Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: With 2021 traveling still shaky, I’ve placed some U.S. domestic and international cancelable and/or movable trips on my travel calendar.
Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2021 travel planning.
When will travel get back to normal? That is the key question, and absolutely no one knows the answer. Still, with vaccinations underway—both globally and within the U.S.—the trend points towards the travel industry and tourist destinations being ready by mid/late-2021.
With those dates in mind, I’ve booked both vacation trips and mileage runs.
First, airlines and hotels extended loyalty status through 2021 which means I have another year to enjoy and exploit those status levels. I hold mid-level status on United, American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. For hotels, I hold top-tier status on Marriott and mid-level (thanks to the Amex Platinum) on Hilton. I let these status levels guide me as I started exploring both domestic and international trips for 2021.
Second, with international travel still more iffy than domestic travel, I started with looking at all the upcoming federal holidays and their long weekends starting with 4 July. (Note: I’m still mulling over Memorial Day weekend at the moment too). With a Marriott 7-night certificate set to expire at the end of August, I chose 7-nights in Brooklyn, NY during the 4 July weekend. Living in DC, it’s a very quick flight, and hopefully, by July, restaurants will be open to enjoy all that amazing NY food. We plan to focus on Brooklyn’s Chinatown. These flights will be DCA-JFK on Delta or American. Haven’t decided which airline to use yet.
Moving onto Labor Day, I’ve planned an end-of-summer driving trip through Maine, a state I’ve never been to. I’ve scheduled us to fly into Bangor, explore Bar Harbor, and make our way to Portland. Portland continually tops list of “best food cities,” so it should be an exciting stop. These flights will be via Dulles on United.
Columbus Day weekend takes us out west to Jackson Hole, WY and Park City, UT. Both locations are better known as ski resorts and playgrounds for celebrities, but October is still a shoulder season, so the location is still affordable. We plan to fly into WY and then drive the 4-5 hours to UT and enjoy the mountain drive. At both locations, we plan to enjoy some hiking, mountain air, and some good food. These flights will be on United in/out of DCA, just to make it a little more convenient for us.
Thanksgiving puts us in Napa Valley, CA. As much as we love wine, we’ve yet to make a trek to the heart of the U.S. wine industry. We never spend Thanksgiving with family, so for us, it’s an awesome time to get out and enjoy a long weekend. While I’d usually fly transcontinental on United DCA/IAD-SFO, I unfortunately couldn’t find a decent fare, at least not without extending our trip too much or taking a red-eye back to DC. So, this flight will be DCA-SFO-IAD on Alaska.
All airline tickets are cash tickets. I’ve already booked everything, and with the recent “no change fee” policy from airlines, for me, I feel confident in purchasing the tickets this early out. Plus, my personal philosophy is to not use points and miles for domestic flights. While everyone’s travel situation is different, I only use points and miles for international trips. Further, I very rarely use hotel points for stays. Other than my free credit card nights (via my Marriott credit cards) or the 7-night certificates, all hotel stays tend to be cash stays.
(Note: my Marriott 7-night certificate is part of the Marriott Travel Packages option. Specifically, it’s the Air + Hotel Packages in where you trade in a stash of Bonvoy points for a 7-night certificate and 100,000 airline miles. I use these certificates primarily in Asia where you get the biggest bang for your buck. This exchange is primarily where all my Bonvoy points go, and more often than not, I deposit the airline miles in my Alaska Airlines account. Again, everyone’s travel situation is different, but I think this is the best use of my Marriott points.)
Next, mileage runs: with Alaska joining Oneworld in March and with some excellent bonuses and discounts thanks to Alaska’s NFL playoff discounts, I’ve booked a couple of springs trips to the west coast. Some are just out-and-backs while others include weekend stays to visit some friends. I’ve decided especially with the 50% elite mile bonus through 30 June, it’s a good time to get out and get a higher Alaska status for a higher Oneworld status. Hopefully, if I can make it to Emerald level, I’ll have access some amazing First class lounges when (at some point) I start traveling internationally.
Third, planning for international travel is much trickier: what countries will be open? what airlines will offer pre-COVID level service in premium cabins? what will be the testing/vaccination requirements?
With those questions in mind, I’ve booked two international trips for 2021: one with miles and one cash. For September, I booked a trip to Japan and Singapore using Alaska miles. JFK-HND-SIN, with a 6 day stop-over on JAL. I’m taking advantage of Alaska’s excellent partner redemption (65K miles for business class) to enjoy two of our favorite countries. The return again uses Alaska’s partner redemption, but this time with Cathay Pacific. 70K Alaska miles for SIN-HKG-JFK, with business class to HKG and Cathay’s famed First Class onward to JFK. Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they have amazing lounges at HKG. As many times as I’ve flown them, I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy their First Class or their First Class lounges. Hopefully this trip happens both for the destinations and the flying perks.
Next, Christmas and New Year’s take us back to Asia for the holidays. This ticket is a cash ticket from a deal with Singapore Airlines I found in July 2020. I originally planned this trip for Feb 2021 with the hope COVID restrictions would be over by then. When I bought this ticket, SQ had free, unlimited changes on the ticket. So, after a call to Singapore Airlines, I moved it to Dec 2021/Jan 2022. Not only is SQ an awesome airline with an awesome business class, the free changes means I can keep kicking the can down the road based on COVID restrictions. This ticket is JFK-FRA-SIN-BKK and return. I’ll credit the SQ mileage to Alaska, and the cycle will continue as we work towards 2022 trip planning.
Will any of these trips happen? I’m confident the domestic trips will stay on the calendar, but I’m less confident about the international trips. Not only do more vaccinations need to happen, but countries need to be logistically ready to start accepting tourists. Already, I’ve read reports that Australia won’t be open for tourist until at least 2022 and maybe even longer. It’s not out of the question more countries could tread on the side of caution.
Still, I’m happy to share with you some of my travel planning over the rest of the year. Plus, somewhere in there, work travel will start as well. That could mean some adjustments on my end. But this is why the no change fee and cancelable rates are so important. Flexibility is the key to travel planning!
Good luck as you start planning leisure trips for 2021.
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler