When the C.D.C. announced that vaccinated Americans were free to travel again, I certainly felt a surge of optimism. But as summer looms, the question on travelers’ minds is quickly becoming “Has the sweet spot for too-good-to-be-true vacation deals passed?” We talked to travel experts and recent travelers to find out.
1. There Are Still Deals, But You May Need to be Flexible
Even post-vaccine, travelers are continuing to flock to national and state parks, beaches and other outdoor escapes, a trend that’s driving prices up, says Melanie Lieberman, senior travel editor at The Points Guy. “Travelers may still be able to find deals by being very flexible about their travel dates, the duration of their trip and also thinking outside the box,” Lieberman explains. An example? Flights to and hotels in cities will likely be a better value than accommodations or flights to leisure-focused destinations like resorts, parklands and beaches. “People are starting to research and recognize spots that have always been budget-friendly, but are also super safe,” says Ashley Les, luxury travel advisor for Global Travel Collection’s Protravel International. “For example, Belize. COVID-19 cases are down to 50 in the country and it’s one of only 15 countries at a level for safety from the State Department. Add to that the fact that luxury properties are between $250 and $450 a night, which is a steal.”
2. Another Option: Europe
With the announcement that the EU could welcome fully vaccinated Americans this summer, bucket-list trips—to places like Italy and France—are being put back on the calendar. “Travelers may still find good deals on certain international routes or accommodations, but that could change quickly when borders re-open,” Lieberman says. Reduced capacity to honor social distancing requirements will also affect availability, which in turn could drive prices up. Still, speculative trips—i.e. booking a flight at a great price in the hopes that the destination fully re-opens by the time of departure—could work in your favor, financially. “Just make sure to protect that purchase by making reservations you can rebook or cancel without penalty,” Lieberman explains.
3. Keep an Eye Out for Value-Added Incentives
Package deals and add-ons may be the key to saving as travel continues to pick up. For example, with cruises, you may not see a steeply reduced fare, but there may be complimentary perks—say, dining incentives or a bonus night—that sweeten the deal, says Lieberman. Capacity restrictions could also turn out to be a benefit. One traveler we spoke with who booked a last minute vaxi-cation to Mexico City opted for standard room at a non-discounted rate. But upon check-in, she scored a free upgrade just by asking for it. “We were upgraded to a deluxe room with a beautiful view, something I probably wouldn’t have splurged on on my own,” she says.
4. Road Trips Still Rule, But Consider Pre-Paying for Car Rentals
We’re all itching to get away for a hard-earned vacation after a year spent at home. But supply isn’t catching up with demand. “The reduced supply across the travel industry—slashed rental car fleets, flight schedule cutbacks, limited capacity at hotels and attractions—means travelers may have a hard time finding availability, depending on the destination,” Lieberman says. Road trips in particular continue to be on the rise and that demand is leading to sky-high rental car prices and a lack of availability. “Some travelers have even resorted to renting U-Hauls or trucks from home improvement companies,” per Lieberman. Pre-paying for a car rental may not guarantee a deal, but it should guarantee availability. “Now might feel like a good time to book a spontaneous trip, but it’s really important for travelers to do their homework before heading out.”
5. Remember That Flexible Booking Is a Deal In Itself
It won’t be long before reduced hotel deposits and no change fees are a thing of the past. But for the time being, those still exist, so booking early and booking now is another critical way to save, says Les. “I am already seeing pricing increase for early 2022, so if you’re looking for that last minute trip, I would recommend planning in advance with a travel advisor so that you can lock everything in now to ensure flexibility and lower fares.”