How to Snag Travel Deals

Global pandemic creates travel buyer’s market

It feels like forever since many of us have used a passport, but while international travel is off the table for now, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great time to travel.

With the coronavirus situation evolving on a daily basis, health and flexibility are likely to be key factors when weighing travel options. How safe is a destination in general and the property where you’ll be staying? And how flexible are the terms in case the situation takes a sudden turn for the worse?

Many properties are drumming up sales even during travel restrictions by offering spectacular deals with no-risk change and cancellation policies on condition of payment up front. Travel Zoo is one of my all-time favorite sites curating some of the best deals around, and nearly all of the recent offers come with long lead times and generous cancellation properties.

Earlier this month, I spotted an incredible week-long deal for a 4-star all-inclusive resort in the Maldives at the unheard of price of just USD900 for two. You had to buy the voucher now, but had two full years to use it or get a refund if you weren’t able to travel. That has really become the gold standard of travel deals at the moment – slashing prices and mitigating risks to the consumer while generating immediate income for the property at a time when there are little to no guests. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to round up a group of friends to go (“I can’t go until I know I can get back into Vietnam,” said one expat friend before I explained we had two years to use it), the deal was gone. I’m still kicking myself for not jumping on it right away. That’s the thing about today’s travel deals – companies need money now but once the forecast brightens, those deals will be gone, so it’s really best to buy immediately when you see a deal that’s almost too good to be true.

Image Courtesy of Victoria Mekong Cruises

Of course, you’ll need to weigh the potential risks as well, ie. whether that boutique property or small airline will even be around when you’re ready to travel. So best to purchase by credit card because of the protection it offers in case of bankruptcy, and lean towards bigger brands who are more likely to have the resources to weather the COVID storm. You’ll also do well to keep tabs on the property and the destination to see how they’re faring and book under the most generous cancellation terms possible (remembering to screenshot the cancellation policy at time of purchase).

While planning international travel is a great way to keep the travel itch at bay, we’re spoiled to be in Vietnam, one of the safest countries in the world right now. With borders closed indefinitely and most attractions fully open, there are lots of travel opportunities to be had domestically. “Vietnam is an amazing destination right now because it’s safe, beautiful, and cheaper than ever,” says Nguyen Trung Cong, Director at iVIVU.com, a leading Vietnam-based online hotel and tour booking website serving mainly domestic customers. “After a long time of ‘rest’, Nature has had time to recover. There’s no need to go far; Vietnam is enough.”

“Many customers are still afraid to travel which is why we’ve only recovered about 70% of our regular business,” adds Nguyen. “However, after a period of social distancing, iVIVU has seen a strong recovery in domestic travel with demand higher than ever. Since June, there’s been a steady increase, especially in high-end customers, leading to a 50% growth over the same period.”

Nguyen mentions the high-end sector which is where you’ll find the biggest savings. With foreign guests and their deep pockets temporarily out of the mix, there’s never been a better time to splurge for less. The Vietnam Residents Offer from the luxe Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai (look for our review in next month’s issue) offers one free villa night for every paid night through August 31, including VND2,200,000 resort credit per bedroom per stay plus 24-hour rolling check in / check out. The Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa has ocean view rooms starting at VND2,400,000++ per night including daily breakfast and dinner with a bunch of extra perks as part of their HOLISTAY package. Both of these aren’t just deals, they’re steals for the level of luxury you’re getting at a fraction of regular prices.

Travel suppliers are also having to reinvent their products originally aimed at international guests to appeal to domestic travelers.

Image courtesy of Victoria Chau Doc Hotel

The new Victoria Mekong Cruises which started off sailing between Can Tho, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia have revamped their itineraries to focus on the Vietnam side only. Shorter cruises of 1 or 2 nights now take in attractions like the incredible submerged Tra Su Cajuput Forest just outside of Chau Doc and the little-visited Long Xuyen Floating Market while offering impressive on-board amenities like a Jacuzzi and state-of-the-art movie theater.

Another travel trend is small group or completely private travel. “Based on our data from user experience personalization using AI technology, we’ve seen that our customers are looking for private trips, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve also been organizing private tours for small groups of family and friends,” says Nguyen.

Image Courtesy of Victoria Mekong Cruises

For the ultimate social distancing holiday, Victoria Cruises is offering an overnight cruise aboard your very own sampan in the Mekong Delta, starting at VND3,300,000 per person, including meals served on the boat and your own English-speaking tour guide.

According to Nguyen, summertime hot spots will still center around beaches including Phu Quoc, Da Nang, Vung Tau, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, and Phan Thiet. However, if you’re looking to escape the crowds, now’s the time to do so while borders remain closed. Imagine photographing the streets of Hoi An without 20 tourists in your frame or sailing through majestic Halong Bay in blissful solitude. So if you’re lucky enough to be living in Vietnam at the moment, there’s really never been a better time to travel!

Feature image by James Pham

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