Airfare Is Dirt Cheap Right Now—But Is It a Good Idea to Buy Plane Tickets?


FODORS | Vivian Chung

There are some things airlines haven’t told you that you should consider before caving in to the temptation of ultra-cheap airfare that’s emerged during the coronavirus pandemic.

As airfares plummet amid the spread of COVID-19, many of us are wondering whether it’s safe or worth it to cash in on bargain airfares. Recently, you could book a ticket from Los Angeles to London and travel in August for as little as $329 roundtrip. Tempting deals can be found from multiple airlines that offer travel up until the end of this year and early next year as they struggle with a plunge in demand. But before keen explorers take advantage of these mega sales, there are a few things to consider during this rapidly evolving pandemic.

Insurance Likely Won’t Cover You

Following the announcement of a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, governments around the world issued travel advisories, strictly urging its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel, and travel altogether in some cases. Transportation options dwindled and countries rushed to shut their borders to non-citizens for an undetermined length of time. Though these strict endorsements from officials can’t physically keep you from traveling, you leave your country at your own discretion, as a number of insurance companies clearly state you won’t be covered if you travel to destinations that the government has temporarily recommended against.

You Might Not Even Be Able to Get Insurance at All

World Nomads, a leading Australian based insurance company designed for adventurous travelers, announced on April 5 that they’re temporarily suspending the sales of policies to Canadians due to travel restrictions imposed by the government. As the coronavirus can still be rampant by the time you travel, there’s a chance you won’t even be able to purchase any at all.

Read the Fine Print

In an effort to stay afloat and retain their customer base, many airlines are offering generous change policies, allowing you to change your departure date at no extra cost. American Airlines is waiving their change fee for trips booked by May 31, with travel within 12 months of the ticket’s issuing date, and Delta Airlines is offering the same to provide you with flexibility during this uncertain time. But read the fine print—you’ll still have to fork out the difference in fare between your old and new flight, which can sometimes amount to more than what you paid for in the first place.

You’ll Eat the Costs

Sure, long-haul low-cost carriers promise irresistible fares, but if the budget airline goes belly up because of the pandemic sometime between you entering your credit card details and your departure date at the end of the year, you probably won’t see that money again. The airline will become insolvent and any refund claims will be rolled into its bankruptcy. If an airline fails, it can cease operations overnight and your ticket won’t be worth anything.

A Possible Second Wave of Infections

Travelers can contribute to a possible second wave of infections, as already demonstrated in Taiwan and Singapore among other Asian countries, brought on by residents returning home from Europe, Canada, and the United States to beat border closures. The constant movement of travelers and the fluidity of this pandemic makes it difficult for countries to accurately determine when to ease current restrictions, but when countries that have overcome their first wave of infections open up their borders too early, they run the risk of importing coronavirus cases from countries still experiencing their first wave. By purchasing a flight and crossing borders before officials deem it safe, travelers can start a new wave.

Airpot gates

Photo by: JJ Jordan

Shifting Epicenters

The epicenter of the coronavirus is at risk of constantly shifting. While the majority of the world’s cases up until mid-March belonged to China, the epicenter has since shifted to the United States, with over 25,000 recorded deaths. Followed by Italy and Spain, these three nations are now the world’s worst-hit countries. With the center of the coronavirus changing from China to the United States in just a few short months, it can shift again, possibly affecting your next destination.

Take Note of Your Destination’s Travel Restrictions

Nearly every country in the world right now has some form of travel restriction, which ranges from mandatory self-quarantine upon arriving to turning away non-residents. One thing to consider is that other countries may still have travel restrictions in place by the time you plan to travel, even though your country may have already relaxed its laws–meaning you won’t be able to set foot in your destination when you land. Countries like Taiwan and Singapore have banned foreign arrivals for an undetermined length of time, and given rapid developments, travel restrictions can continue to evolve day-by-day.

Just Because Planes Are Flying, Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe

Airline carriers around the globe are facing a massive financial hit due to flight cancellations and overall weak demand, and have turned to the government for assistance in order to avoid employee layoffs and furloughs. One of the conditions of opting in on the bailout plan in the United States is that airlines must keep flying their baseline amount of flights, despite the amount of passengers. So just because planes are flying, doesn’t mean conditions are safe yet, as the situation remains uncertain.

Widespread Uncertainty

With citywide lockdowns extended and continued border closures, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding the idea of travel. While some estimate bans to be lifted by the summertime, others predict a much longer period before that can happen. With unpredictable circumstances and no clear end date, it’s difficult to determine when countries can begin to ease their restrictions. Uncertain of whether you’ll be allowed out of or into a destination for the foreseeable future, stay up to date on travel restrictions with trusted sources, like the World Health Organization, before you book a flight.

What This All Really Means

In short, now’s not the time to take advantage of bargain airfare for future travel, but we can continue to dream about traveling and stay inspired by exploring virtually. This can be the case until there is a viable vaccine, or communities develop herd immunity to effectively prevent the coronavirus from spreading. For now, we wait it out in an effort to flatten the curve, and hang on to hope for the world.

It is important to note that while some travel credit cards offer mild insurance coverage, it is often not comprehensive. If you lose your luggage, get stranded due to airline problems, or need to travel for family medical emergencies, you may be covered. However, it is very rare, if not impossible, to find a travel credit card that offers medical coverage in any capacity. If you’re looking for travel insurance, it is suggested you look elsewhere for a more comprehensive plan.