Coronavirus outbreak leads to travel deals and fewer crowds — with a dose of risk

As COVID-19 spreads around the world, some travelers are looking to score major deals on airfare and hotel rates.
The Piazza del Duomo, a popular tourist attraction in Milan, is shown in April 2018 on the left. The photo on the right, taken Feb. 29, shows significantly fewer tourists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated Italy as a level 3 warning, which means that all nonessential travel there should be avoided.
The Piazza del Duomo, a popular tourist attraction in Milan, is shown in April 2018 on the left. The photo on the right, taken Feb. 29, shows significantly fewer tourists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated Italy as a level 3 warning, which means that all nonessential travel there should be avoided.

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By Madeline Merinuk

As the outbreak of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — continues to spread around the world, airlines, hotels and travel services are seeing a decrease in customers and slashing their rates accordingly. And what’s more, some travelers are actively looking for these deals and continuing with their travel plans.

Frontier Airlines is currently pricing service in economy class from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Miami for $51 — and Frontier isn’t the only airline pioneering this price drop. You can also get a flight from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Paris for as low as $278 on American Airlines, or fly from JFK to Rome for $310 on United. Alaska Airlines sent an email to customers earlier this week advertising its "biggest fare sale yet" with prices starting as low as $20 one way for travel between March 19 and May 20.

Airlines aren’t the only travel conglomerate taking a hit. Hotels on a national and international basis are majorly discounting their rates to compensate for COVID-19 cancellations. In Italy — which has a level 3 advisory warning for COVID-19 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — hotel prices have plummeted. According to Tripadvisor, you can book a stay in four-star hotels for as little as $50 per night.

Even at popular tourist destinations like Disney World, you can book a room at one of its resorts for as little as $119 a night, according to the company's website. On DIS Boards, an online community focused on all things related to Disney travel, users have been contemplating canceling their trips to Disney parks because of the outbreak. But some are monitoring the situation to score on discounts. “Many more rooms are available for our April vacation (third week in April) than there were last week," wrote user saraheliz.

On Reddit's Travel Hacks forum, user imroadends found a Norwegian Cruise Line deal on Expedia for a 22-night Middle East cruise at $489 per person, which had previously been priced at $3,099. "That is an insane deal," responded another Redditor. "How did you find this?"

Even museums and other tourist attractions in cities like Paris and Milan have been temporarily shut down.

But despite the health risks that COVID-19 presents, some people are willing to roll the dice to get cheap travel deals and see popular tourist sites with fewer crowds.

“A lot of cheap flights right now, and part of me thinks, if im going to get the coronavirus, I might as well get it in a deeply discounted 5 star hotel in Venice," wrote one Twitter user.

“Going to Italy in May....Amalfi Coast....not cancelling!” wrote one Facebook user on a recent TODAY post about cruise waivers and cancellations.

Should you risk traveling during the coronavirus outbreak?

Tracy Stewart, content editor at travel deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, says that traveling during this event is a “personal choice,” and that travelers should be making informed decisions based on recommendations from organizations such as the CDC.

Kristin Locsi Hartnett, a 38-year-old who resides in the U.K. but originally hails from Indiana, told TODAY that her family, whom she describes as "relatively healthy," is carrying on with travel plans to Belgium and Netherlands in April, along with a cruise from France to Spain in September.

"We could catch the virus while going to the grocery store or school," she said. "Honestly, it's traveling and making memories that make it worth it. My children are young, but they're traveling the world and experiencing different cultures."

If you have a trip planned and are continuing with your travel, the CDC recommends taking extra precautions, like washing your hands and avoiding contact with infected people. The federal agency also recommends avoiding nonessential travel to certain nations, including Italy, China, Iran and South Korea.

If you’re going to take the risk, there are other points to keep in mind. Besides practicing good hygiene to prevent contracting COVID-19, be aware that there's also a possibility of facing a quarantine should the disease spread to where you are.

Ask yourself: Can I afford to be away from my home and job for weeks or possibly longer? It's relevant to the more than 3,500 passengers currently stuck onboard the Grand Princess Cruise ship, which is anchored near San Francisco. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed on Friday that 21 of the ship's passengers have tested positive for coronavirus.

The CDC is also asking tourists to reconsider any cruises to or within Asia, saying that passengers are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Another question to ponder: Do you come into regular contact with people who are immunocompromised? If so, you may want to think about the underlying risks you might pose to others.

Trivago, a hotel booking site, told TODAY that although reaction to the outbreak seems extreme now, the company predicts the hysteria will decrease with time. "The more uncertain the times are, the more important it is to focus on our plans and on what we can control," Axel Hefer, CEO of Trivago, told TODAY over email. "But from our perspective, we believe what we are experiencing now is temporary and we feel that it is most important to not panic."