As has been the case for the last 11 months, the travel news is all-COVID all the time.

First Things First

• The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires a negative COVID-19 test for all air passengers entering the United States. Testing must be within the 3 days of departure to the U.S. and passengers must show written documentation of the laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Passengers that do not provide proof of a negative test or recovery, or choose not to take a test, will be denied boarding.

This means, of course, that you will have to find a place to get tested during your vacation or business trip and risk being stranded if the test is positive.

• Starting February 1, a medical protective mask (surgical mask or FFP2 mask or a mask with the KN95/N95 standard) is mandatory on all Lufthansa Group airlines (SWISS, Austrian, and Brussels) to and from Germany. Fabric masks will no longer be permitted.

• Also from Lufthansa: If you have a ticket issued up to and including August 31, 2020, and are waiting to reschedule, the deadline for rebooking has been extended to May 31, 2021. Tickets purchased since August 31, 2020, of course, can be rebooked with no change fee. This applies to tickets purchased at published fare rates directly from the airline. Some consolidators, however, may charge an admin fee for rebooking. It may be worth noting that consolidator fares are usually cheaper by $100 or more than airline published fares.

(We book consolidator air to Europe. Get a quote and save...almost always cheaper than published major airline fares.) 

United Airlines now offers what it calls the “Travel-Ready Center” app, aimed at helping customers navigate travel restrictions, just as the CDC testing requirement for international travel goes into effect. With the app, customers can review COVID-19 entry requirements, find local testing options, and upload any required testing and vaccination records for domestic and international travel. Those with an active reservation can access the app through the “My Trips” section at united.com.

When Can We Go To Europe Again?

COVID vaccine is a reality and it appears that sometime this year travel to Europe will commence. Exactly when is unknown…by anyone. The pace of inoculations is disappointingly slow and, according to the Walt Street Journal, given current circumstances, may not soon pickup. To get everyone at least one dose by the middle of this year, says the Journal, the average current daily rate of about 1 million per day needs to almost double to 1.96 million/day. Though some states have been slow in getting distribution organized, the main problem seems to be manufacturing; it’s an extremely complicated process that is difficult to speed up.

Of course the foregoing applies just to the U.S. What if we are ready for Europe but Europe isn't ready for us? The German publication, Der Speigel, reports Germany and other EU countries failed to order enough vaccine and may still be in lockdown well into 2021. It says:

“Way back in July, the U.S. secured 600 million doses of the BioNTech (ed. note: Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine and 500 million doses from Moderna. Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, and others signed contracts in the summer and autumn. The EU only reserved doses. It didn’t place concrete orders until mid-November. And even then, it ordered far less than it could have.”

Car Rental Update

Since our last communique in December, rental car rates have mostly risen in Europe. That’s partly because of a weakening dollar (since March the cost of a euro has gone from about $1.07 to $1.23), but mostly it has to do with supply and demand.

• Rental companies have substantially reduced fleet sizes in order to reduce the overhead expense of thousands of non-revenue-producing cars sitting in parking lots and garages. This has driven up prices and, in some cases, created availability issues. Thus the choice of cars, locations, pick-up and return times, is not what it was several months ago. There are fewer automatics, station wagons, SUVs, vans, and luxury category cars. So now, as travel increases in 2021, industry experts predict car manufacturers may not be able to supply enough replacement vehicles in time to meet the coming demand. This, of course, will raise rates and affect availability.

• Travelers should also know that rental companies have laid off employees, reduced hours of operation (even at some major airports and rail stations), and closed many smaller locations. It may no longer be possible to rent a car in that charming small town in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc.

• To ensure the best price and vehicle availability, it’s wise to book and pre-pay as early as possible. This, of course, requires an ability to cancel for a full refund until the time of rental…as you can with gemut.com. When you have a pre-paid, confirmed booking and rates increase, your price is not affected. If rates drop, however, you can cancel and re-book at the lower rate.

Get a car rental quote for our personal, full-service and 24/7 in-rental third-party support and, if needed, post-rental billing assistance. 

Trip Insurance During COVID

The purpose of trip insurance is to obtain reimbursement for non-refundable costs when travel becomes impossible due to illness, death, family emergency, natural disaster, the financial failure of a travel supplier, and certain other specified unforeseen events. The basic cost of trip insurance for a U.S. couple, age 60, traveling for two weeks in Italy next June, and insured to a maximum of $1500 each, is a little over $100 per person.

However, as some of our customers discovered in 2020, trip insurance carriers do not consider fear of COVID to be a covered reason. Fortunately, most travelers were able to obtain refunds or future credit for canceled flights or cruises, but those who simply decided to stay safe at home forfeited all prepaid, nonrefundable costs, including trip insurance premiums. It is possible with some trip insurance carriers, to purchase “cancel-for-any-reason” coverage...but at a much higher premium.

Trip insurance is more important than ever in these uncertain times. Call us at 800-521-6722 x 2 or get a quote at www.gemut.com

Book Short Day-Trips and Sightseeing Tours

We are frequently asked: “Where can I book a half-day sightseeing tour at XYZ city?” It's an easy answer, the Gemut.com website (please note that it may take as long as 30 seconds for the page to appear…sorry, we’re working on it). You’ll then see our affiliation with the TripAdvisor-owned company that offers over 350,000 city tours and packages, food and wine classes and workshops, helicopter tours, balloon tours, walking tours, bike tours, half-day tours, night tours, sightseeing tickets, transfers, ground transport, shore excursions, cultural and theme tours, sailing and water tours, and many, many, many more.

In Munich, for example, you can choose from approximately 60 different activities. You will pay $39 for a small-group bike tour. Same for a Munich City Pass that includes public transport and admission to 45 sights and activities. A Bavarian Beer and Food evening tour is $58, while $198 buys a small-group Munich City and Oktoberfest Tour that includes a precious reservation at an Oktoberfest tent table. This booking service is not just for Munich, but virtually every European destination of any note, plus thousands of cities throughout the world, many in the U.S. and Canada. (Check it out via computer or tablet...not a smartphone.)