The coronavirus travel deal was too good to pass up. For just $500, Danielle Tedrowe could enjoy a week at the five-star Live Aqua Beach Resort in Cancún, Mexico, this fall. "It was a phenomenal rate," says Tedrowe, a property manager and travel agent from Austin, Texas.
An 80% discount for an ocean view room at the Live Aqua Beach? That's not a deal; it's a steal.
The travel industry is in a tailspin. Everything is on sale.
"We're seeing flight prices that are 30% to 40% lower than historical averages," says George Zeng, CEO of Moonfish, a company that analyzes global flight data. "I suspect flight prices won't get much cheaper."
Restless travelers who are confined to their homes are seeing these coronavirus travel deals and wondering: Should I book now before the bargains are gone? If I buy, will the airlines, cruise lines and hotels even be there when I travel, given the state of things? Is it right to buy a cruise or resort stay at such low prices?
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Should I book these coronavirus travel deals now while everything is cheap?
No one knows how long the deals will last. Airfares may be at their lowest point now, but cruise tickets and hotels could drop further, depending on the rate of recovery.
The conventional wisdom seems to be: If you see a deal you like, buy it now. Travel companies will try to raise prices as soon as they can to make up for the revenue lost during the coronavirus crisis. They won't keep their 80%-off sales going one minute longer than they have to.
For Tedrowe, the decision to book the Live Aqua Beach Resort was easy.
"The hotel was offering free cancellation up to a week before check-in," she says. "If the pandemic is still going on in early fall, I can cancel or reschedule without penalty. This gave me a sense of security while also providing me with something to look forward to."
Will Hatton has seen fares as low as $5 on Ryanair. He says he would have booked them but wasn't sure he could get to Europe to take advantage of them in the coming weeks.
"As tempting as it is, I have actually passed up opportunities like this," says Hatton, who writes the Broke Backpacker blog. "I don't know how long it may be before we can travel freely again. I hope this will be over within a month or two. But governments are uncertain about how long we will need to be in quarantine."
Will the company still be there?
Travel experts are worried that some of the companies discounting their products may not survive. Adrienne Sasson, a travel advisor with Rubinsohn Travel in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, says she's seeing a lot of aggressive discounts from luxury villas and boutique hotels.
"My concern is their financial health," she explains. "Will some of the smaller boutiques and villas have the funding to remain open and in good repair while they have no income from guests?"
Her advice: Book with some of the bigger brands of hotels, resorts and cruise lines. They're far less likely to go under during these difficult times.
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Is it morally right to take the deals?
There's another question that these coronavirus travel deals raise. Is it morally right to buy such a deeply discounted product? Is grabbing a $5 airfare taking advantage of a situation – or helping a company get through hard times?
"I'm not concerned about the ethics of buying a deeply discounted plane ticket," says Nelson Sherwin, a manager at a human resources company in Palm Harbor, Florida. "If they don't want people to make the purchase, don't offer it for sale. The reality of a capitalist economy is that companies have the freedom to succeed or fail."
Kaitlin Ray, a former hospitality company employee who now writes a travel photography blog, agrees that there's nothing wrong with taking the deals.
"In terms of the morality of buying a product so deeply discounted, all businesses are currently struggling and trying to make ends meet," she says. "As long as the sale even just allows the company to break even, it's helpful to the overall longevity of the company."
Here's another way of looking at it. If the tables were turned and it was a seller's market for travel, do you think companies would hesitate to charge you top dollar for their products? Of course not. So buy now especially if the cancellation terms are generous.
How to protect yourself when you book a coronavirus travel deal
Read the cancellation terms very carefully. Travel companies are changing them almost by the minute. Look for the ability to cancel your trip without paying any penalties. Make sure you get the rules in writing before you make a reservation. That means print out a hard copy or take a screenshot.
Use a credit card. If the airline, cruise line or hotel goes out of business, you can file a chargeback and obtain a full refund. If you pay by check or cash, your money is as good as gone.
Follow the news closely. Coronavirus is affecting destinations differently. For example, you may be fine visiting New Zealand in the near future, but you'll want to avoid Italy. Keep an eye on current events as your trip gets closer and don't be afraid to invoke those generous cancellation terms if the situation takes a turn for the worse.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus travel deals: It's a buyer's market, but should you buy?