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Daydreaming about future travel has become a regular pastime during the COVID-19 pandemic. With flight and trip changes the norm, many airlines, including heavy hitters like Delta and Southwest, are extending flight cancellation policies into 2022. That means it might be a good time to start planning your 2021 flights and adventures — including spring break.
What’s to gain from booking your 2021 spring break now?
Though there is plenty of uncertainty about travel for the rest of 2020, much of the travel industry is hungry to look to future travel plans. So there are bargains to be found for 2021 — especially for peak travel periods like spring break.
More good deals
Securing your spot on a March flight to Cancun or Palm Springs can make sense if you have the income to spare now. That said, managing travel credits and money across companies can be a bit of a challenge. (For instance, I currently have hundreds of travel credits tied up with Airbnb, Delta and Sixt due to COVID-19). But with companies spurring future bookings by offering more lax change policies, there are plenty of opportunities to find deals.
Waived change fees
Airlines like American and Delta are waiving future change fees on all flights booked and ticketed by June 30, 2020. This means you can book a random flight now based on your future travel assumptions and still be able to adjust your destination or dates in the future for free.
Different airlines have different fine print. For instance, on American Airlines, you must start all travel within one year of the original ticket issue date, for Delta, you must change your flight within one year of purchase, but not necessarily fly within that time frame.
More time to earn points
If you have zeroed in on your ideal spring break destination already, your advance planning means you can further optimize your credit card spending (and points accrual) to fit your travel plans. You have plenty of time before spring break to earn points on everyday purchases like groceries and gasoline. You could also spend the next few months fulfilling any bonus or sign-up offers for credit cards to later put the points toward your next spring break trip. Then, you’ll have a good supply of points to cash in by the time spring 2021 rolls around.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards
Who can you book spring 2021 flights with?
Southwest loyalists (or anyone after a good flight deal) should check the Southwest schedule updates page to see when Southwest will begin accepting bookings for next March. Check out Southwest’s low fare calendar to choose optimal ticket prices once bookings become available.
You can already book spring break 2021 trips on American Airlines; if you book by June 30, 2020, your ticket will be eligible for no change fees (through September, for rebooked travel by the end of 2021). A recent search for a round-trip American flight from Denver to Cancun, Mexico from March 15 to 19 came in at around $379 for a basic economy ticket.
Similar to American Airlines, Delta lets you book a flight through March 2021 that is free from change fees for a single flight modification made within one year of purchase. Delta’s basic ticket on that March 15 Denver-to-Cancun trip came in at around $480.
Flights booked on United before the end of June are eligible for free changes. However, a recent United search for the same Cancun flight found it priced at a whopping $1,133.
Why you might consider holding off
Despite travel deals you may find, we are still in the thick of a global pandemic for a disease with no known cure or vaccine. The confusing nature of the novel coronavirus, from the way it spreads to its symptoms, continues to baffle scientists and laypeople alike.
CDC Director Robert Redfield has suggested that the virus might have a huge resurgence in the fall and winter that may be even more devastating than the current outbreak. If a second wave hits in flu season, hospitals and clinics could be overwhelmed to an extent even worse than we saw this spring, Redfield warned. So it’s worth thinking through your contingency plans and making sure you can get refunds for any travel you’re booking (or purchase appropriate Cancel For Any Reason travel insurance).
The bottom line
With generous booking allowances and travel credits available from major airlines, you could reserve your 2021 spring break trip with very little risk of losing money if you have to rebook. But there’s still some risk, especially if airlines start going bankrupt.
Still, the financial and emotional risks are different for every traveler: Do you want to get your hopes up for another trip that you inevitably need to cancel due to future COVID-19 realities? That’s for you to decide.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card