You’ve likely paused all your travel plans for 2020, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump on the best travel deals for 2021 now. It’s good to have something to look forward to.
Booking a future trip now is actually smart, because prices are cheap — and airlines, hotels, and other travel companies are offering extra lenient cancellation and change policies. So even if you need to postpone your trip, it’s likely you will be able to do so without any additional fees. And, if you decide to cancel your trip altogether, there’s a good chance you could be reimbursed via refund with the original booking or travel insurance. More on that below.
Here are some travel deals for 2021 you should book now.
Disclaimer: Prices are accurate at time of publication, but subject to change.
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1. Costco travel has the ultimate theme-park vacation packages.
If you’re a Costco member who has always brushed off the Costco Travel, it might be time to reconsider. The warehouse partners with various companies — Disney is a big one — to provide Costco vacation packages.
If you book the Orlando: Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Package with Universal Orlando Tickets, for example, you will automatically get two free days’ entry to Universal, early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Universal’s Volcano Bay, and free transportation to Universal Orlando’s theme parks and Universal CityWalk. The package — and the promo tickets — are valid and available for booking until the end of 2021.
You have to be a Costco member to use Costco Travel. A basic Gold Star membership costs $60 a year, while the Executive Membership costs $120 a year. The executive membership also gets specific extras on some trips — which could be as much as a $250 spa credit, for example. Plus the 2% back on Costco Travel purchases (up to $1,000 per year) make that extra $60 worth it if you plan to book a big trip with Costco.
Other Costco Travel perks include things like tour credits, hotel credits, and daily stipends in addition to the discounted cost of bundled vacationing.
But will I be refunded if I cancel my trip? According to Costco’s COVID-19 FAQs, “cancellation policies are defined by the airlines, hotels, cruise lines and third-party vendors.” Costco Travel itself will never charge a fee to cancel a booking. I bet you have a good case for getting a full refund if you decide not to go, but I’d ask the airline and hotel booked with the vacation package first.
PRO TIP: Even if a company won’t reimburse you, if you have a travel rewards credit card, you can dispute the charge with them, too. I’ve saved a couple hundred bucks on missed flights like this in the past.
2. Take that Europe 2021 trip — and no, you don’t need a visa.
That’s right: Despite whatever rumors you’ve heard, you don’t need a visa to go to Europe next year. Yes, there are 26 countries in Europe that will require non-citizens to participate in the “European Travel Information and Authorization System” — but it’s a registration system, not a travel visa, and it won’t be implemented until 2022 anyway.
With European travel affected so severely this year due to COVID-19, there are some pretty great deals for early 2021 and beyond. Of course, we have to wait for the EU to let Americans in first. (Knock, knock, Europe.) Here are some examples:
Flight route: Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Malpensa Airport (MXP) in Milan, Italy
Airline: TAP Air Portugal (one layover each way)
Sample dates: Friday, April 9 to Saturday, April 17, 2021
Flight route: Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Paris-Charles De Gaulle (CDG) in Paris, France
Airline: British Airways (one layover each way)
Sample dates: Wednesday, Feb. 3 to Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021
Flight route: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (JFK) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands (AMS)
Airline: Delta (one layover each way)
Sample dates: Friday, March 5 to Friday, March 13
But will I be refunded if I cancel my trip? Most airlines are allowing people to at least rebook their trip (i.e. reuse their spent funds) for trips they wish not to take. Find the cancellation and change policy for your airline.
PRO TIP: Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and let them send the latest travel deals straight to your inbox.
3. If you’re a member, now is the time to book AAA travel.
If you’re one of its 60 million-plus members, you should know that AAA Member Choice Vacations are looking hot right now. AAA travel deals are changing all the time. You can almost always find discounts like 15% off all international tours and 10% off tours booked in the U.S. and Canada with departure dates before March 31, 2021.
AAA tours are exotic — think taking a wildlife tour on a safari in Kenya or learning about Aboriginal culture and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia — and promise AAA Member discounts and benefits. (Such as $200 savings on off-season bookings or an additional $50 coupon that can be applied at booking just for being a member — on top of the discounted price for the vacation bundle.)
