AAA’s top travel tips: Planning & preparation are keys to a successful getaway
By AAA of Western and Central New York
So far this year, flight cancellations, wintery weather and the COVID-19 omicron variant have all combined to create the perfect storm for travelers. However, AAA wants you to know that it is possible to travel in the pandemic without losing your mind or money as long as you follow this simple advice.
What to Know Before Traveling in 2022
√ Anticipate the expenses associated with delays and cancelations, including the possibility of having to stay longer if stranded.
√ Pack N95 or KN95 masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and disposable gloves in your carry-on and make sure it is easily accessible.
√ Purchase travel insurance that specifically provides coverage for travel interruption and additional expenses due to COVID-19.
√ Notify credit card providers of your travel details (specify location and duration) to reduce the risk of frozen cards due to unusual activity.
√ Have photos of your vaccination card and other important documents (like your passport) on your phone as a backup.
√ Understand your destination’s COVID-19 restrictions and requirements, including if you will need to take a test ahead of leaving and/or returning home. If so, make an appointment for a coronavirus PCR test at least one month before departure, and make sure the date of your results adheres to the timeline set by your destination (i.e., one day, three days). AAA suggests requesting a QR code from the PCR tester since more destinations require this.
What to Know about Travel Agents: They’re Back in Style
The internet gave travelers the independence to book their flights, cruises, hotels, tours, rental cars, etc., yet it also forced them to go it alone when something went wrong. As recent events have shown, travelers benefit from having an expert in their corner when all or part of their trip is delayed or canceled without much notice. Another bonus, if you are a AAA member, the services provided by a travel agent are a member benefit. A trusted travel agent can:
√ Save you time, money and stress by handling the details, researching any travel restrictions or changes, and coordinating plans within your travel group.
√ Provide advice and advocate for you before, during and after a trip. Their extensive knowledge, training, expertise and experience help you better understand the current landscape, which at times is complicated.
√ Match the right travel insurance that meets your specific needs and budget.
√ Advocate on your behalf when you need to cancel or reschedule travel due to situations beyond your control.
√ Quickly find alternative flights or accommodations for you if you find yourself stranded in a crowded airport.
What to Know about Travel Insurance: It Protects Your Trip and Your Wallet
The days of skipping this part of travel planning are over. AAA recommends purchasing travel insurance, including flight protection, when booking a trip to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions. There are a variety of policies to choose from depending on the type of trip, destination and mode of travel. The expertise of a travel agent can guide you on the best options, including if specific destinations require visitors to carry travel insurance. Insurance may add a little to the trip’s overall cost, but the peace of mind it buys is priceless.
What to Know When Your Flight is Grounded
In the last several weeks, travelers have faced daily flight delays and cancellations due to wintery weather and airline staff shortages, including those caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant. Often, when many flights are canceled or delayed, it causes a domino effect, making it difficult for stranded passengers to rebook. AAA recommends you do the following to lessen your chance of being grounded:
√ Book the first flight in the morning. Because of how routes are planned and crews set up, early morning flights are less susceptible to encountering problems from cancelations or delays.
√ Check-in online 24-hours in advance and have the airline notifications enabled on your mobile device in case an issue arises that requires a change in plans.
√ If a flight is canceled, the airline must try and accommodate by booking passengers on an alternative flight. However, under federal law, you are entitled to a full refund if you request it. It could take time to recover this money since more cancellations mean more people asking for refunds.
What to Know When the High Seas are Calling You
Cruising, more than other modes of travel, has faced the most challenges since the start of the pandemic. Cruise lines have responded by implementing strict safety protocols, working closely with the CDC and adapting those practices when new variants arise. All in an effort to make it as safe as possible for passengers and crew. AAA offers the following advice when considering a cruise, whether now or in the future:
√ If you are thinking of postponing a planned cruise, AAA recommends contacting cruise lines early to have the best selection of dates for future sailings. Demand is already pent up, and dates will book up fast as conditions improve.
√ Currently, the CDC advises travelers to avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status. For those who still intend to cruise:
*AAA strongly recommends working with a travel agent to understand what to expect while onboard; limitations on ports, excursions and onboard activities; and changes to safety protocols, including testing or daily self-health assessments for travelers who still wish to cruise.
*Follow the CDC guidance, which includes being fully vaccinated and/or getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster if eligible before cruising.
What to Know When Booking Lodging
Always confirm your hotel’s cancellation and/or change policies before locking in a reservation, so you are not surprised by unexpected penalties. AAA also suggests you ask about the following when booking your accommodations:
√ Do they offer contactless services such as mobile check-in/check-out, virtual keys and room service?
√ Can you request housekeeping based on your personal preferences?
√ Are amenities like restaurants, gym, spa and pool open? What are the hours and safety protocols in place?
What to Know Before Hitting the Road
Nobody wants to spend 27 hours trapped on a snow-covered highway, like what happened recently in Virginia. However, if you find yourself stuck in a similar situation, you should:
√ Keep your car’s engine off if it is clear that the traffic jam could be a long one. It is OK to turn the vehicle on sporadically to warm up the cabin.
√ Stay in your vehicle to avoid falling or being struck by an approaching vehicle or a chain reaction of cars colliding. If you must get out of the car, ensure the surroundings are safe.
√ Avoid driving on the shoulders or medians of highways to get around the traffic jam. These need to be kept clear for first responders, tow trucks and emergency vehicles to get to the cause of the stoppage.
√ For electric vehicle drivers – cold weather can tax a battery, so plan for more frequent stops for charging, and identify the location of charging stations before you hit the road. AAA recommends “preheating” the inside of your electric vehicle to a comfortable temperature while still connected to the charger. This will reduce the vehicle’s battery demand to regulate cabin temperature at the onset of driving.
√ Check the weather before hitting the road, and change plans accordingly. Also, always pack a well-stocked emergency kit, which should have a cell phone car charger, first-aid kit; extra blankets, hats, gloves and coats; plenty of drinking water and nonperishable snacks for passengers, including pets; flashlight and extra batteries; reflective warning triangles; and an ice scraper or snow brush.
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As upstate New York’s largest member services organization, AAA Western and Central New York provides more than 887,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1900, AAA has been a leading advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. Visit AAA at www.AAA.com.