After a long and at times stressful year, Ilyse Rykus and her husband David are eagerly looking forward to their trip to the Pacific Northwest this August.
The couple are traveling with David’s parents, who take an annual trip to Oregon to visit family in the area — everyone has been vaccinated, offering them all peace of mind. One of David’s uncles died of COVID-19, making the trip even more meaningful.
“We have never joined them, but considering all that has happened this past year we thought being with family was a good move,” Rykus, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., said.
But the vacation also represents an opportunity to cut loose — Rykus is turning 30 this summer, and during the trip she will be visiting places she’s never been to before. “My husband and I don’t get to go on many trips together, so when we do we try to make the best out of it,” she said. “It will be exciting to explore with the people I love.”
Like many other Americans, Rykus and her husband have been able to save up for their travels, and the couple is planning to use credit-card points they had saved for almost two years to pay for their flights. Family in the hospitality business also helped the couple score deals on hotels.
‘It will be exciting to explore with the people I love.’
— Ilyse Rykus
Research indicates that this will be the summer of “revenge travel.” A survey from Charles Schwab
found that traveling was the top item on people’s spending lists, with 40% of people citing it as something they want to dole out cash on. Another 24% of people said they want to go on an extended vacation.
Those findings echo other research showing how eager Americans are to hit the road — or skies. A study released in late April by travel website Skyscanner found that more travelers were booking trips in May and June of this year than in 2019. Another poll from research firm Ipsos
found that half of Americans planning to travel are looking to go on a road trip, while 40% were planning getaways involving flights.
Even in a normal year, it’s not always the cheapest to travel during the warmer months. “Summer is always the most expensive time of year to travel because you’ve got nice weather and you’ve got students, teachers and parents with kids in school who can only travel during these times,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel website Scott’s Cheap Flights.
This isn’t a normal year though. Many people were forced to cancel trips over the past year because of the pandemic, and plenty of them are sitting on travel credits they are itching to use. Airlines and other travel operators are working to ramp up operations in response to the higher demand, but that takes time. And air carriers will be cautious to bring more planes back into service to offer more flights, just in case the pandemic takes another turn for the worse and travel demand subsides again.
‘Summer is always the most expensive time of year to travel.’
— Scott Keyes, founder of travel website Scott’s Cheap Flights
As a result, experts have warned that it could quickly become expensive to travel this summer. The most recent report on consumer prices from the U.S. government showed a record increase in the price of airfare, for instance.
That long-awaited summer vacation doesn’t need to break the bank, though. Here are tips from financial and travel experts on how to save money on your post-pandemic getaways:
Book sooner rather than later
This may seem obvious, but summer is right around the corner. And while last-minute deals can arise, they aren’t guaranteed. The more time you give yourself to research the prices of hotels, airfare and activities, the more likely you are to snatch up the best possible deal.
“If you wait until Memorial Day to book your summer flights, the odds of being able to get something cheap still then aren’t good at all,” Keyes said. He noted that there are still cheap fares available, such as round-trip flights between the U.S. and Athens, Greece, for $560.
But waiting too long can cost you. If you know where and when you want to go, start to monitor the cost of airfare to that destination so that you can recognize a good deal and scoop it up quickly.
Be aware that credit-card points and airline miles could soon lose value
Another reason not to wait: Airline miles and credit-card points could soon lose value. With so many people sitting on unused points and miles from last year, airlines have incentive to reduce how much those are worth, said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at LendingTree
“It’ll likely happen slowly and gradually, but I do think it is likely to happen, so consumers’ best move is to use those points they have sooner rather than later,” Schulz said.
Do your trip planning in reverse
When booking a trip, most people start off by thinking about where they want to go and when, and only begin to consider the price at the end of the decision-making process. Instead, Keyes suggests a reverse approach.
“By setting price as the last priority, it’s not surprising that we end up with some pretty expensive flights,” he said. Instead, he recommends seeing which flights are cheapest out of your local airport, and then figuring out which destination seems the most appealing and then figuring out when you’ll travel.
Websites like Skyscanner
offer ways of exploring the vast range of options in this manner. Of course, for that strategy to work, people will need to be flexible about when they want to travel.
Take advantage of $0 change fees while they’re still here
Don’t be afraid to change your travel plans if a better deal comes along. In the wake of the pandemic, the vast majority of airlines began waiving flight-change fees so people could amend their travel plans because of the pandemic. Those policies still remain in place with many airlines, so if you see a better price come along, look into whether it will be free to switch. Any savings will be returned to you in a voucher for future travel, Keyes said.
Make the most out of flight vouchers
Nadine Marie Burns, CEO and president of advisory firm A New Path Financial, and her husband had three trips cancelled due to the pandemic. Like many people, they received vouchers for their unused flights. With travel opening up again, Burns began to work on putting together some trips herself.
Eventually she called her airline, Delta
and the customer service agent helped her book a first-class trip to Reno, Nevada, for her and her husband using their e-vouchers and points. “Sometimes there is a mastery about putting the puzzle together when we all seem to have so many different pieces such as e-tickets, points, companion fares and more,” Burns said.
Of course, people need to keep the fine print of any remaining flight vouchers in mind. Many of the vouchers come with an expiration date, said Jordan Staab, president of SmarterTravel Media and Airfarewatchdog. In most cases, travelers need to book their trips by that date, but can travel after it.
Flight vouchers from cancelled trips often carry expiration dates.
“A cool trick we have used successfully is to book a flexible ticket with the voucher and you can change at a future date if needed, so you can maintain control past the expiration date,” Staab said.
Use rewards credit cards wisely
Many people were able to save money throughout the pandemic and pay down their credit-card debt, boosting their credit scores along the way. That could make now a prime time to take advantage of a rewards credit-card.
“The credit card space is incredibly competitive at the moment, and that’s good for consumers looking for deals,” Schulz said. “Issuers know that an explosion of pent-up spending is coming, and they’re offering good deals on new cards in hopes of capturing as much of that spend as possible.”
It’s easy to find big sign-up bonuses for new credit cards, but there’s a risk: Credit cards can cause people to spend beyond their means. Given the high interest rates credit cards carry compared to other loans, it wouldn’t be worth it to try to save money with one if you end up accruing a large amount of debt. Shoppers should aim to pay their balance in full every payment cycle to avoid paying high amounts of interest.
Spending more could actually save you money
Spending a little bit more money on a trip can give you peace of mind should plans change. Remember how airlines are letting people change their flights free of charge? In many cases, that policy doesn’t apply to so-called “basic economy” fares, which are the cheapest tickets you can purchase.
“If you’re booking a couple months out and then traveling internationally, it can often be worth the extra $30 or $40 because that gives you flexibility to be able to change your dates,” Keyes said.
In that same vein, travelers may want to consider investing in travel insurance, particularly for international trips, given that border-entry policies are very much subject to change as the pandemic continues.
“Plenty of credit cards offer at least some form of travel insurance, and that can be helpful,” Schulz said. “However, if you want maximum protection, you should consider paying a little extra for it.”