Start planning a 2021 trip with Contiki through AAA now, and you’ll save up to 30% — that’s 25% plus 5% if you pay for the whole trip by December 31, 2020. You can cancel, free of charge, up to 30 days before departure. Contiki packages for 2021 include:
Greek Island Hopping: Spend three nights each in Mykonos, Ios, Santorini, and Athens — including some meals, tours, and all accommodations — for $2,565 + 25% off = $1,924
Portugal City and Surf: Spend nine days nourishing your soul with activities like beach-side yoga and surfing lessons in Portugal for $1,619 + 25% off = $1,215
Scotland and Ireland: Explore nine different Irish and Scottish cities for $3,075 + 25% off = $2,307
But will I be refunded if I cancel my trip? That’s the best part: If you purchase an AAA Travel Protection Plan — which you can do for any travel, regardless who you book through (costs vary per trip) — you’re allowed to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours before your trip begins and get a full cash refund. Airfare purchased through AAA Member Choice Vacations included. You can get a quote for how much an AAA Travel Protection Plan will cost for your trip by calling 1-866-222-6033.
4. Arrange your winter blues getaway through Hawaiian Airlines.
Hawaiian Airlines‘ current flight schedule is still very limited, but if you can make your way to Los Angeles anytime in early 2021, direct flights from LAX to Honolulu are at a steady $413. This route has cost as much as $1,100 in the past. Check out Hawaiian Airlines COVID-19 flight schedule to see what other routes are available.
But will I be refunded if I cancel my trip? You can change any Hawaiian Airlines flight booked before June 30, 2020 without any penalty. You can also look into a quote or Hawaiian Airlines travel insurance, which will cover a trip cancellation for any reason, in addition to the usual suspects like reimbursement for trip delay, baggage loss, and medical transport.
5. Book a small-group tour through Gate 1 Travel.
Gate 1 Travel specializes in customizable packages like European river tours, two weeks exploring Mexico’s Mayan & Aztec cultures and history, and small-group treks through the Andes.
On the Gate 1 Travel website, you can search for, well, really anything you want. If there is a certain month in 2021 you know you’d like to travel, select it in the dropdown and then see what packages are available. You can also add a region, specific destination, or tour type — you can choose to do an independent vacation, for example, if group travel isn’t your thing.
For the best Gate 1 Travel deals, sign up for the Gate 1 Travel newsletter.
But will I be refunded if I cancel my trip? Gate 1’s COVID-19 policy promises to hold travel credits for any purchased trip you wish to change for 18 months; you can rebook your trip for anytime through the end of 2022. For total cancellations, Gate 1 will refund 75% of your land/cruise payments, excluding the Trip Protection Plans, which range from $69 to $149.
Other tips for booking 2021 travel:
6. Look for discounts on a Dollar Flight Club membership.
Dollar Flight Club is a membership-based website that promises to save folks 60% to 90% on international and domestic flights. To use Dollar Flight Club, simply enroll in the annual membership, pick your departure airport, and sign up for alerts, and their algorithm will scour the internet for the best deals. According to Dollar Flight Club, their service saves an average of $500 for clients who book a trip.
The membership is only $20 per year, but if you’re not ready to commit, you can also sign up for the Dollar Flight Club newsletter to sneak peek travel deals and tips. And don’t forget to check our website for DFC membership deals — there’s currently a deal for a FREE Dollar Flight Club membership!
Here are a few examples of sweet flight prices found through Dollar Flight Club:
Roundtrip flights from select U.S. cities to Dublin, Ireland for as low as $400
Roundtrip flights from select U.S. cities to Faro, Portugal for as low as $500
Roundtrip flights from select U.S. cities to Milan, Italy for as low as $300
7. Sign up for a travel credit card now so you can use the bonus in three months.
Almost every travel credit card out there will give you some kind of sign-up bonus — in the form of points or miles — in exchange for spending a certain amount within the first three months of opening your account. That means you can use a card to spend money you would already be spending — and then get free travel in exchange.
8. Read the fine print on travel insurance.
If the airline, third-party company, hotel — whatever company you’re booking with — can’t guarantee a full cash refund for a trip cancellation (or at least a fee-free change to your reso), you might consider buying travel insurance.
Many travel insurance policies don’t automatically include or even offer a “cancel at any time” clause. You’re going to want to make sure you get a policy that promises a full refund if you cancel at any time (and that you’re not spending money on protections you already have through the company you booked with, a credit card, or other membership benefit). Otherwise, it’s just not worth it. Look into different travel insurances to get a sense of cost.
9. But do buy travelers’ health insurance for international trips.
Buying travel medical insurance for international trips is always a good idea, perhaps now more than ever. Coverage for a week-long trip could cost as little as $15 but insure you for up to $10,000 in costs. A pretty good trade-off if you ask me — even if just for peace of mind.