How to Plan a Trip
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
Have you avoided traveling during the pandemic? Travelers who’ve stuck close to home for the past two years are now looking to resume their wandering ways — maybe you are too.
But where to begin? Perhaps you haven’t planned a trip in a while and need a refresher. Or maybe you just got a new passport and don’t know where to start. We’re here to offer some helpful advice on how to plan your next trip, from choosing dates and accommodations to earning rewards points toward your next big vacation.
Be flexible with your destination and travel dates
Many want to travel to a specific place, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Japan in March, Greece in August, and Turks and Caicos in December all sound lovely, but be aware that high-demand destinations come with a high price tag, especially if you have specific travel dates in mind.
We’re not saying to throw a dart at a map to choose your next vacation, but we do recommend being open to a variety of destinations. Let a fare deal guide your travels.
» Learn more: How to shop for flights
For example, summer is a popular time to visit Europe. However, the autumn and winter months are when you’ll find some of the best flight deals to the continent. It’s also when accommodations are more affordable. So, take the opportunity to explore the world by following the price instead of the destination.
Additionally, be flexible with travel dates. Yes, a nine-day trip can help you include weekends and use less paid time off, but often flights cost more when your dates are nonnegotiable. We recommend being open to flying midweek to take advantage of the lowest fares.
If you want to redeem frequent flyer miles for an award flight, follow a similar strategy but book as soon as you find dates with low-level redemption rates. They can disappear quickly if others are shopping for flights using miles too.
» Learn more: Plan your next redemption with our airline points tool
Research what to do at your destination
If you’re visiting for the first time and are unfamiliar with your destination, it might be difficult to decide what to do once you get there. Cappadocia, a region in Turkey, is famous for hot air balloon rides. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is known for some of the best scuba diving. Finland offers reindeer safaris.
Unless someone you know has been to these places and shared details about their trip, you wouldn’t know this information without first doing some research.
So, if you’ve already booked your flights and know how long you’ll be at your destination, it’s time to learn more about the place. For example, if you have two weeks and are flying to Istanbul, search online for “two-week Turkey itinerary” and read through several travel blogs for ideas.
You’ll likely find out about the relaxing hammams in Istanbul, the magical hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia, the ruins in the ancient city of Ephesus and the beautiful beach towns of Bodrum Peninsula. Put together an itinerary based on your interests and decide how many nights you want to spend in each city.
» Learn more: How to find cheap things to do in any city
Unless you’re going on a short trip to one city, book your hotels after you create an itinerary. For a multi-city trip, decide how many nights you want to stay in each place and book your accommodations accordingly.
If you have hotel loyalty points, look up which hotel chains are present in each location and determine whether a redemption offers good value or if it’s better to pay cash instead.
» Learn more: The most valuable hotel rewards programs this year
If you’d rather stay in a boutique hotel or a guesthouse, look up your options on a site such as Booking.com. The website is a travel agency for lodging, where you can find anything from hostels to five-star hotels. If you sign up for its loyalty program and reserve many stays through the site, you can get discounts on hotel bookings, complimentary breakfast and upgrades at participating properties.
Learn how to get around in your destination
If you’re going on a road trip across the United States, this doesn’t apply to you as your choice of transportation has already been decided.
However, if you’re headed abroad and have multiple cities on the agenda, learn how to best travel around the country. For example, train travel is well-established in Germany, and you shouldn’t have problems traveling between Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich. However, visiting the Greek islands requires either flying or taking a ferry.
Rome2rio is a helpful website for planning transport in any geographical location. Enter two cities and find out the best ways to travel between them, including by bus, train and rideshare.
Open a travel rewards card
Signing up for a travel rewards card before a trip is a great idea. You can pay for everything with one card and meet the minimum-spending requirement faster than you would at home.
We recommend applying for a card that earns bonus rewards on travel and dining. For example, the American Express® Green Card earns 3 points per dollar spent on travel, transit and at restaurants. Use it to pay for lodging, public transport and dining out and earn triple points on most of the spending you do while traveling. Terms apply.
The Citi Premier® Card earns 3 points per dollar on air travel and hotels, at restaurants and in supermarkets, so again, many relevant bonus categories are covered. If you book a hotel totaling at least $500 through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal and use the Citi Premier® Card to pay for it, you’ll receive a $100 credit back, once per calendar year.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is another great card to use on a trip and earn bonus points. With this card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar on dining and 2 points per dollar on travel. You can also get an annual $50 credit when booking a hotel through the Ultimate Rewards® travel portal.
» Learn more: The best travel card welcome bonuses right now
Set up lounge access
Many premium travel cards offer airport lounge access. After you book your flights, find out which airports have lounges and how many guests you can bring. Plan your lounge visits based on your layovers.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card come with Priority Pass Select membership that includes restaurant credits (though the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card will lose its restaurant benefit Jan. 1, 2023). You have to enroll in the benefit prior to traveling to get your membership activated before your trip.
If you hold The Platinum Card® from American Express, you have many lounge options. Cardmembers receive access to the following lounges:
Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta Air Lines).
Lufthansa Business Lounge (when flying any class with Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa or Swiss International Air Lines).
Lufthansa Senator Lounge (when flying business class with Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa or Swiss International Air Lines).
Priority Pass (no restaurant credit). Enrollment required.
The Centurion Lounge.
Buy travel insurance
Although many travel credit cards come with built-in travel protection benefits, such as trip delay, baggage loss and auto rental collision damage waiver, you'll get more protection and higher coverage limits if you buy a separate travel insurance plan.
To compare rates, you can use a travel insurance aggregator, such as Squaremouth (a NerdWallet partner), that helps travelers find plans from multiple insurance providers. Enter your trip parameters and some personal details to find the right coverage for you.
When you’re ready to plan a trip
Planning a trip can be intimidating, but putting all the puzzle pieces together to create a beautiful travel picture feels great. Be open to nontraditional destinations and offseason travel dates to get the best deals. Become familiar with your credit card’s perks, or get another card for travel spending while on vacation. Finally, buy a travel insurance policy and have fun.
All information about the American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The American Express® Green Card is no longer available through NerdWallet. To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card