What to expect if you’re traveling in 2021

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At a time when everything related to travel seems to be on hold except for airplanes, at least Airmen have the ability to stay flexible. Major airlines have permanently waived change fees for all but the cheapest flights within the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. And while fee waiver policies aren’t set in stone for basic economy or international bookings, for now some airlines are extending the policy to these tickets as well.

For example, Delta Airlines promised “booking with peace of mind” through early spring, waiving change fees on all flights, including international flights, booked by March 31. United is waiving change fees for international travel originating in the United States, but the airline has stopped waiving change fees for basic economy class flights. Similarly, American Airlines is waiving all change fees for First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy Class and Main Cabin fares for all domestic flights, as well as flights to Canada, Mexico and the United States. Caribbean, as long as the ticket was issued. on or after August 31, 2020. American is also extending its no-change fee policy to economy base fares purchased on or before January 31.

Because the pandemic isn’t going away tomorrow, it makes sense to retain your options to change your plans at no cost. For example, Southwest will allow you to book a flight free of charge for up to 12 months after your initial purchase. Or if you forgo the basic economy, you won’t have to worry about confusing change fee policies if you change your plans, no matter when you buy your ticket.

Use of flight credits. If you cancel or change your flight, you will usually receive credit for future travel with the airline. How airlines apply a credit varies. If you rebook a cheaper flight, some airlines will refund the difference, while others will apply the remaining credit to another flight in the future. A few airlines, including United, have limits on how many times you can rebook and whether or not you can change your destination. United offers two types of credits: travel credits and flight credits. A travel credit can be used for multiple trips until you exhaust the total value. A flight credit, however, only allows you to book one flight. If the flight you book is more expensive, you’ll pay the difference, but if it’s cheaper, the airline pockets the difference.

Be sure to watch your credit and read the fine print, as the actual expiration date (usually one year) can vary, not only for when you can travel, but also when you can book that trip. If you cannot or do not want to travel within this time, try to appeal to the airline. “Even if the travel credit expires before you want to travel, it’s worth calling the airline to ask if you can extend it,” says Scott Keyes, founder of ScottsCheapFlights.com. Do it politely and many airlines will oblige, he says.

While travelers may lose some flexibility with air travel in 2021, you can count on continued COVID-19 safety protocols, says Melanie Lieberman, travel editor for The Points Guy. Travel experts are betting the Biden administration will issue a federal mask mandate for air travel.

In fact, strong COVID-19 safety protocols have proven to be more important to travelers than the cost of a ticket, according to a recent survey by The Points Guy. All international passengers bound for the United States will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID test. And as vaccinations become more widely available, proof of vaccination can make it easier to travel across certain borders. Apps designed to prove vaccination status or verify a recent negative test result may also become commonplace, Keyes says.

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