It’s been over a month without travel, and the prospect of embarking on new trips over the near-term future remains rather far off (and rightfully so).
I know most of us are missing the open road quite dearly, and it can be easy to despair at the thought of remaining under stay-home orders for the foreseeable future.
I myself have been grappling with these emotions, and I’ve been getting by mostly out of a combination of feeling grateful that I’ve somehow managed to sneak in three round-the-world trips this year before the pandemic struck, as well as maintaining a resolve to continue doing what we all need to do (i.e., stay home) in order to put everything behind us as soon as possible.
In this post, I wanted to check-in with everyone and share some updates on how I’ve rescheduled some of my trips for the remainder of 2020, as well as hear about how you’re planning to address your upcoming travel plans as well.
Most of My 2020 Travel Plans Have Been Scrapped
If the pandemic had not wreaked havoc upon the world this year, I’d currently be looking forward to a final three-stop Aeroplan Mini-RTW in May 2020, which would bring me to Chile, South Africa, and Israel, with a handful of long layovers in El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, and Ethiopia.
That would’ve been followed by a trip to the Euro 2020 football tournament in June, as well as the Tokyo Olympics in August (although I’m not sure if I would’ve chosen to return to Canada in-between or simply make it one big trip in the summer, and alas, I never did get the chance to decide).
And these are only the trip ideas that were the most fleshed-out in my mind. Over the past year or so, I had also made a handful of flight bookings through the rest of 2020 that border on the speculative (thanks to things like mistake fares or short-lived award booking opportunities), which I may or may not have flown in the end, but I was certainly looking forward to the possibility of flying.
Well, although I had harboured some hope at the beginning of the crisis, it became clear pretty quickly that I’d have a near-zero chance of entering the country at any of my three stops on my Aeroplan trip in May. And to rub salt in the wounds, both Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 would be postponed to the summer of 2021, making them very much next year’s problem to deal with.
Reshuffling My Summer Travel Plans
After making my peace with the fact that these trips wouldn’t be happening, it was time to think about what to do with my existing travel bookings.
Across the board, loyalty programs have mostly acted in very good faith during this crisis, making it very easy for customers to cancel their bookings and have their points redeposited free of charge. It was a sad moment for sure when I cleared out my Marriott Bonvoy reservations one-by-one, restoring my “Upcoming Trips” page to an empty state that has not been seen in many years.
The same was true for a few bookings I had made relating to the Euros and the Olympics: my carefully-planned Balkan Hopper trip in June was cast aside, with a view to potentially revive it next summer, as was a speculative Finnair business class flight I had booked using an Alaska Mileage Plan routing trick to fly between the two major tournaments in July.
But when it came to the Aeroplan Mini-RTW in May, I couldn’t bring myself to outright cancel the whole thing: the Aeroplan rules had changed in September 2019 to allow only one stopover on a round-trip redemption instead of two, so if I cancelled my old booking, I would no longer have the ability to replace it with another two-stopover trip (for three stops in total) in the future.
(Of course, we’ve heard assurances that the new Air Canada loyalty program will launch with the return of the second stopover, but who knows what other details will be changing under the new program at that time? I had intentionally booked one last three-stop Mini-RTW under the old rules, and I really didn’t feel like giving it up so easily.)
I therefore needed to plan a new trip using the existing ticket. One of the major constraints, of course, is that you’re only allowed to change your trip such that the first leg departs within one year of the original ticketing date (which was August 2019).
Several readers had already reported asking Aeroplan if they’d be willing to waive this restriction, given that the changes were completely out of the traveller’s control, but by all accounts, Aeroplan wasn’t budging.
As I set about moving my May trip into later in the summer, there was also another challenge that meant I couldn’t get away with simply reshuffling the dates: South African Airways, which operates the São Paulo–Johannesburg flight across the South Atlantic, had gone bankrupt and were no longer accepting bookings on that route, thus invalidating most trips that touch both South Africa and the southern cone of South America.
(I must say, the liquidation of South African Airways will be a big loss for Star Alliance flyers and Aeroplan members in particular, since they were the key to crossing between South America, South Africa, and Australia with their São Paulo and Perth services. I do regret never getting to fly one of these southern transoceanic routes for myself, and I hope that a new South African airline can eventually take their place one day.)
