Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
The winter holidays are over, and you’re bracing for the cold months ahead. Sounds like a perfect time to think about ... that big summer vacation getaway?
Yep! Travel and consumer experts say that now is the very best time to start researching and booking your dream trip to an exotic island paradise … or Walt Disney World… or on a cruise ship.
Whatever your destination, you should start your planning your summer travel now to discover great deals, sock away funds and ensure that you’ve made all the required arrangements so you can enjoy a memorable summer break in a locale you’ve always wanted to visit.
This is especially true if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to stop procrastinating and missing out on great opportunities.
“You can never start too soon in researching discounts and deals for your next summer trip,” says Andrew Schrage, co-founder of MoneyCrashers.com, a personal finance site. Some destinations require booking months advance, “so it’s important to stay informed,” he says.
And if you’re worried about planning so far in advance that you may need to cancel, don’t let that stop you. Just read cancellation and change policies carefully before reserving flights, hotels and other tickets. Many companies have created more generous cancellation and postponement policies during the pandemic.
You can also look into trip insurance, which will allow for cancellation or changes for various reasons—just read the policy carefully before purchasing.
Here are nine reasons why you should wipe the frost off your computer screen and start planning your summer vacation right now.
1. Early birds get the deals
When you sign up for emails from travel-deal aggregators such as BookingBuddy or TripAdvisor, you’ll have plenty of time to wait for that just-right bargain to land into your inbox. “Airfare deals and hotel discounts go on all year, and you never know when the next deal will come,” Schrage says. Some resorts and destinations offer early-bird discounts, up to 55% off, he says: “For certain popular places, you have to start sooner than later or you’ll miss out entirely.” Case in point, national park campgrounds book up super early so if you start now you’ll have a better chance at securing your spot.
Also, be sure to check the NEA Travel Program, which offers savings on airfare, hotel reservations, cruises and more. Look out for NEA Travel’s Sunshine Sale held in January, which offers even deeper discounts on travel bookings. And sign up for the free NEA Travel Newsletter to be alerted on fresh travel deals for bargain-hunting members like you.
Another great resource is the NEA Discount Tickets Program that saves you up to 40% off of tickets to theme parks and other popular attractions. Buy tickets for opening day of your favorite amusement park!
2. It’s smart to start saving early
With holiday shopping over and those bills paid off, you can turn your thoughts to the summer months.
Planning for summer break now will help you create a vacation budget and give you lots of time to save up so you can go on vacation without owing a lot of money afterward. “You’ll do less damage to your overall financial picture if you do this,” Schrage says. “You save gradually through the year to stay ahead of the curve. The last thing you want after an amazing summer experience is to get nagged by a credit-card balance that you can’t pay off in time.”
For more budget-friendly tips, find out how to plan a vacation without going into debt.
3. Some destinations let you pay in early installments
Another way to budget an affordable summer vacation is through layaway plans, which some resorts and destinations offer. But you can’t do this if you procrastinate on your travel planning.
“You can put a small deposit to confirm the reservation and pay the remainder over time, interest-free,” says travel planner Christine Hardenberger, aka “The Vacation Architect,” who specializes in Walt Disney World and Universal Studios getaways and cruises. “The earlier you book, the more time you have to pay.”
4. You’ll have a good shot at using frequent flyer miles
U.S. airlines are known to start filling up frequent-flyer seats more than 300 days before a particular first day of travel. “Each flight has a very limited number of seats for frequent flyers,” says travel expert Lisa Shusterman, author of Around the World in Easy Ways. “If you intend to use those miles, the sooner you decide where you’re going, the sooner you can reserve a ticket.”
5. You’ll be able to travel together with loved ones
If you’re heading out with family and/or friends, you’ll have a better chance of being seated with them by securing flight arrangements early. This is especially important if young children are part of your family summer vacation.
“Finding seats that are all together becomes more difficult the closer to departure that you get started,” says Lissa Poirot, editor of FamilyVacationCritic.com.
6. You can save on lodging
Apartment/home rentals are a good alternative to sometimes hefty hotel rates, and they offer home-style conveniences such as kitchens that’ll help you avoid multiple restaurant bills and laundry facilities.
“There are sometimes fewer homes or apartments available than hotels in a destination, and the good ones go fast,” Shusterman says. “Working ahead will give you the best chance of not only getting one, but getting your first choice.”
Camping is a great way to save money, but some of the most popular campgrounds, like those in national parks, book up way in advance. Choose your dates now and you’ll get the best choice at some of the most popular parks in the country.
7. You’ll have time to arrange pet-care services
Keeping a dog at a kennel can cost $50 a day, but a quid-pro-quo quid-pro-quo arrangement is free. Start checking with friends and neighbors now to see if you can work out a pet-sitting swap deal so you can avoid pet-boarding and/or sitting services entirely.
“Offer to pet-sit for someone you trust in return for them doing it for you,” Schrage says.
8. You’ll get the most out of your travel experience
There’s so much to learn about any destination, so it’s best to do in-depth research at a relaxed pace in order to discover everything you need to know before your summer trip.
“You also can find out about cost-saving information this way,” Shusterman says. “This can include free days at museums, city passes that offer discounts and alternative modes of transportation that are cheaper than taxis.”
9. You’ll have something to look forward to
Think of this approach as a survival guide for the remainder of the school year. It’s a way to channel soothing, summery thoughts during the big chill of winter.
“Being in a warm house while reading a travel guide or calling up all of these exotic destination photos online is a great way to spend a cold, dreary day,” Shusterman says. “Besides, anticipation is half the enjoyment. The sooner you plan, the longer you have to look forward to your trip.”