With COVID-19 cases experiencing a downtrend and lax Alert Levels now in place, more and more Filipinos are now setting their sights on international travel to curb the fatigue from the two-year lockdown. However, the pandemic has undeniably changed the course of leisure travel.
From applying for flight insurance to preparing your medical requirements, here are a few things to know before you book your next flight.
When is the best time to buy a ticket? How early should I book?
With uncertainty amid the global oil crisis brought by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the first thought may be to buy a ticket immediately, but it's still best to consider your preparation time and the possible discounts you can get.
"With the ever-changing travel restrictions (both domestic and international), a good time to book would be at least a month before your trip," said Kristen Medina Biazon of the travel agency, Kris10 Travel Inc.
"This will give you enough time to prepare and make any adjustments should the restrictions or requirements change. If you want to save more, you can also schedule your trips on weekdays as they will always be cheaper compared to flights on weekends."
Peak seasons should also be considered, such as March to May when airlines regularly hold ticket sales. As of writing, Cebu Pacific has an ongoing Super Seat Fest sale until March 31.
Will the fuel surcharge have an effect on flight prices?
Unlike vehicle gas prices, jet fuel hikes typically take much longer to reflect on airline charges depending on the carrier, but it's best to be prepared when the time comes.
"Each of the airlines [has] their own strategy on how much they should charge," said Air Carriers Association of the Philippines Vice-Chairman Bobby Lim during an interview with CNN Philippines. "There will be restraint in increasing the fares so that it does not add to the overall cost of travel. If there are more travelers, then there are more opportunities to bring down the fare.
To curb the possible spike, Philippine Airlines has fuel and flight insurance surcharges in place covering part of the cost increases in aviation fuel.
As for Kristen, the fuel charges haven’t affected their bookings so far. "Ticket cost is a primary factor for our customers – good news is that we haven’t seen a significant change in prices with most airlines. They’re mostly the same as they were before the price increase in oil," she said.
Kristen added that there have been exceptions, like airlines changing ticket costs as they recover from the lost business during the pandemic. "One thing remains the same though, the further you book from your departure date, the cheaper it will be while booking closer to the date will make your ticket more expensive."
What is travel insurance? Should I avail of it?
Travel insurance in the time of pandemic is essentially an added package from flight carriers promising to shoulder incurred expenses if the traveler contacts COVID-19 while on the trip.
However, travel insurance isn't just utilized in cases of COVID infection, as you can also avail of it for baggage protection and rebooked flights due to illness.
"Even before countries started requiring travel insurance for visitors, I’ve always recommended it to my clients," Kristen said. "It is very important for your protection abroad - mostly especially to our parents or the elderly since medical emergencies abroad can be very expensive."
"There are different kinds of travel insurance packages, and the one I recommend to my clients covers not just medical emergencies, but things like cancellation benefits or baggage and personal effects benefits," she added.
Aside from ensuring that you're financially protected when traveling, it's also a way for other countries to avoid the financial burden of treating uninsured tourists. You can get a quote from Philippine Airline's COVID Protection insurance plan here.
Meanwhile, the following countries are requiring tourists to avail of mandatory travel insurance that covers COVID-19:
- New Zealand
Are vaccination cards and RT-PCR tests still required?
Most airlines require proof of vaccination and tests to ensure that travelers are COVID-free, but it will still depend on the requirements per destination. It should also be noted that travel requirements are subject to change at a short notice, so it's best to keep an eye on possible COVID-related updates.
Cebu Pacific usually requires RT-PCR or antigen results for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals, while fully vaccinated individuals usually need to present their vaccine card or VaxCert. For international flights, both vaccination cards and the gold standard RT-PCR are still required.
Philippine Airlines also regularly updates each available country's travel requirements through its website.
What should I remember to keep safe while traveling?
Like with most health protocols here in the Philippines, even while you're enjoying your trip, one should remember to follow COVID-19 prevention measures such as wearing face masks, washing hands frequently, physical distancing, and avoiding crowded or poorly ventilated places.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also reminded those that are of high-risk such as senior citizens, those with chronic illnesses, and those with underlying health conditions to ensure that they are in top health before departure.
It's also best to take photos of health documents such as vaccine cards, travel passes, and flight details to ensure that you have a copy with you at all times.