Of course this isn't the time to travel, but with prices so low, how can I decide if now the time to buy tickets for future trips?

I was looking into traveling to Europe or Japan from the United States. While there is a lot of uncertainty right now, it seems like a good time to buy for later travel.

In my case I was thinking about tickets for late in the year (not before October). I have also heard that COVID-19 could also "completely cancel" 2020. I would love to hear some other thoughts on this.

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    Reopened as I believe it's not objectively answerable for every person, but you can provide the information as below to help them make the decision, and I've edited the question to be less subjective. – Mark Mayo Mar 19 '20 at 22:12
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    I guess I didn't word it very well but this question was more about risk and risk tolerance when buying tickets than any specific travel plans. – sntrenter Mar 19 '20 at 22:16
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    I'm not sure anyone here has a crystal ball. It's nearly impossible to know if the current pandemic will be over and dealt with in 2 months, 3, 6, a year, 2 years... – jcaron Mar 19 '20 at 22:43
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    I expect the price reduction to roughly match the uncertainty, so on average, you should feel about the same way about buying cheap tickets now, as you would feel about buying expensive tickets when there isn't a pandemic and a stock market crash. – user253751 Mar 20 '20 at 12:34
  • "I was looking at traveling to Europe or Japan from the United States" London - New York seems to still be its normal price for the rest of the year (based on Google Flights). So I guess you're looking at more niche routes? – kiradotee Mar 20 '20 at 12:41

As an airline employee, working with higher management currently, I can safely tell you it's a gamble.

The aviation business is like a poor handyman in some poor country, whatever money he makes that day is barely enough for food. If the day goes by without work, no meal that day. This is true even for the best of the airlines. Most of the best five-star world-class airlines out there are living off government support! The rich uncle.

Therefore, unless the airline is supported by the rich uncle, do not buy the ticket. The aviation business will eat dirt in 2020 if the COVID situation stays around for a few months, and it's expected that most of the small/medium airlines will bankrupt or get merged with the bigger ones unless they get some serious government support or take serious measures to cut down cost, the support that most governments are using now to fight the COVID-19. Or, some magic pill comes along in the very near future and COVID-19 becomes past in its infancy.

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    @user3819867 Everyone is in trouble, but I don't know if that's the same as Nean Der Thais handyman allegory, which imho means permanent trouble. Of course Lufthansa is one of the bigger ones. – gerrit Mar 20 '20 at 8:52
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    @gerrit Lufthansa according to their 2019 report had €8 billion short term liabilities paired to €3 billion current assets (€1 billion cash) at the start of the year. This means that unless they have additional money coming in they go bankrupt in a matter of months. Currently they claim to have €4.3 billion liquidity. – user3819867 Mar 20 '20 at 10:50
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    I read something about 3 months of reserves. This would be plenty in a normal situation but it is just about 3 months if almost your whole fleet is grounded and the handful of still existing flights are not even near profitability. In this case it is all your fixed cost plus the loss of the flights that are still kept up – Manziel Mar 20 '20 at 13:07
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    @StianYttervik I am pretty sure Eric did not mean it that way. He is specifically talking about air pollution caused by aviation. – Nean Der Thal Mar 20 '20 at 17:22
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    @StianYttervik: My comment got deleted, I still stand by what I wrote. And I really think that climate change (along with our oil dependency) is by far the biggest problem we've ever faced, and is much more devastating than Covid-19. I'm obviously not saying that Covid-19 is the solution to climate change, I'm just saying that some policies against Covid also seem to work well against climate change. Many of those policies have been deemed not doable for decades, but are suddenly on the table. Have a nice week-end too. – Eric Duminil Mar 20 '20 at 21:51

Yes and no. Multiple factors to consider:

  1. Flights are cheap on some routes. Cool, what a deal!
  2. Like stocks, cheap could be indicative the airline is in trouble
  3. If the airline fails ,you may lose your money
  4. Borders could still be closed
  5. You may or may not get travel insurance
  6. You may or may not be at greater risk to Covid-19 exposure.
  7. If it flares up, you may not be able to get back if borders close.
  8. If you are a carrier at that time, you might actually end up spreading it
  9. Any accommodation you book might be closed / go under.
  10. Any activities you might want to do might be off access / closed / not operating.

Saying that, disclaimer, I run a flight deals website in Australia and am still promoting deals when I find them, because some people still 'need' to travel (to get back to their countries, to see sick families, etc, not just leisure), and others are wanting to take advantage of the cheap flights like you're suggesting.

So can't answer for any and every case, but while there are deals to be had, you have to decide if perhaps the risks outweigh the benefits.

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    great answer! definitely hadn't considered that flair ups are possible or how some airlines might go under. – sntrenter Mar 19 '20 at 22:10
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    Additional risk: when the date of travel rolls round, your personal circumstances might have changed (job, family etc) such that you no longer want to make / can afford to make the trip. – Traveller Mar 19 '20 at 23:29
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    @sntrenter People have been talking about COVID-19 being like the Spanish Flu in the way it will propagate. Well the Spanish Flu wasn't a single event. It actually hit in 3 distinct waves over 1918/1919. See this image for example. So it's quite possible that we could see similar waves of infection with our current situation. – Peter M Mar 20 '20 at 0:44
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    @PeterM A major reason for the 2nd and 2rd waves, was that the flu was able to continue flourishing and spread during the sommer months due to the mass transport of malnourished wounded soldiers. So how this flu reacts to the sommer months will be important. – Mark Johnson Mar 20 '20 at 12:27
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    @PeterM Flues, in general, do have a tendency to either die out or become dorment during hot weather. From what I have read this is what the experts will be following carefully to see how this particular virus reacts so that they can estimate what to expect in the winter. – Mark Johnson Mar 20 '20 at 14:20

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