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Scoping your next trip — wherever and whenever it might be

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

You’re probably asking yourselves a series of questions about where and when you might be able to take your next trip: When will the major attractions and vacation areas reopen? When will airlines resume near-normal schedules? Will re-opening airfares and destination prices be lower than usual or higher? When will the main visitor centers in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific be open to visitors from the U.S. and Canada? Will we still have to practice self-isolation, and how will that work? Surprisingly, I have the quick answer to all those questions: “Nobody has a clue!” For now, the mantra remains “Watch, wait, and don’t pay anything in advance.”

Destination. If you’re a vacationer, you need to know whether a place you want to visit is open for your visit. You aren’t likely to head for Orlando if the Disney and Universal complexes are still closed, you probably aren’t interested in Vegas if there’s no casino action, and New York without the Broadway theater, to many of you, isn’t really New York. Fortunately, checking on that sort of destination information is easy. Log onto whatever attraction, area, or resort you’re considering, and find the status.

Be especially cautious about areas that have just re-opened. Although some folks say they’re safe, others say premature re-opening is inviting a resurgence of the full-scale pandemic. Hold off any detailed plans and payments until you can be sure.

Information on foreign destination details is available online for just about anywhere you might want to go. The State Department posts COVID-19 information for more than 200 individual overseas destinations; data are updated daily. For a quick worldwide overview, check the posting on the Kayak website. Also, of course, you can check any individual country or attraction online.

Air Travel. Even the industry’s mavens can’t agree about the trend of airfares once airlines start to rebuild their schedules: Some say that business travel will lead the resurgence because it’s “necessarily” and has a big backlog, and that initial airfares will be high. Others say business travelers are now inured to tele-meetings, and that leisure travelers will lead the way thanks to low promotional fares. To get some idea of where airfares stand now, I checked a couple of exemplary routes:

— Between San Francisco and New York, I found that round-trip nonstop economy fares range between $260 and $280 between mid-June and November, with a minor holiday bump in December.

— Between New York and London, the lowest nonstop economy round-trip fares range between $420 and $500 for the peak summer, dropping down to $250 to $350 in fall. But those lowest fares are on Norwegian, which may or may not survive long enough to fly by then, and fares on the big lines are $200 to $300 higher.

Whether fares are high or low, air travel is likely to be even more of a hassle. You’ll probably face some form of health screening, and you’ll almost certainly need to wear a mask for many months to come. Regardless of what industry folks are saying, don’t expect blocked middle seats: The airline economic model doesn’t work with blocked middle seats. Just about everybody concludes that the fly-or-drive break-even point will increase from maybe 300 miles or so to at least 500 miles; I’ve even seen some say that most people will drive for trips less than 1,000 miles each way.

Hotels. So far, I’ve seen only a trickle of really deep promotional price cuts for summer and fall, either domestic or international. But once tourism starts up again, I look for lots of deals. Keep looking, but don’t rush into anything that requires you to pay up front.

Cruises. Just about everybody is pretty bearish about cruises. Cruise ships look too much like ideal places to spread contagion, and I look for a slow restart. I also look for some really good rates for those who believe cruising will be safe. It’s your call.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

(c) 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC. — May 12, 2020

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