For me, the best news today is not just the list of countries in the green zone – welcome though that is, but the prospects for travel a little later in the summer. The restart was always going to be cautious, after May 17, with most European countries still placed on the government’s “amber” list and so requiring self-isolation for ten days on return. But by July the indications are that most key holiday destinations are also likely to be getting a green listing.
We must remember that most of Europe is behind us in the current wave. There is always the risk of hiccups and resurgences, especially if a country re-opens to tourism. So we will need a little luck. However, as well as keeping our fingers crossed, there are also some concrete steps you can take to maximise your chances of getting away. Here is our plan to ensure you have the best possible chance of getting to the Med this summer.
1. Keep a close eye on the news
The situation is changing remarkably fast. In the last three or four weeks we have gone from official advice not to book holidays yet to unofficial hints from the government that things are looking fine for travel this summer and yesterday’s news confirming the re-opening.
That is highly disorienting and makes life difficult when you are trying to plan a few months in advance. But keeping up to date is vital to spot opportunities and potential problems. Our live travel page: telegraph.co.uk/travel is updated regularly everyday with the latest news.
2. Stay flexible
If you can keep flexible about exactly when and where you travel, then you will have a huge advantage over those who are committing weeks or months ahead. If, for example, you can book as soon as a country changes its status - and travel soon afterwards - then that will be the best way to be sure of restriction-free travel as well the best value deals. You need to be fleet of foot however, and decisive.
3. If you can’t be flexible, err towards the later part of the summer
It seems most likely that the later you travel this year, the better your chance of having a holiday free of restrictions. With this in mind, there have been plenty of reports of people looking to book for October instead of July or August. That is quite late for guaranteed sunshine in Europe. If you do need, or want, to commit in advance then September is looking like a better month to combine green travel status with decent weather. And, if you have children, then the latter part of August is probably the best option in the school holidays. Nothing is guaranteed - last summer, those who travelled early got in before new restrictions started to hit. But if you are playing the odds, then later is probably better this year.
4. Check for local restrictions
Booking late also allows you to get a more accurate picture on how restrictions are affecting life in your chosen destination are panning out. Hopefully, the opening up process will be a one-way street, but there is always the possibility of setbacks, and forewarned is forearmed. A good source of information on the situation locally is the Foreign Office Travel Advice section of its website (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice).
5. Book a package holiday
So many of us book flights and accommodation separately nowadays that it may go against your instincts to think about a package holiday. But it will give you much more security if you do and if there are negative changes to the status of your destination, then you will have much more protection from a financial point of view. Also, because the operator has a duty of care, if anything goes wrong while you are out there - whether connected with Covid or not - you will have someone at the end of a phone to help you resolve things. All tour operators must also be licensed, so that you know that your money is safe in the event of a financial collapse – see caa.co.uk/atol-protection.
6. Tread warily on independent bookings
While tour operators offer the best overall protection, if you are determined to travel independently, then look for the lowest deposit you can find when making accommodation bookings. Remember that even if a hotel or villa owner promises to refund you, if you can’t travel because of Covid, you will have a very weak hand if they already have your money. Especially if they are based in a foreign country. Much better to agree a low deposit, or book through an agent guaranteeing free cancellation. Also be sure to book with a credit card – it gives you far more security than a bank transfer.
7. Book with an operator or airline allowing flexibility
Most of the big operators and airlines are now allowing penalty free amendments to bookings - whether you want to change the destination or the date. Some – British Airways for example – allow you to cancel as late as the day of departure. And Trailfinders offers a cash refund if a destination is in the amber or red zone and you want to cancel. If travel gets going successfully, however, the level of flexibility in the industry is likely to be quickly withdrawn, so double check exactly the deal is before you book.