The world is facing an outbreak of a new coronavirus, COVID-19, and it's causing borders to shut and holiday plans to be cancelled. In light of this, some are seizing the opportunity to snap up cheap holiday deals with companies trying to maintain essential revenue streams while working to not actively further the spread.
Here's what you need to know if you're considering making some travel plans in the heat of the outbreak.
Are flights really cheaper because of the coronavirus outbreak?
In data provided to Lifehacker Australia by Skyscanner to shed light on price changes in recent months. It provided us with stats comparing the January to February period in 2019 to January to February in 2020 and in most cases, prices were cheaper.
|Destination||Price change (%)|
Source: Skyscanner.com.au. Flight cost comparisons originating in Australia between 30 January and 26 February 2019 compared with the same period in 2020.
In this data, you can clearly see flight prices have fallen across the board with the only exceptions being Athens, New Delhi and London by razor thin margins. This might not necessarily be solely related to the coronavirus outbreak but its shows it's not a bad time to get a flight for cheaper than they usually would be.
Another flight deals aggregation site, I Know The Pilot, told Lifehacker Australia it was seeing a similar trend. A spokesperson said flights to the US were particularly cheap with some of the lowest prices they've seen in three years.
On the contrary, however, people aren't buying flights to places, like Japan, where the outbreak has since had a sharp spike in confirmed cases.
"Destinations that have featured heavily in the news have dropped right off," the I Know The Pilot spokesperson said to Lifehacker Australia over email. "You can get to Tokyo on Qantas or Virgin for $512 return, which is an incredible price (normally over $700) but no one is interested."
While several flight aggregation sites and airline sites have been advertising sale flights since the coronavirus hit, Lifehacker Australia has reached out to Virgin, Qantas and Tigerair to confirm whether the reason is airlines wanting to fill up seats due to coronavirus-related shortfalls.
Why are some airlines cutting services due to coronavirus?
Australian airlines, however, have admitted the downturn created by coronavirus is causing them to cut services. Qantas was the first to announce it was grounding flights and crews until at least October and Jetstar would be pulling back services as well.
"When revenue falls you need to cut costs, and reducing the amount of flying we do is the best way for us to do that," the airline's CEO Alan Joyce said in a media statement.
"Less flying means less work for our people, but we know coronavirus will pass and we want to avoid job losses wherever possible. We're asking our people to use their paid leave and, if they can, consider taking some unpaid leave given we're flying a lot less."
Similarly, Virgin Australia confirmed it was seeing weaker demand because of the outbreak of coronavirus but had yet to announce cuts to services.
"Like all airlines, we're currently seeing some weaker demand and we are closely monitoring the impact of coronavirus. We have a range of measures in place to minimise the impact to our business, including changes to our fleet, network and capacity," a Virgin spokesperson told Lifehacker Australia.
"This is having a significant effect on the industry as a whole, and we will continue to assess any impact to our business and respond accordingly as conditions evolve."
Tigerair Australia, a subsidiary of Virgin Australia, was monitoring the situation closely.
"We are closely monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 Coronavirus and have a range of measures in place to minimise the impact to our business," a Tigerair spokesperson said to Lifehacker Australia in an email.
"Senior leaders from Tigerair Australia as well the broader the Virgin Australia Group continue to meet regularly to assess our ongoing response. This is having a significant effect on the industry as a whole, and we will continue to assess any impact to our business and respond accordingly."
A decline in services means it's unlikely some airlines will reduce prices too drastically but you can likely expect more sales periods in the coming months as airlines try to encourage people to buy flights amid the outbreak. In comments supplied to Lifehacker Australia, Webjet's CEO David Galt said flights in the US were already noticeably cheaper despite falling in the country's upcoming summer peak period.
"These great flights deals are a trend that will likely continue as airlines look to fill plane capacity as much as possible, and one of the most compelling ways of doing so is dropping flight prices," Galt said.
"Some airlines – such as American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines – have altered their policies and will now waive change fees for new tickets purchased within a certain window, dependent on when rescheduled travel is booked."
The only thing stopping many Australians from buying up the fire sale is whether it's worth really the risk.
Is it safe to travel during the coronavirus outbreak?
The reality is travelling internationally right now is a bit touch and go. While the Australian government has only placed travel restrictions on four countries — China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — due to large coronavirus outbreaks, there's no predicting whether more will be added to the list.
For Australians, the risk of contracting coronavirus is one concern but there is also the risk of being stuck in a country with no easy way out, due to the stringent measures being put in place to stop the spread like some Australians faced during the Wuhan shutdown.
DFAT's Smartraveller has been updated telling keen travellers to monitor the ongoing situation, stay informed and be prepared for the changes.
"Overseas travel is becoming more complex," DFAT's notice read.
"You need to ensure you’re informed and prepared, not just about your destination, but about the countries you might need to transit through to get there, and home.
"We continue to advise Australians to 'exercise normal safety precautions'. For the coronavirus, this means taking sensible measures to minimise your risk of exposure such as practising good hand hygiene."
Additionally, DFAT's Smartraveller urges travellers to reconsider the need for taking an overseas cruise right now, especially if you have underlying health conditions.
Where should I travel if I'm willing to take the risk with coronavirus?
This one's a little harder to predict with cases now popping up in more than 100 countries around the world. The countries that are fairly safe to rule out for now include those with 'do not travel' advisories, which include China and Iran.
South Korea and Italy have been placed under the 'reconsider your need to travel' advisory. Japan and Mongolia have also been placed under the 'exercise a high degree of caution'.
So, where is potentially going to be fine in a few months time when you plan that overseas trip? It's anyone's guess and that's part of the problem. South America and parts of Africa have yet to face a sharp rise in infections but the numbers have slowly started to rise there too. Similarly, South East Asia hasn't been affected as greatly but some academics have questioned the low infection rates and suggested it's partly due to undereporting.
The best bets are countries with high quality medical care in case you get infected and good relations with the Australian government in case you get stuck there. The US or New Zealand, for example, are safe options. They're not immune from shutting down borders but the likelihood of that happening is much lower and Australians are more likely to supported if they're stuck there.
Is it worth planning travel now just to save a buck?
This one will come down to a personal decision. Saving a few hundred bucks to get a flight that would usually be very expensive during the upcoming peak season sounds like a great idea to many people. The problem will be whether that holiday ever actually goes ahead.
To limit the risks, make sure you sign up for travel insurance that covers pandemic-related events in regards to your health and travel disruptions. Additionally, make sure your flights and accommodation options come with plenty of flexibility. You should be able to postpone and adjust with little issue because the situation so far has shown itself to be quick-moving and governments have been quite reactive to limiting the spread.
But hey, if nothing goes wrong, you've just nabbed yourself a bargain holiday.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is spreading quickly around the world. With the number of cases in Italy hitting 1700 over the weekend - a 50% jump in reported cases in a day - as well as a swelling death toll in China and across the world, the spread of this virus is disrupting the plans of business and holiday travellers. France has closed the Louvre indefinitely. If you have an overseas trip booked, here's what the Australian airlines say you can do if you want to cancel or change your travel plans.