Should I STAY or Should I GO?  New Restrictions Explained

Should I STAY or Should I GO? New Restrictions Explained

Last Updated on December 13, 2021 by tripcentral

When asked by a reporter last Friday: “What would you tell someone who’s planning a family beach vacation for the coming winter months, in the face of the omicron variant and other unknowns?”, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos responded: “That’s a very personal thing. Every person, every family has their own situation. It would be inappropriate for me to judge people’s personal choices. However, what I can say is that the situation can change very quickly. A week ago, we did not even know of this omicron variant.”  A fair answer.  A lot different from messages from the Minister of Health in 2020 and earlier in 2021.

We’ve received many calls and emails from our customers who are already booked asking what might happen if they need to cancel.  However, we have received very few cancellations and our customers ARE completing their final payments on existing bookings.

Ride Out the Storm – Voluntary Changes Bring Penalties

The most similar comparison we can give is when a hurricane is brewing in the Caribbean.  Our phones ring off the hook and emails blow up with questions about how it might affect an upcoming booking.  Unfortunately, we don’t know until a couple of days or even the day prior to departure, as the hurricane can stall, change course, or completely miss certain destinations.  If one cancels prematurely in a knee-jerk reaction, they are subject to cancellation penalties and don’t travel.  If one waits, the trip either happens as planned or an alternative is offered, or a full refund.  In these situations, it’s best to wait until it becomes an involuntary cancellation, as the outcome is always better than a premature voluntary cancellation with penalties.

Testing Unlikely to Become More Restrictive

We will likely not know what Omicron will do to hospitalization rates and vaccine efficacy for a couple of weeks.  It could be fine, or things might become more restrictive.  It’s hard to imagine the testing becoming more restrictive other than a few destinations that are not requiring any advance testing suddenly imposing it.  But this is not that big a deal as you’ll read about further.  Now that testing is finally being introduced at Canadian airports on return, it’s hard to imagine a situation where one tests negative 72 hours prior to coming home, again on arrival in Canada, and yet they are forcing healthy people with negative tests to stay home.  So, the worst we could see is a destination country becoming a hotbed of an outbreak and getting a specific high-risk advisory causing cancellations.  Like hurricanes, we can expect alternatives (different destinations, similar hotels) or refunds.  Of course, this happens with involuntary cancellations (airline cancels flights), and this will happen if things get bad enough again.  They do not fly customers into a hurricane, and they will not fly customers into an unsafe situation.

Let’s Talk Voluntary Cancellations

This is when planes are still flying, people are still booking, but you feel uncomfortable and are considering postponing or not going.  Cancellation insurance will not cover this.  Traditional cancellation insurance covers unexpected risks and will write you a cheque if they happen – unexpected medical situations that crop up, job loss, subpoena to be a witness or on jury duty, and other risks like inclement weather closing roads and airports causing missed flights.  It’s still worthwhile having, but it does not cover a known pandemic as a reason to cancel.

Supplier Waivers vs Change of Mind Insurance

Our suppliers are pretty much all offering the ability to buy a waiver that relaxes their own cancellation penalties, by turning your purchase into a future travel credit for the same supplier and same names on the booking.  It is not insurance, but a good thing to buy, especially now.  Where the insurance company would write you a cheque for an unexpected, covered risk, the supplier waiver would at least allow you to preserve the value to a new booking.  There is an expiry date of at least a year on the future travel credit.  Airfares can also be purchased at higher fare levels that allow flexibility for date changes.  If changes in dates are made far enough in advance, a date change could be an administrative fee plus any difference in fare (and no refund for lower-priced dates).  While cancellation penalties might seem unfair, airline seats and hotel rooms are not easy to re-sell, especially closer to the departure date.

Last, we sell “change of mind” insurance, which can only be purchased at the time of booking.  Our new insurance provider, Allianz Global, offers a plan ($) to be purchased at the time of booking that allows you to cancel for any reason and get up to 75% of the non-refundable amount with a cap of $1500 per person if cancelled between 6 days and 48 hrs prior to departure. You can get 75% of your non-refundable penalty back if you cancel more than 7 days before your departure.

Testing and Other Restrictions

We maintain a list of destinations that require testing in advance.  On the tripcentral.ca grid, you can easily see at-a-glance if there is “N” no testing requirement, “A” Antigen or “P” PCR testing.  Hover and you’ll see how far in advance the testing needs to be done.

