Just because you’re not traveling right now doesn’t mean you should give up on travel. Just the opposite.
The coronavirus outbreak has us all pining for easier days. It’s tough on us travelers, sure, but much worse for those sick or with loved ones in the hospital amid a global economy that is coming to a screeching halt.
So while it’s necessary to curb the spread of coronavirus, being cooped up at home and wondering when it may be safe to travel again isn’t easy. But you can – and should – put your downtime to use. Start planning, learn something new, and get primed and ready to travel better and further than before.
Here are five things you can do to keep travel alive in the meantime.
Book A Flight for the Future
You’re not traveling right now. We get it: neither are we. In fact, we’ve asked all our readers to stay home – for now.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t book travel, period. There are two important factors to keep in mind:
- Airlines typically sell tickets at least 11 months in advance
- Major U.S. airlines are offering free change and cancellation to any ticket booked in March – for any future travel date.
Those two principles give you great freedom to book now for travel later – even much later. Scope out a great deal for a flight in the summer, fall, or next winter with the comfort that you can change or cancel that flight if this hasn’t cleared up by the time you’re supposed to depart.
If you’re feeling stir-crazy, fire up Google Flights Explore, where you can type in what dates you want to travel (or even a rough timeframe) and find a cheap place to go. If you just want a getaway and don’t care where you go so long as the price is right, this is the best tool.
Otherwise, just keep tracking the domestic flight deals we post here daily – we’re only posting deals for travel in June and onwards. And watch your inbox for the international flight deals we send to Thrifty Traveler Premium.
Start planning your perfect bucket list trip now, then pull it off when this clears up.
Up Your Travel-Hacking Game
Put your time to good use by studying up to become a smarter traveler.
Whether you want to learn about how to book cheap flights, finally master using points and miles, or pick up other money-saving strategies, there’s a dizzying array of resources, blogs, and forums, and e-books out there. It’s tough to know where to start.
We’ve got you covered. We’ve put together Thrifty Traveler University, an online course with 15+ videos that cover everything you need to know to travel more for less. And because we know you need something to do during your time at home, we’ve slashed the price by 50%. You can sign up for a year of unlimited access for just $49.
With this course, you’ll learn every tip and trick we use to travel for pennies on the dollar.
- How to book the cheapest flight possible, every time
- Debunk the travel myths holding you back
- How to book free (or nearly free) flights and hotels with points and miles
- Master how to use airline partnerships and alliances to save even more miles
- …and much, much more!
You’ll also get exclusive access to our TTU member group on Facebook, and get personalized travel rewards consulting to take your travels to the next level. It’s time to learn now for travel later.
Put Your Canceled Flights to Use
Did you change or cancel a flight due to coronavirus? If so, you may have a travel voucher burning a hole in your pocket.
The ins and outs of how these vouchers work will depend on which airline you booked with and when you booked it. But you should have at least a year from your original purchase to use up the value from one of these vouchers or credits for a different trip.
Keep in mind: You don’t need to put that voucher toward the exact same flight. Just because you canceled a flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to San Francisco (SFO) doesn’t mean you have to head back for San Francisco when the time is right. The world is your oyster.
Have a United voucher in hand? Be sure to use every last cent – if you don’t use the entire amount on your next booking, United will pocket the difference.
Devise a Points-Earning Strategy
The time may not be ripe for travel, but this lull is a chance to stockpile points and miles. Or at least draw up a strategy.
This is ultimately a personal situation. The right points-earning strategy for one person will be wildly wrong for another. And given the dark cloud surrounding the economy right now, it may not be the right time to open credit cards to earn points and miles.
But even if you’re not ready, that doesn’t mean you can’t devise a gameplan for when the time is right. And a winning strategy starts around the flexible points you earn from banks like Chase and American Express. Let’s look at Chase first.
We always tell readers to start with Chase cards above all others for two reasons. For starters, cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred give you a perfect introduction to using points. You can use them to book travel directly with Chase, where every point is worth at least 1.25 cents toward travel. But you can get even more value by transferring those points to airline and hotel partners like United, British Airways, Iberia, and Hyatt. That flexibility makes these points more valuable than your typical airline miles.
What’s more, Chase also has some heavy restrictions around getting approved for cards. It’s called the 5/24 rule, and it means that once you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any bank, not just Chase) in the previous 24-month period, you will not be approved for a Chase card.
Click Here to get more information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
When you’re ready to take the next step, think about how you can complement that first card. For example, Chase has other cards like the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited. They’re cashback cards, but if you’ve got a Sapphire card in your wallet, you can convert that cashback into Chase Ultimate Rewards points to accelerate your points-earning ability. Got a small business? Check out the Chase Ink Business Preferred.
Leaning Amex’s way? There’s a suite of three major Amex cards that earn equally valuable Membership Rewards points: the Amex Green card, the Amex Gold card, and the Platinum Card from American Express.
Read our guide putting all three of these Amex cards head-to-head-to-head.
Just which one of these cards is best will depend upon your budget and spending. But you can always branch out down the line to double (or even triple) down on your points earning.
And again, think about how you can complement what’s already in your wallet – and your stash of points. For example, you can transfer Amex points to more than 20 airline and hotel partners, from Delta and JetBlue to Japan’s ANA and Virgin Atlantic and more.
Let’s say you’re a loyal Delta flyer, always looking for more SkyMiles to book dirt-cheap SkyMiles flash sales. You could pair the Amex Gold card, for example, with one of a co-branded Delta SkyMiles card from American Express. These Delta cards are out with bonus offers as high as 100,000 SkyMiles through the end of the month. So you could earn a stash of SkyMiles, then use points from a different Amex card as a backstop in case you need more down the line.
Click Here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card.
These are just a few scenarios in the hundreds of ways you could start laying out a points-earning strategy. Only you can decide what makes the most sense for your personal financial situation and future travel plans. Need some help? We give all Thrifty Traveler Premium and Thrifty Traveler University members free one-to-one consulting!
Just remember: It doesn’t make sense to only focus on an airline’s co-branded credit card. Sure, it’s simple and straightforward, and feels good to know you’re constantly padding your balance of Delta SkyMiles or American AAdvantage miles with every swipe or online purchase.
But the points you earn from Chase, Amex, and other banks are much more valuable – and versatile. Spending bonuses like 5x on flights, 4x on dining and groceries, and others help rack up miles even faster.
And with all the uncertainty surrounding airlines today, you’re much better off prioritizing those more flexible points from Chase or Amex rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.
Read our guide to getting started with points and miles.
Prepare for More Flight Deals
At some point, this will pass. Slowly but surely, airlines will return to business as usual – or something close to it. And travelers will start making their way back on planes.
But that’s not going to happen overnight. Many wary travelers will likely stay home longer than necessary. And just as with the onset of coronavirus, we expect to see airlines cut fares to convince flyers to return to the skies.
As coronavirus began to hit, we saw some once-unthinkably cheap flight deals. A flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to the Hawaiian islands for $300 round-trip? On Delta, no less? It was a sign of the times – and the trouble airlines were having selling seats.
The deals may not be quite that steep. Airlines have drastically cut how much they’re flying, and that won’t reverse overnight, either. So while demand to fly will be low to start, so will the supply of those flights.
But still, the flight deals will come. We know that in large part because we’re still finding amazingly cheap flight deals as far out as February 2021 – both domestic and international.
If you want the best of those international flight deals delivered straight to your inbox (plus Hawaii and Alaska), sign up for Thrifty Traveler Premium!
Somewhere, sometime in the future, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be farther away than any of us would like.
But travelers shouldn’t let this idle time pass them by.