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This article is more than 3 month old.

Explained: When COVID-19 derails travel plans, vacationers resort to 'trip stacking'

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Wanderlust at any cost? The trend of trip stacking involves booking multiple trips to different locations so that travellers have the option to pick what they want closer to the vacation date, based on the ever-changing travel restrictions. But this can drive up costs for everyone, warns a travel company.

Explained: When COVID-19 derails travel plans, vacationers resort to 'trip stacking'
The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everyone’s vacations plans over the last year or so and people are increasingly looking for travel plans that are flexible and cover cancellations and alterations. Travel agencies and booking companies reported that people are now opting for two or even three different vacations over the same time period, in case of unexpected cancellations or delays due to COVID-19.
What is trip stacking?
The trend of ‘trip stacking’ involves booking multiple trips to different locations so that travellers have the option to pick what they want closer to the vacation date, based on the ever-changing travel restrictions, reported TravelTalk.
Joshua Bush, CEO of the Pennsylvania-based travel company Avenue Two Travel, while speaking to Travel Weekly, said flexible booking policies are driving this trend and with the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, travellers forever fear fresh lockdowns and changes in travel policy.
"It's a combination of looking at various types of travels, such as a cruise, a European vacation and maybe a sun-and-sand destination. As things get closer to departure, if, say, the cruise gets cancelled or shifted, I have that Hawaiian backup trip ," explained Bush. "We hold that space knowing that terms are flexible, and we're not ultimately cancelling any trip, just changing the dates associated with them."
He added that around 10-12 percent of Avenue Two’s clients are opting for trip stacking, and these bookings account for the bulk of the company’s revenue.
"These are the people that were planning trips and trying to travel last year," said Bush. "This is a strategy for somebody whose overwhelming value is around travel, and we know that they're going to follow through on not just one but two or all three of those trips."  
It comes at a cost
But trip stacking is not easy on the wallet as flexible fares and bookings often cost more and could also cause problems for the hotels and airlines if too many customers cancelled their bookings at the last minute.
Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, told CNBC that trip stacking can drive up prices for everyone wishing to travel.
"Unlike making three or four dinner reservations and then deciding hours before where you want to go based on appetite or convenience, trip stacking will cause prices on airlines and hotels to go up for everyone," said Hentschel, adding that hotels and airlines yield their prices up as occupancy levels increase.
This can also lead to hotels charging non-refundable booking fees which need to be paid upfront or they can choose to completely change their cancellation policies, warned Hentschel.
Fairly new trend
Misty Belles, Managing Director at the luxury travel network Virtuoso, told CNBC that this is a fairly new trend which began sometime between May and June, after people started getting vaccinated in large numbers in the US and Europe started reopening to tourists.
It became even more popular when the Delta variant started spreading havoc and countries were forced to issue new travel bans and restrictions, said Bush.
According to a survey conducted by the financial website FinanceBuzz, more than 50 percent of Americans had cancelled or changed travel plans by early August.
Bush also said that travellers are opting for destinations which can be easy to get to like Mexico and the Caribbean islands.
Why is it popular?
Belles gave an example to CNBC of a traveller who booked two trips, one to Portugal and the other to Florida as a backup plan using their company. Since Portugal opened in time, the traveller simply rescheduled the Florida trip to December.
“By and large, cancellation policies have stayed really flexible, allowing the traveller to have that choice,” said Belles.
The COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way people travel and with pandemic fatigue from last year, travellers might be more motivated than ever to book multiple trips for the same time period. The trend of trip stacking might only become more prevalent on the basis of new emerging strains of the virus, consequent travel bans and flexible booking policies that allow refunds and rescheduling options.
But CEO Tim Hentschel cautions that travellers who choose to trip stack should do the "socially responsible thing" of cancelling all bookings as early as possible.
"Travelers who 'trip stack' or arbitrage their travel options should remember the common courtesy of cancelling all reservations and bookings as early as possible," he said.
 
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