Antigen tests are between $30 (Rexall) -$40 (Shoppers) and PCR tests are between $80 (Rexall) and $150-190 (Shoppers).  You should book a specific time on the pharmacy websites on the correct day before your departure (24-96 hrs prior depending on the destination).  The Antigen test will take a total of maybe 30 minutes from arriving and getting the written test results.  A PCR test is faster as you will not wait for your test.  You will typically get them the next day or the day after by email.  So, this testing in advance is not really that big a deal other than cost.

Testing is available by private labs such as Switch Health or FH Health (or Google near you) where you can get same-day or fast PCR test results for a higher price.  You may have to drive a bit further and pay a bit more to get one, but it can be done even at the very last minute.  Of course, if you or someone tests positive, you’ll be referred to public health for another PCR test and if positive, required to quarantine at home.  This is another reason why the cancellation waivers are so valuable.

tripcentral.ca will send you an email 7 days prior to your departure.  It will be based on your destination and tell you the steps you need to take and any necessary forms you need to fill out.  Many of these forms cannot be completed until you have your negative test (if applicable to your destination), and knowing these steps any time earlier than 7 days in advance is not only a waste of time – it could be confusing.  For this reason, we advise everyone in your party who has provided an email, 7 days in advance as the situation could change from when you booked.

Most all-inclusive hotels are now offering on-site testing, and this is a convenient and more reliable way to arrange your pre-departure return to Canada test.  Sure, you can shop around for some testing outside, but who knows the accuracy, and there are also costs to get there.  Like paying extra for popcorn, drinks, and snacks at the movies, it’s just a lot easier to use what the hotel offers.  Sometimes the PCR test is not available on-site, but the hotel will have arrangements with a local facility.  The larger, chain hotels are offering PCR testing for Canadians, and the price will range from as low as $30 USD in Cuba to upwards of $200 USD in more expensive English Caribbean islands.  The average is probably in the $70-$100 USD range.

Testing on Arrival in Canada

When you return to Canada, you now will be tested again on arrival at the airport.  Arrival testing fees are covered by the Government. Canadian airports have been doing random testing for all arrivals for some time, and it is known that the labour, space, and organization required to test everyone on arrival will take time to fully implement.  We’ve been advised that not everyone will be tested initially, but an increasing percentage will.  Home kits are being discussed for hand out for connecting passengers.  You will be required to self-isolate at home upon return until you get your negative test.  The last thing the Government wants are scenes of chaos at airports if this is rolled out prematurely or poorly.  Similarly, people being stuck at home in isolation because of a backlog of tests.  We’ve been told that this might take up to 3 days to get results. 

You can also register in advance for your arrivals testing through Switch Health by clicking here if flying into Toronto Pearson, Billy Bishop, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Halifax – this will avoid the general registration queue at the airport and can be done online or on your phone.  When you register in advance, it avoids the time wasted filling out forms.  The registration takes your Health Card number, Passport Number, and ARRIVECAN Receipt Reference Code to tie all your essential data to your airport test.  You can choose to receive your results by text or email.

Unfortunately, the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be with us going forward, and we need to have the systems and capacity to test more rapidly and inexpensively to restore to 2019 levels.  For now, we know that not all our clients will think that a week or two in the sunshine or visiting abroad will be worth the cost and time of testing and self-isolating awaiting a negative test.  We can easily see demand increasing for Saturday-to-Saturday departures (and pricing to match demand) so that at least one of the self-isolation days is not a workday.  Those who can work from home have an advantage in this new environment until such time that all testing is more widely available and quicker.

In summary, we’ll tell you:

  • Advance testing currently needed by destination countries on our vacation grid, product details, booking pages and our invoice.  We also note any information we have from hotels and resorts about onsite testing on our product details page
  • Seven days prior to your trip you’ll get an email from us with instructions on what to do and when to do it reflecting the requirements at the time of travel including uploading test results if required, necessary forms, etc
  • Airport checkin emails and instructions to download the ARRIVECAN app will be sent in advance. 
  • Ask the hotel on arrival about booking your PCR test within 72 hours of return to Canada.

We hope this will be helpful in your decision-making (if you have a desire to travel).  As Canada’s Health Minister concluded … it’s YOUR personal decision to book travel or not, just know that we’ll be here to help you through the process.