At the same time, I also wanted to fit this trip around another speculative booking I had made for August 2020: Shanghai–Singapore–Johannesburg in a mixture of Singapore Airlines First Class and business class.
Right when Singapore Airlines first became bookable with Alaska miles, there was a brief window of opportunity when the routing rules hadn’t been coded properly in the system, making this itinerary available for a paltry 35,000 Alaska miles.
Of course, that window was closed within days, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to make any changes to this flight at all – it was take it or leave it.
I therefore set out to combine this booking with my reimagined Aeroplan Mini-RTW into one big trip, all while keeping as many elements from my original Mini-RTW as I could. And here’s what I came up with:
Vancouver to Tel Aviv on United Polaris (with a connection in Sacramento and a long layover in San Francisco), open-jaw
Tel Aviv to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific business class, booked for 45,000 Asia Miles
Shanghai to Johannesburg on Singapore Airlines First Class and business class (with a connection in Singapore), booked for 35,000 Alaska miles
(Closing the open-jaw) Johannesburg to Bogotá on Swiss and Avianca (with long layovers in Zurich and Madrid), stopover
Bogotá to Vancouver (with connections in Miami and Toronto, and the intention to get off in Toronto)
I must say, there was a refreshingly good amount of award space across most of my searches, and it was pretty easy to find space on several routes that are usually quite stingy with business class space (like San Francisco–Tel Aviv on United or Johannesburg–Zurich on Swiss).
There was virtually no wait time when calling the Aeroplan contact centre to rearrange the trip, and since a great deal of my existing itinerary had already been affected by the pandemic, I was able to make wholesale changes to the ticket with no change fees or difference in fuel surcharges.
And after cleaning up my Aeroplan reservation, you’ll notice that I also threw in a Cathay Pacific Asia Miles ticket in there to get me from Israel to East Asia, taking advantage of the award chart sweet spot that charges only 45,000 Asia Miles for a 10-hour business class flight just under 5,000 miles in distance flown.
Will This Trip Actually Take Place?
Of course, I’m under no illusions that there’s a non-negligible chance that this trip won’t be feasible even by late July.
Maybe we’ll still be under an “Avoid all travel” advisory from the Government of Canada by then. Or maybe the countries on my itinerary won’t have opened up their borders yet, or are imposing mandatory 14-day quarantines on all arriving visitors, thus setting me up for a very boring 126-day trip across nine countries if I wanted to go ahead.
It’s hard to get too excited about the trip when there’s a good chance that it might not happen, but I’m still happy to have taken steps to preserve my three-stop Aeroplan trip, particularly as I’m itching to hit the road as soon as possible once it is safe and responsible to do so.
And if I do eventually need to cancel it, I imagine that the various loyalty programs’ change and cancellation fee waivers would still be in place, meaning that I’d be able to cancel with very little cost.
(Alternatively, the Aeroplan agent I spoke to did encourage me to call back and ask if the one-year deadline for using the ticket could be pushed back further if I still wanted to keep the three-stop allowance, although he didn’t sound too confident that Aeroplan would grant these types of exceptions.)
Overall, if you’re looking to book or reschedule travel for late summer or early fall, you should recognize that there’s invariably an element of uncertainty involved. If nations are slow in relaxing travel advisories or border restrictions, then you may need to make further changes to your trip or cancel it entirely.
Therefore, booking trips with points is clearly preferable to booking with cash at this time, in light of the airlines’ notorious stance on providing refunds on cancelled flights, as well as the ample award availability that we’re seeing throughout the schedule at the moment.
I’ve just pushed back my final three-stop Aeroplan trip under the old rules for later in the summer, which I think is the only viable option at the moment for anyone who’d like to preserve their three-stop trip, even if it might still be a bit of a gamble. I’d love to say that I’m buzzing with excitement about this trip, but the reality is, I’m just praying that the situation will have improved enough to allow the trip to happen by then.
I recall that when the Aeroplan stopover rules were about to change, readers had begun spontaneously sharing their own successful Mini-RTW bookings in the comments section, and I’d love to hear from you at this more challenging time as well.
Have you rescheduled trips for later in the year or cancelled them outright? Are you booking travel for summer or fall on a somewhat speculative basis, or are you simply happy to stay put until this largely blows over?
One thing’s for sure: the day when lockdown is lifted and it‘s time to book travel again, whenever that may be, the comments on that post will be a real joy to behold.