Should I book a 2021 holiday now?

It is now a full year since details started to emerge from the Chinese city of Wuhan about a new and alarming strain of coronavirus.

As 2021 begins, outbound travel from the UK has more or less ceased.

This is partly due to the severe restrictions placed on most people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and partly because of the many barriers imposed by destination countries on arriving travellers, especially from the UK.

The Foreign Office is warning against non-essential international travel to almost all countries, and quarantine remains in place for the trickle of arrivals from abroad.

Yet despite this, there is undoubtedly an appetite for travel from frustrated holidaymakers – and many companies, after a dreadful 2020, are selling flights, package holidays and cruises for 2021 and beyond.

With the vaccination programme under way and signs of light at the end of a very long tunnel, should you book now?

These are the key questions and answers.

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Will I pay more?

Probably. On the basis of the small amount of inventory it has sold so far, Britain’s biggest holiday company, Tui, says prices are one-seventh higher than in 2019 – the last “normal” year.

There will be far fewer seats flying from the UK in 2021, not least because older gas-guzzlers have been removed from fleets.

Low capacity means higher prices, which is what all the travel firms need as they seek to dig themselves out of the vast financial hole created by coronavirus. I predict mid-market prices for bargain-basement holidays. 

I need a winter-sun holiday as soon as possible

If you are one of the minority of people living in areas of England in tiers 1, 2 or 3, or in the Scottish islands, then you are legally allowed to travel whenever you like. The obvious destination is Dubai, which does not currently have a quarantine restriction for UK travellers.

Travelling with British Airways Holidays from Heathrow on 11 January for a week, staying at the Four Points by Sheraton in the central Bur Dubai area, costs only £485 per person.

Any skiing on offer?

European ski areas are collectively closed to UK visitors (including many that are closed to everyone), because of fears of the new variant of coronavirus. While I would not recommend booking now, a number of bans are scheduled to end during January.

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For the benchmark Gatwick-Geneva route on easyJet, flying out on Saturday 13 February for a week, fares as high as £965 return are currently on sale – but by flying out last thing on the Sunday evening each way the price drops by five-sixths to just £157 return.

The optimum time for skiing, with reasonable snow, plenty of light and a good chance that things will be open, is early March.

Neilson has a week in St Anton in Austria, staying at the Monjola chalet hotel, for £669 per person including flights from Manchester on 7 March.

Easter, which in 2021 is relatively early (4 April), will also include opportunities for skiing.

In terms of ski deals, for a family flying from Bristol, Inghams has an excellent deal (relatively speaking) to Saariselka in Finnish Lapland for a half-term week beginning on Sunday 14 February: £598 per person, staying in a three-room apartment.

Half-board increases the cost by £150 per person, but as anyone who has been to Finland will know, the prices mean that this is a reasonably good deal for breakfast and dinner every night.

What about the summer?

I advise against booking anything now that is off-peak. The spells for which booking now could work are May half-term, likely to be 22–30 May; it is always popular with many families who are trying to dodge the high prices of the main summer holidays.

The Euro 2020 football championships, postponed from 2020, are taking place from 11 June to 11 July. Flights to the European city venues are likely to be in heavy demand and therefore expensive.

School summer holidays are the real high-pressure, high-price time for families. Schools generally break up in Scotland in late June and in Northern Ireland in early July, while in England and Wales it is likely to be on or just before Friday 23 July, with a particular peak on the weekend of 31 July and 1 August.

The final surge of the summer is the last week of August, for homeward flights.

On 1 August, the cheapest package being sold from English or Welsh airports by Tui – Britain’s biggest holiday company – is £422, for a self-catering week in Kavos, Corfu, from Gatwick.

Going transatlantic?

Back in May 2020, The Independent noted that Norwegian was offering a fare of just £280 return from Gatwick to New York JFK over Christmas and New Year, going out on 24 December and back on New Year’s Day 2021.

That flight did not operate. While some bargain transatlantic trips are available, British travellers are still banned from the US – with no indication of when that may change.

Meanwhile, in August the cheapest Virgin Holidays deal from Manchester to Orlando is the wrong side of £1,550 per person for flights, accommodation and a rental car.

When will cruises start?

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Some very small-scale cruises are happening around the world, usually restricted to a single country.

The leading UK cruise firm P&O has no sailings until late April. On offer in the final week of that month are voyages from Southampton to Spain and Portugal, and from Malta to France, Italy and Greece. Or you could just start with a two-night trip from Southampton to Guernsey.

Can I be sure the trip will go ahead?

You can’t. That is always the case with any travel booking, but especially so when no one knows when airlines and holiday companies will be able to restart operations. For example, some travel firms may fail as their cash runs dry.

But with any of the aforementioned deals, you are covered by either Atol rules for package holidays, or “Section 75” cover if you pay with a credit card for flights. Your money is not at risk.

What if the coronavirus crisis gets worse, not better, and I decide not to travel?

Many travel firms have flexible booking policies, but be warned that these are time limited and will not necessarily apply to all trips for 2021.

Helen Coffey has provided plenty of useful advice on “future-proofing” a holiday

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