What Is Trip Stacking? Everything to Know Before Trying This Travel Trend
Even before the pandemic, booking just one vacation could be a headache on its own. Now, planning a getaway involves taking an even longer checklist of items into consideration, including the numbers of COVID-19 cases in different states and countries, varying travel restrictions, and the potential for cancellations on anything you may book. So, it might come as a surprise to learn that many people aren't booking just one vacation right now, but instead multiple trips at once—with the same travel dates.
This recent trend is called "trip stacking" and it's a product of the current, ever-changing travel climate. Keep reading to find out more about this method of vacation planning, its risks and benefits, and what travel experts are saying about it.
What is trip stacking?
According to Martin Jones, CEO of the travel booking site ParkSleepFly.com, trip stacking is a method aimed to try to counteract COVID-19-related travel disruptions. Though many travel restrictions have been lifted and travel has surged back up in recent months, trips and events are still being canceled or postponed across the world. Through trip-stacking, travelers are "booking multiple trips for the same vacation slot, one which is arguably a riskier [more likely to get canceled] trip, such as a cruise, alongside a backup getaway, such as staycation," Jones says. So trip stacking is essentially like creating a vacation plan B—only the plan B is fully booked and just as ready to go as plan A.
"In my over 20 years of experience, we have never done trip stacking to this level," says Virtuoso travel advisor Tania Swasbrook. "We used to give our clients more than one option but never completely planned them out or booked them." Still, Swasbrook says, Virtuoso isn't facilitating trip stacking for everyone—only its "top tier clients." Since travel agencies need to maintain relationships with suppliers (hotels, airlines, car rental companies, etc.), creating a bunch of bookings only to cancel them last-minute can put them in bad standing if they aren't doing so thoughtfully.
"On our end, we are very transparent with our suppliers and with trip stacking even more so," Swasbrook says. "We tell them exactly what we are doing and that there is a chance this may not go ahead. Every single one of our suppliers has been grateful for the transparency and understanding as to why this is happening."
What are the benefits of trip stacking?
The benefits of trip stacking are pretty simple: It increases the likelihood that you'll still be able to take a vacation when you want to. Even if plan A—that luxurious cruise or trip abroad—falls through, there's a better chance that you can still take your plan B trip without rushing to book something new last minute. This means you won't have to spend your out-of-office days just pacing around your home and feeling bummed. And after over a year of experiencing cancellation-related disappointments and an overall inability to make plans, that's an exciting promise (though still, nothing is guaranteed in pandemic times).
Plus, even if one or all of your trip plans get canceled, it's not a complete wash. As Swasbrook explains, these vacation ideas can be stored for future planning, preventing you from having to start from square one the next time you want to plan a getaway.
However, booking multiple trips at once requires a higher level of financial stability than just planning one vacation—so it's important to consider the financial risks of participating in this trend.
What are the financial risks of trip stacking?
When trip stacking, Jones explains that travelers will not only need to have the financial ability to fund more than one trip at a time, but also need to be prepared for the possibility of increased delays in getting refunds on the trip they don't take. "With many jumping on the [trip stacking] bandwagon, the travel industry will be inundated with refund requests which consequently could impact the timing of refunds," Jones says. For reference, some smaller cruise lines are already taking up to 90 days to get refunds back to consumers due to canceled cruises—so trip stacking could add to an already backed-up system.
Jones also cautions that if trip stacking becomes common enough, it could lead to policy changes and cost increases that would impact all travelers. "As more people take advantage of airline and hotel flexibility, an increase in costs could be witnessed across the travel industry, whereby hotels and airlines yield their prices up as occupancy levels increase," he says. "Similarly, in order to combat consumers canceling holidays that they never intended on taking, some airlines and hotels may look at changing a non-refundable booking fee upfront, or even eliminating their free cancellation policies altogether."
On the other hand, Jones explains that travel agents can actually benefit from trip stacking, because in many cases, the more trips a travel agent books, the greater the commission they make. So, while working with a travel agent can help with sorting through the trip stacking logistics, it's important for consumers to consider on their own whether it's the right choice for them financially.
How can you do trip stacking safely?
If you do decide to take the trip stacking route, make sure to take extra steps to ensure you get your money back on the trips you don't take. For starters, Jones always recommends taking out travel insurance for any trip—but especially when doubling up—which can protect you not only from cancellations, but also lost possessions, medical emergencies, and more.
When booking more than one trip at a time, Jones adds that it's best to choose options that have free cancellation policies and no upfront payments. "Make sure to check the terms and conditions," he cautions. Then, when trying to claim money back from a trip you don't take, "it is best to go directly to the company you booked your holiday through, and they will be able to guide you through your options," he says.
On top of this, Swasbrook also adds how important it is when trip stacking to "be very organized and keep meticulous track of everything," so that you're prepared no matter the outcome.
While trip stacking is likely a temporary trend born entirely out of the unique conditions of the pandemic, it could continue well into next year as the future of travel remains unpredictable. So, if you have a strong itch to travel and the funds for extra expenses, double booking your next vacation may be worth considering.