5 Tips for Saving on Post-COVID Travel Plans

Latin american wearing protective mask in airport

President Joe Biden has pledged to secure enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May. That doesn't mean everyone will be vaccinated by then, but it does mean a future of travel and seeing loved ones is coming more into focus.

When planning summer travel, it will still be important to take into account continuing COVID-19 restrictions; check current national, state and local rules on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website before you book.

If you hope to make a trip this summer, in late 2021 or even 2022, the tips below can help you save money while you book a much-needed adventure away from home.

1. Start Budgeting Now

If you haven't been much of a budgeter in the past, now is the time to experiment. What better reason to commit to saving money than for the post-pandemic trip of a lifetime?

The best-kept secret about making a budget is that it doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to include a massive spreadsheet. You could, for example, save for post-COVID travel using multiple accounts, which just means setting up a separate savings account dedicated to travel and sending extra money there each pay period.

You'll need to look at how much you have left over after covering necessities and debt payments each month and identify a reasonable amount to save for your vacation. That can help you figure out a ballpark amount you can afford to spend on your trip. If you have $100 left over each month, and you plan to travel in 10 months, you can book a trip worth up to $1,000.

Not sure how much you spend each month, and therefore how much you can save? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's budgeting worksheet can help you organize your thoughts. Also, you can ask your employer if there's an option to send a portion of your income directly to a separate account from your usual checking account. That can help you boost travel savings dramatically.

2. Book Early

Right now is a unique time for the travel industry: Vaccines will be widely available this year, but travel hasn't yet rebounded to anywhere near where it was pre-pandemic. That means there are lots of flight and hotel deals available if you book soon for several months in the future. Prices may start to rise the closer we get to a post-lockdown world, but you can benefit by locking something down now.

Here are some examples: As of this writing, the vacation deal website Travelzoo was advertising 55% off flights to Cancun, Mexico, and a $222 round-trip flight from New York to Bogota, Columbia, available through January 2022, both with no change fees.

3. Stay Flexible

Booking now may be the smart money move, but first make sure any trips you plan come with lots of flexibility. While vaccine availability in the U.S. will make travel markedly more possible, coronavirus variants, vaccination uncertainty internationally and shifting travel restrictions may keep 2021 (and even 2022) unpredictable.

When booking travel, you'll save money and heartache if you keep an open mind regarding dates and destinations. Kayak, the travel booking website, allows users to filter their flight results by characteristics including "no change fees" and car rental and hotel results by "free cancellation."

Airbnb now allows guests to search for vacation stays by duration (a weekend, one week or one month, for instance), rather than having to choose specific dates to view lodging options. That can help you find the cheapest option available at your destination. A permanent shift to working remotely, and the flexibility that comes with it, may make it possible for you to travel midweek, which is typically cheaper. You may have to quarantine at your destination, so consider booking a longer stay and working remotely from that location if you're able to so that you can maximize use of your vacation days.

4. Keep an Eye on International Vaccine Policies

According to a January survey by Airbnb, 1 in 5 respondents said they want to travel internationally in 2021. If that includes you, there may be an opportunity to travel more easily to certain countries once you're vaccinated. Iceland, for instance, has announced that travelers who are citizens of the European Union can skip testing and quarantine upon entry when they show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. More countries may follow suit.

Even when vaccinated, it's important to continue to follow mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines until policies dictate otherwise. Countries including Iceland still restrict who can enter based on citizenship. But there are signs that the travel industry is watching international vaccine rollouts closely, and that flights and deals could follow.

American Airlines, for instance, added new routes to Tel Aviv this year in part due to Israel's successful vaccination program and the possibility that travel there could open sooner than other destinations, an American Airlines representative told The Washington Post.

5. Use Credit Card Points, Miles and Cash Back

Travel rewards credit cards added lots of new ways to redeem rewards in 2020, since cardholders didn't have the option to use points and miles for travel. That means you might have been tempted to redeem points via other methods in the past year. However, you can get a great deal on travel by using those points to book flights and hotels now for trips once travel is possible again.

For instance, your points are worth 50% more when you use your Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card to book travel with Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Booking now and combining this increased points value with heavy travel discounts may end up saving you big.

But as you look toward traveling again at last, shore up those points and consider how best to use them. Imagine your ideal vacation, and consider how your accumulated points can contribute to it. If you plan to stay in an Airbnb, book your flight using points; or, if flights will be particularly cheap to your destination, transfer your points to a hotel partner instead.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card's flexible points transfers could come in handy now that future travel plans are uncertain. You can transfer the points you earn by making purchases with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to 10-plus flight and hotel loyalty rewards programs. That means your rewards won't lock you into a specific airline or hotel chain that might not work for what you have planned.

Or you may decide that it's too complex to consider how best to use travel rewards, or you don't have one of these cards and don't plan to get one. In that case, a cash back credit card may be worthwhile as a post-COVID travel savings strategy. You can get cash back on groceries, streaming services and other pandemic-specific purchases, then transfer that money to your travel-specific bank account if your credit card issuer allows it.

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