Planning to travel abroad this winter? Necessary PCR tests will make it pricey
CANMORE, ALTA. -- The once exciting and sometimes spontaneous task of planning a winter getaway has changed drastically over the course of the pandemic.
Despite the easing of international restrictions and rising vaccination rates, those ready to travel abroad are now faced with organizing a myriad of documents and tests in order to board a plane or cross the U.S. land border, adding unconsidered cost to what may already be a pricey trip.
Here are some added – and sometimes hidden – costs to consider before booking your next getaway:
COST OF COVID-19 PCR TESTS
Requirements to provide a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test are the newest – and most costly – travel caveat. And, depending on where you’re travelling to, you and the family members you’re travelling with may be required to shell out for these tests on either end of your journey.
For example, some popular winter destinations, such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba have no pre-arrival test requirement for vaccinated Canadian travellers. These tests will not be required at the U.S. land border either.
Other sunny destinations like Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and the U.S. require that air travellers show proof of a negative COVID-19 antigen or molecular COVID-19 test upon departure.
If you need a rapid test before arriving at your destination, you’re looking at a cost of up to $50 in Canada.
But Canadians still need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home and Canada will only accept a molecular test, such as a PCR test, which can range in price from $150 to $300 when travelling abroad.
These tests not only come with a steep price tag – the requirement means added planning for travellers
“I stress that it’s kind of like pay as you play,” travel insurance broker Martin Firestone told CTVNews.ca by phone Thursday.
“[Snowbirds, for example] can get a test at their condo or at their home by a nurse and have test results within 15 minutes, but that's going to cost a crazy amount like $360 per person. If you go elsewhere, you run the risk that it says 48 hours [for the results], but you're getting ready to get on a plane and you still don't have the result.”
“You can get away with a lesser price, in some cases I'm hearing up to no charge, but no guarantee on when you're going to get the results.”
Firestone says it’s imperative that Canadians take the time to carefully research the requirements for the destination they’d like to travel to in order to get a full picture of the cost they’re facing before booking.
It’s best to consult the country’s government tourism website, or speak to a travel agent if you’re unsure, especially when it comes to requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers.
“What are the requirements of that particular country with respect to coverage for vaccines, mixed vaccine and AstraZeneca, because it is not approved everywhere,” he said.
Entering our second pandemic winter, Firestone says travellers will save on insurance costs this time around thanks to the majority of providers reinstating COVID-19 medical coverage for travellers.
In other words, provided you are fully vaccinated, you shouldn’t have to pay more to ensure you’re covered medically should you contract COVID-19 abroad.
If you’re unvaccinated, you’ll likely still be required to pay for additional coverage known as a rider.
Where you could run into trouble is if you test positive for COVID-19 on your rapid test, barring you from re-entering Canada by air.
“You cannot get on that plane if you've tested positive, needless to say, if that is still the requirement, therefore you have to quarantine or be left in that country for up to 14 days,” he said.
“Who's going to cover those costs? If you were at a resort and you're paying $300 a day for a room, if there is even room for you [to stay] who's going to foot that bill?”
The good news is, you would be allowed to re-enter Canada if you’re travelling by land or water, even with a positive test result, though you would be required to quarantine on arrival in Canada.
You do have the option to purchase trip interruption insurance which is designed to cover a portion of your expenses should you be stuck abroad; however, Firestone notes those plans typically wouldn’t cover the full cost.
“Many policies do have interruption clauses, but at best, $150 a day for maximum of 14 days or something like that will only nibble away at the total cost,” he explained.
RENTAL CAR COSTS AND AIRFARE
Gone are the days of pandemic pricing when it comes to travel, too.
With consumer confidence rising along with jet fuel prices, airlines have warned that prices are increasing at rates the airline industry hasn’t seen in 18 months.
Last month, U.S. carrier United said its jet fuel prices were up about six per cent compared to 2020. The airline, which expects to spend about US$2.39 per gallon in the fourth quarter, says those costs will likely bleed into ticket prices.
Rental cars, which remain scarce in numbers in some locations, have also seen a sharp rise in price.
"Most if not all car rental operators across the world had to reduce their fleets significantly during the pandemic due to extreme reductions in consumer demand," Craig Hirota, vice-president of government relations and member services with the Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators, previously told the Canadian Press of the shortage.
Now that the situation has reversed and demand is up, a global shortage of semiconductors has crippled vehicle production and caused lengthy delays for new cars and trucks, preventing rental companies from replenishing their fleets and driving up costs.
"The impact is being felt everywhere -- at least in hot tourism spots across Canada and the U.S.," Gary Howard, senior vice-president of marketing and communications with CAA Atlantic, told the Canadian Press in July.
With files from The Canadian Press