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Leisure travel might not return to normal anytime soon, and with some countries talking about keeping their borders closed to foreign travel for an extended period of time, what is someone with the travel bug to do?
Staying at home now, we have the time and tools to plan future trips well in advance, making the most out of these strange times. Planning ahead can help you snag the deals and favorable booking terms, plus you can strategize your points earning to ensure your post-COVID-19 travels will be worth waiting for.
Take advantage of flexible bookings and cheaper fares
Most airlines have made their change and cancellation policies more flexible. Plus, prices are lower than normal. And because people are still shying away from booking their next-year travel, availability is mostly wide open for early birds to catch the worm by booking flexible trips now.
If current travel restrictions are extended, you will most likely be able to rebook or cancel your flights. Of course, always consult the fare rules on your tickets before you purchase them and know what waivers the airlines have in place. Chances are there may not be any severe penalties for changes or refunds.
» Learn more: Coronavirus flight change and cancellation policies
Waste not, want not
To make sure you’re not leaving money on the table, take advantage of every single point or mile earning avenue out there.
Since the prospect of heading out on vacation does not seem feasible anytime soon, it’s more important than ever to explore all the ways you can beef up your account balances.
Now that you’re spending more time (and money) in your kitchen working on that sourdough starter, consider using your credit card with a grocery store bonus — or getting a card that rewards grocery shopping if you don’t currently have one.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best credit cards for groceries
Utilize the 'longer runway'
One of the many benefits of staying home (other than keeping yourself, your family and your community healthy, of course) is that we have a longer runway for collecting points — meaning you can afford an even more amazing trip when travel is safe again. The same applies to the cash you normally stash for future trips.
This is a great time to refocus your strategy and Marie Kondo those points and miles that spark no joy. If you’re dreaming of a first-class ticket to the Maldives, you might ask yourself why you keep hoarding those Frontier Airlines miles. If you want to enjoy the solitude of a national park from a tent, why keep charging all your expenses on your Hilton credit card?
If you’re not sure which destination will be on your list, consider using a credit card that earns points that can be converted into airline miles or hotel points later.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards
Bank some flexible currency
Just as it doesn’t make sense to switch all of your U.S. dollars to Hungarian forints when you’re heading to Australia, it might not make sense to bank all of your points and miles in the same airline and hotel program. If you’re flexible and open to ideas, you might want to stash all your points in a flexible currency program. This lets you pool your points in one consolidated, generic piggy bank of sorts while at the same time enjoying the flexibility of transferring them to specific programs once you’re ready to travel.
Flexible currency programs include:
As an example, you can earn points in Chase Ultimate Rewards® and then convert them to British Airways and Hyatt points to redeem for travel.
The bottom line
Now is a good time to plan your travel strategy for months ahead when you’re ready to hit the road or the skies. Look for cash deals, maximize every points-earning opportunity and keep planning for the day when you can reap the rewards.
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 2021, 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