Travel in the pandemic times is difficult. That much we all know. Between border restrictions moving like a revolving door, and general anxieties around safety while away, there are a lot of considerations to make – and yes, risks to consider.
Anyone who has dealt with the pain of cancelled flights, or expiring travel vouchers, knows that if your plans go south, it’s often a giant pain in the arse.
Thankfully, however, the travel industry is pivoting and as Tourism Australia and Luxury Escapes have recently shared, they’re coming up with ways to make travel more flexible.
This week, travel company Luxury Escapes announced that it would now be offering a suite of exclusive deals available for customers to book days out from travelling.
The service, titled ‘Last Minute Escapes’, showcases holidays available to be booked immediately or up to 7 days ahead of your desired departure date. While the spontaneity of the experience has its own appeal – who doesn’t love the idea of being whisked away on some incredible escape at the last minute? – the service has been designed to allow for the short-term planning we’ve all needed to grow accustomed to in our new COVID-19 reality.
On the launch, Luxury Escapes Chief Marketing Officer Jason Shugg shared in a statement that:
“Last year we revealed that 88% of Australians are planning a domestic holiday this year, but sudden border closures and tightened restrictions make it tricky to plan far in advance. Last Minute Escapes provides a solution for this, creating another way for customers to find and book travel experiences in line with the rapidly changing travel environment we’re in.”
The experience, which I was lucky enough to get a sample of at the Fullerton Hotel Sydney this week, means you can assess your current circumstances and take the chance to travel when it suits you. And it’s pretty damn lush treating yourself to a luxurious stay on the fly, just quietly.
At present, the escapes you can book include stays with The Fullerton Hotel, Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel Sydney, Grand Hyatt Melbourne, Capri By Fraser Brisbane, Hotel Grand Chancellor Palm Cove, Alex Hotel Perth, QT Canberra and Barossa Shiraz Estate. You can read up about all of those here.
Off the back of the recent government announcement encouraging local travel, Tourism Australia has also shared a list of the many varying travel escapes Aussies can indulge in – with the comfort of flexible or last-minute booking options.
Here’s a rundown for you:
If you’d like to fly
In terms of flights, Tourism Australia shared that “All major airlines in Australia have introduced even more flexibility and hygiene policies, so you can book your next getaway with confidence knowing it can be moved or cancelled if circumstances change.”
- Qantas and Jetstar are offering unlimited fee-free changes to travel dates until 31 January 2022 when you book certain flights.
- Virgin Australia are currently offering a flexible ‘no change or cancellation fee’ policy for bookings made before 31 March 2021 for travel up to 30 June 2021, meaning you can make unlimited flight changes for free, or you can cancel to a travel credit for no fee.
- Flight Centre has also introduced a series of flexible domestic holiday packages with free cancellations and date changes from 14 days to 24 hours out from travel.
If you’d like to drive
The tourism board shared that “All major rental car companies have enhanced cleaning protocols and safety plans in place. They have also introduced flexible booking options with minimal or no attached fees to ensure hassle-free holidays. Many are also offering zero-contact pick-up and drop-offs.”
If you’d like to take public transport or ride-share
It’s best to check each state health website for rules around mask-wearing, but most services have cashless payment options and social distancing protocols are in place.
Tourism Australia shared that obviously, hygiene measures have been altered to suit COVID-19 safety protocols. There are also many more contactless options for check-in, and mask-wearing is common.
Some specific examples shared below:
- IHG hotels removed their non-refundable rates and added additional flexibility for guests so that they can change the dates of their stay without charge. IHG has also increased the frequency of cleaning public areas and has enhanced cleaning in rooms.
- Along with enhanced cleaning, Hilton hotels have introduced travel plan flexibility allowing guests free changes and cancellations up to 24 hours before arrival day, in case a guest is feeling unwell.
- Airbnb allows hosts to choose which cancellation options to offer guests, so make sure you check this when booking. Many are offering free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in and when searching you can filter by cancellation flexibility.
- Ovolo Hotels have put together a number of guidelines for peace of mind, including ensuring all flexible bookings made via direct channels (phone, email, website and front desk) can be amended without charge.
Experiences and dining
Please review state regulations when it comes to elements like mask-wearing, seating protocols and the like. But many operators and hospitality venues have been quick to shift their procedures in the face of COVID-19.
“Expect bigger cancellation windows, increased cleaning and hygiene as well as last minute booking deals. Experiences such as Story Bridge Adventure Climb in Brisbane, Mount Majura Vineyard cellar door experience outside of Canberra, MySydneyBoat and Aquaduck Gold Coast now offer online bookings with last minute cancellation or date change options,” Tourism Australia stated.
And on the dining front:
“With the new capacity restrictions, reservations really help venues comply with physical distancing protocols, that said, reservations can be changed or made last minute with venues such as: Aura at Crowne Plaza in Hobart, Republic of Fremantle Perth, Farmers Daughters Melbourne and the The North Room in the Gold Coast usually offering availability a few days before. “
What’s clear is that while this situation remains a tricky one across many fronts, we’re learning how to safely navigate this beast in a way that allows us to still enjoy the incredible experienced to be had in our backyard. And for that, we can only be grateful, really.