This year, the travel industry has been through the wringer like never before. COVID-19 has hit every part of the business hard. It’s been a very dark time for travelers and travel suppliers, especially right now when the pandemic is raging, thousands die each day, and most health and travel experts are advising everyone to just stay home this winter.
But now that vaccines are rolling out, there’s hope that 2021 will bring back some sense of normalcy to our lives, and part of getting back to normal for many of us means getting back on planes, renting cars and staying in hotels.
While it’s not advisable to travel right now, planning trips is a nice way to pass the time as you sit at home waiting for your turn in the vaccine line and then, possibly, your next big trip.
To get the best airfare deals this year, the key is going to be avoiding the mad rush once vaccinations roll out broadly and the country starts “flattening the curve” with fewer infections and fatalities. If everything goes well, we could be in the clear by June, and travel will come roaring back by late summer and into fall.
When people start to release all that pent-up demand for travel, prices will likely take off faster than a 737. So it’s a good idea to make reservations now for trips later this year.
With airlines relaxing rules around changes or cancellations, there’s only a minor risk around making plans now for trips six to eight months away. Keep in mind that if you decide to cancel your trip, you won’t necessarily get your money refunded, but you will get a credit for a future flight, for which you may have to pay more for.
Right now, I expect that the earliest it’s going to feel safe to travel — and destinations will actually have things for you to do once you get there — is April or May. So let’s take a look at late spring and summer fares.
(Please note that the fares mentioned below were available on Monday, Dec. 28 and are subject to change.)
The added hassle of COVID-19 testing requirements, their cost and general confusion around flying to and staying in Hawaii is keeping demand low, which means fares are cheap. Right now, most airlines have remarkably good deals to Hawaii for April and May flights — for example, United’s roundtrips between SFO and several islands are currently just $177-$197 in basic economy. That’s crazy cheap. Regular economy, where you can reserve a seat and carry on two bags, is just $267-$297 roundtrip. Still cheap. In April and May, Southwest’s cheapest flights from Oakland to the islands are currently just $180 roundtrip. (Check some sample fares on Google Flights here.)
And if you want to go big and fly in first class to Hawaii in April or May — we all deserve first class after this year, right? — it will cost you as little as $577 roundtrip on Alaska Airlines right now, while United and American are charging closer to $1,000. During the summer months, those Alaska first-class fares are currently only $677 roundtrip. It’s very rare to find first-class seats to Hawaii for less than $1,000, especially during peak summer season, so this is quite a deal. Aloha! Go get those cheap fares while you can. (See sample first class fares on Google Flights here. )
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Mexico City’s Bella Artes as seen from the Sears department store building across the street.
Like the US, Mexico is currently ravaged by COVID-19, and most everything a tourist would want to see or do, besides going to the beach, is closed. However, what I’m hearing from readers who have recently been there is that it feels like the country’s hotels, bars, restaurants and airports are taking the pandemic more seriously that in the US. So Mexico could end up coming out of the pandemic sooner than you’d think.
How about a late spring trip to Puerto Vallarta or Cabo? Alaska Air can get you there for just $292 roundtrip in April or May. Peak summer fares are not much more — in the low $300s. (See some sample fares here.)
Mexico City, one of my favorite cities to visit, is also dirt cheap for spring and summer. For example, United is offering SFO-MEX roundtrips for just $226 in basic economy, and $266 in regular economy (See sample fares here) in April, part of May and again during the cooler fall months. That’s a great deal! Learn more about why I love Mexico City here.
Europe and Asia:
The cheapest spring and summer fares for nonstops between the Bay Area and Europe are now in the $600-$700 range — which is not all that great. I think most big airlines are waiting to see if financially troubled low-fare leader Norwegian Air comes back into the Bay Area market this summer. If or when it does, we could see a fare war break out.
If you have Europe in your sights for your first post-pandemic trip, I advise waiting a few months so see what fares do. Check Google flights now and you’ll find nonstops in the $700 range; however, if you don’t mind making a stop, Air Canada is offering roundtrip deals as cheap as $390. Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak and other metasearch sites can help track fares for you, and alert you when fares drop.
Similarly, roundtrip fares from SFO to most Asian cities are stubbornly high, in the $900 roundtrip range. So it’s time to sit back, set up fare alerts and wait.
Roundtrip fares between the Bay Area and New York are running less than $200 all summer long.
New York City:
New York and San Francisco seem to be in the same boat when it comes to pandemic tourism: nearly everything is closed, so there’s no real reason to visit unless you have an essential reason to be there. And that’s probably a good thing. However, I’m hopeful for the future. I’m looking into late spring and summer when, hopefully, our cities will start opening up after a long cold winter, and fares are very cheap.
For example, United has is offering SFO-Newark roundtrips for just $189 all year long, from the peak spring and summer months into the fall. If you are a regular on this route, it would make sense by buy now, and change your itinerary as needed. Find sample fares here.
How do you feel about traveling this spring or summer? Will you jump at the chance, or wait and see? Share your thoughts in the comments.