribbean deals tend to be for travel in the next two to three months, 2022 deals have been abundant for farther-flung destinations. In just the last week, we’ve found deals from Denver to Hong Kong for $549 round-trip into July 2022, eight U.S. cities to Tokyo for as low as $581 round-trip into May 2022, from dozens of U.S. cities to Italy for as low as $516 round-trip into May 2022, and from 20 U.S. cities to Belize for $236 round-trip into May 2022.”
Orlando advised travelers to start looking for domestic flight deals between one and three months out from their trips and two to eight months out for international flights.
“The earlier you start looking, the more likely you are to stumble across a deal,” he explained. “If you start getting too close to your departure date, almost invariably you will reach the point of no return, and prices won’t dip back down again. Generally speaking, from most U.S. airports, deals to Europe or southern South America below $600 round-trip are worth pulling the trigger on, deals to the Caribbean, Canada, Central America or Mexico below $400 from smaller cities, or $300 from larger cities are excellent values, and deals to Asia or most of Africa below $700 round-trip are winners.”
Travel booking sites often include price alert functions so you can get a notification if a particularly good deal pops up. Scott’s Cheap Flights also provides a baseline of what a “normal” price for any given route is, along with a price history chart showing travelers the kinds of deals they’ve found for that route in the past.
It’s not just flights that are in for a possible price surge. There may also be benefits to booking your 2022 accommodations now as well.
“I would keep in mind that refund policies will generally remain more lenient than pre-pandemic and that hotels are still hungry for your business,” said Philip Bates, co-founder and CEO of TMC Hospitality. “So there should be some good deals at great hotels to be had.”
Melanie Fish, a travel expert at Vrbo, noted that vacation homes on the platform quickly booked up during every popular travel season in 2021, so it’s good to look ahead to 2022.
“It’s not just the busy summer season you should consider booking,” she added. “Snowbirds are on the road ― for example, Fort Meyers, Florida, has less than 15% of Vrbo homes still available in February. This early booking behavior is consistent with what we saw from travelers earlier this year for the summer and the booking spree for vacation rentals in top destinations this December.”
Matt Clarke, senior vice president of marketing at Kayak, also recommended reserving rental cars well in advance to secure a better deal, especially since these bookings tend to have flexible cancellation policies.
“Kayak typically recommends booking your rental car two weeks in advance for a good price, based on 2019 data,” he explained. “But, given the shortage we saw this summer, you may want to plan further in advance to ensure you’re not left without one when you need it most.”
“Now is the best time to start planning and booking your big 2022 trip, but make sure anything you book has a flexible cancellation and refund policy,” said Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app Tripscout. “Once the world starts to stabilize, we will see such a huge spike in travel prices and limited vacancies as travelers rush back to make up for lost time.”
Searching for flexible deals has become much easier, as many travel sites like Expedia and Kayak have filter options such as “free cancellation,” “no change fees” or “flexible changes.”
“People can book the trip of their dreams and have a bright spot to look forward to in 2022, while being conscious of evolving circumstances related to COVID-19,” said Anni Murphy, corporate communications manager at Expedia Group. “We’re seeing a lot of trip searches for bucket list destinations that people have missed throughout the pandemic, such as Paris and Barcelona.”
While hotels and home rentals have a range of change and cancellation policies, most major airlines are still offering a lot of flexibility.
“In general, booking above basic economy class will allow you free changes,” Orlando said. “For some airlines, that means you can move your dates ― though you’ll have to pay a fare difference if the new price is higher. With others, you can cancel your flights and hold the value of your tickets as a voucher, to be used for a future flight. So if you’re willing to book a regular economy or higher fare class ticket, booking now gives you the peace of mind to know that, should you change your mind, you can always push back your dates, or, with some airlines, even change your origin, destination or both.”
Whether you choose to book your big 2022 trip right now or wait a bit depends on where you want to go and your options for getting there.
“Airlines haven’t yet added back all of their previous routes to destinations in Europe and Asia,” Orlando said. “We expect that as countries in Asia in particular start to announce their opening plans, we’ll see a surge in new routes to these destinations, which should drive exceptional deals in the short term ― just as we saw when countries like Iceland and Croatia first announced their opening plans earlier this year. So if you’re willing to wait a bit, you may just stumble into something great.”
Once you do book your flight, don’t be surprised if the timing still changes a bit. Orlando also noted that airlines are constantly updating their flight schedules these days, so a trip you booked might be modified at any time.
“Legally, if an airline significantly changes your flight ― say by pushing the departure time back by several hours, or adding a stop to a nonstop flight ― you are entitled to a cash refund,” he explained. “Check your flight details often to make sure there are no nasty surprises, but also know that if the airline does modify your flights, this can be an opportunity to get yourself booked on a more favorable itinerary without having to pay any sort of fare difference. Just contact the airline, let them know you noticed a change in your itinerary, and give them the details of the flight you’d like to be rebooked on.”
“Make sure to do your research: Two-thirds of travelers say they’re going to do more research for their next trip than they have in the past,” said Chris Hsi, head of market research at Tripadvisor.
From travel forums to official government websites, it’s even more necessary to get insights from travelers and locals on the ground as you choose a destination and plan an itinerary.
“If you do book, just be sure to keep an eye on the constantly evolving travel restrictions,” said Clarke. He recommended taking note of the changing lists of destinations allowing vaccinated travelers from the U.S. and those with quarantine and/or testing requirements, so that you can be prepared for your trip.
You should also stay up to date with the latest vaccination rates, infection rates, hospital situation, and travel advisories.
“When picking a destination, I recommend choosing a place that has a highly vaccinated population,” Dengler said. “That betters your odds there will not be a lockdown or other restrictions that could possibly alter your plans.”
Doing thorough research can also help you come up with alternative travel plans if your initial destination of choice becomes unavailable.
“Rather than waiting for some countries to open up again, travelers should get more informed and creative with their trips, as amazing experiences are often closer to them than they think,” said Jaclyn Sienna India, founder of the luxury lifestyle company Sienna Charles. She said many of her clients have traveled to international destinations they’ve never visited before, like the Umbria region of Italy and Iceland.
Before you get carried away booking your dream vacation abroad, make sure you’ll be able to enter foreign countries. This means not only keeping up with travel restrictions, but even more crucially, ensuring you’ll have a valid passport.
“If you’re excited to travel in 2022, check your passport expiration date now,” Orlando advised. “Average passport processing times are currently approaching five months, so if you need to apply for or renew your passport for a 2022 trip, you’ll want to be proactive and get that application in ASAP.”
While you can pay extra for expedited service, that may still take months given the recent backlog and staffing shortages. Also bear in mind that some countries require that U.S. passports be valid for three months (or even six months) beyond your planned departure date in order to enter, so that’s all the more reason to send it in sooner rather than later.
Although things may feel closer to “normal” these days, be mindful of the fact that COVID-19 is still a concern and will remain one going into 2022.
“Travelers are eager to get out there again, but you have to be safe about it, which means masking up, checking local advisories and carrying your vaccination card,” Fish said. “More and more businesses, attractions and destinations are requiring people to show proof of vaccination. So if you haven’t felt motivated to get your shots, know that you might not be able to have access to dining, entertainment or other activities during your next vacation without it.”
Beyond health and safety, the pandemic has affected every business in some way, so you will see its impact in the tourism realm as well.
“Travelers should pack some patience on their next vacation and be mindful of pandemic-related staffing issues and supply chain challenges hospitality businesses are facing,” Hsi said. “Businesses are working hard to do their best to serve travelers. That means many have also adapted to work towards ensuring guest safety, so things may not be the same as always.”
Bates emphasized considering the safety of yourself and others when it comes to accommodations, transportation and activities. He also believes the continued rollout of the vaccine in other countries, as well as vaccine approval for children, will make people feel more comfortable traveling.
“The pandemic is certainly evolving, and I think it is good for travelers to evolve with it. In other words, as risk goes down, we should get out more, but never at the point where we are putting ourselves or others in harm’s way,” he said.
“I think we should remain cautious but optimistic,” he added. “Travel is such an important part of our lives. The world has been through a historically challenging period of time, and we owe it to ourselves to get back to doing the things we love as soon as we safely can.”