Let’s face it, 2020 has been a pretty crappy year for travel. If you’re like me, you likely had to cancel at least one trip. I have more than five trips that were planned for this year, and even some for early next year that I had to cancel.

Cancelling trips sucks. You often look forward to it for so long, only to wave goodbye to a trip you may have spent a year or so planning.

However, now is really the time to start planning future travel.

Full disclaimer, we aren’t psychics here at MileValue. If we were, we would know every devaluation coming up! We can’t predict what next year will look like . Even if you plan travel for 2021 now you may still have to cancel it, but there’s some good reasons why you should start planning future travel now.

There’s Tons of Award Availability

Airlines are struggling for revenue, people aren’t traveling as much, and people aren’t really thinking much about leisure travel.

All of this adds up to one thing: tons of award availability. Whether you’re an economy or premium flyer, you likely won’t struggle too much to find award availability right now.

Of course, there are restrictions to certain countries that limit your available travel, there’s still plenty of availability to countries that are open to U.S. citizens. Award availability is plentiful to these countries.

There is no guarantee that things will be better by the time you’re ready to travel, but if you’re planning for later next year there’s a lot of time for things to improve.

Things Are Looking Brighter

Speaking of things improving – there is reason to have some slight optimism that you may be able to travel more later next year. With recent developments in vaccines, we may see a rebound in the travel industry in the next few months.

Nothing is guaranteed, especially during these times, but there’s good reasons to speculate that we may be afforded more opportunities to travel late next year to early 2022.

There’s enough evidence to start at least planning for future travel. Even if my crystal ball is broken, there’s a big reason why booking and planning now may be more prudent than waiting.

You’ll Lock In Current Cancellation Policies

One of the biggest reasons you should start planning future travel now is that you’ll lock in current cancellation policies.

When you book your ticket you’ll be subject to the cancellation policies in place at the time of booking.

We’ve seen airlines be pretty generous with their cancellation policies since the pandemic started. Many have changed their policies from temporary ones to permanent ones. But remember, just as easily as they made them permanent they can remove them.

Although the odds are decently low, by booking now you’ll be certain to be subject to the cancellation policies available right now. If things don’t improve and airlines are struggling for cash, there’s a mild possibility that they start issuing refunds as vouchers rather than as full refunds.

Now is probably the “safest” time to plan and book future travel. If the airlines later reverse course on their cancellation policies you won’t have to suffer from travel anxiety and worry about the state of your trip if you feel you need to cancel because things don’t improve.

If you do plan future travel right now, be sure to check the cancellation policy with the airline you book with first. Some are wording it as waiving cancellation fees if you cancel before a certain date. This doesn’t afford you as much flexibility as one that allows free cancellations for flights booked during a certain time period.

You should also screenshot the cancellation policy at the time of booking, just for your records in case you do face a later issue.

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You Can Plan for Late 2021 and Early 2022

Let’s be clear, when talking about planning future travel we aren’t necessarily talking about January of next year. We’re talking about travel a bit farther out into late 2021 and early 2022.

Airlines typically release award availability anywhere from 330 to 365 days out, depending on the program you’re booking through. Right now you can book with just about any program for travel through November 2021. As we cross into the new year, you’ll soon be able to start planning travel for early 2022.

Thinking far ahead increases your odds of finding award availability (although it has been easier than ever recently). It also is beneficial to giving time for the pandemic to hopefully start clearing out.

We’ve seen a lot change in the past year, and we will see a lot change over the next year. It is impossible to tell what travel will look like, but there’s plenty of time to see how things evolve and be ready to travel if things do improve.

Beat The Rush

If 2021 is the opposite of 2020, we should see a lot drastically improve. If you’re waiting, I promise you that you’re not the only person waiting before booking.

All that award availability I talked about earlier? There are tons of people just waiting to plan their future travel. Once the pandemic is over, or at least on its way out there will be plenty of people trying to begin booking travel.

I am again peering into my crystal ball, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see award availability start drying up fast once we are out of everything. WIth the optimism from vaccine availability, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that start happening towards the middle of next year.

And what is everyone going to want to do? Travel ASAP. Meaning that everyone will likely be looking to book award travel in fall and winter 2021 through spring 2022.

If you wait until the same time you’ll be searching at the same time as everyone else. Right now is the perfect time to lock in your travel for the same time when, I predict, is the earliest travel will really start picking up.

Avoid The Risk of Devaluations As Travel Picks Back Up

I really really really hope this doesn’t happen. But there’s no telling if airlines will devalue award charts over the next 12 to 18 months. It definitely wouldn’t be the first (cough cough, looking at you United) devaluation to happen during the pandemic.

If a devaluation happens, the trip you were thinking to plan may now be out of reach. By booking now you avoid the risk of a devaluation happening. And if there’s a positive change, such as the recent Aeroplan changes you can always try to cancel and rebook at a better rate.

Right now the only major planned change is that Alaska Airlines is going to lose the ability to book Emirates First Class awards March 31, 2021. Most devaluations aren’t announced, however. They’re typically subtle changes. Especially as many airlines eliminate official award charts.

We’ve seen this already with United quietly adding 3,000+ points to partner award tickets booked within 30 days of departure.

A quiet devaluation isn’t out of the question for any airline, especially as they’re trying to reduce liabilities to help get through the pandemic. Planning your future travel now will lock in current award rates and reduce the risk of you being subject to a future devaluation.

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The Biggest Risk Is Transferring Points

If you do book travel right now, there is one big risk: transferring points. If you move points from a flexible bank currency like Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards, they’re locked into the program you transfer them to. If there is a devaluation and you later need to cancel your travel, your points won’t go as far as before.

Is this an important thing to consider? Absolutely. I always advise to avoid transferring points speculatively. There’s an important difference though. You’re not transferring them because you think you’ll use them later, you’re transferring them to go ahead and book travel.

There’s always been the same risk with that. If you transfer points to book Carribean travel during the summer there’s the risk of hurricanes. For travel out of the northern states, there’s the risk of delays or cancellations in the winter.

The only difference is we are seeing a risk materialize long-term, but the transfer of points in this case is no more speculative than it ever is. When you’ve booked travel in the past you’ve done so on the speculation that inclement weather, wars, or whatever won’t impact your travel.

The only difference is the pandemic is present right now and it is impacting your ability to travel right now. We don’t know what it will look like in nine to 18 months, but that’s really no different from knowing the weather.

Overall, The Risk Is Low To Plan Now

I know what the critics of this are already thinking: this is all pure speculation. You’re not wrong, but speculation can often be grounded with good logic following it. None of these things may come true. We may not see things improve by late 2021 or early 2022. If it does, we may not see a large surge of bookings. There may not be devaluations or changes to cancellation policies.

But what is important to consider is that the risk is low if you book now. With flexible cancellation policies in place for tickets booked now, you can lock in future travel. If you later determine it isn’t a good idea you can cancel with minimal harm.

Sure you may transfer some points out of a bank program to an airline or hotel program and get them locked in there in case you have to travel, but when you think about it that’s really not unique to the pandemic. It is a risk we always face when booking award travel. It just feels more present now than it did when we weren’t in a global pandemic.

Like you, I don’t want to be faced with cancelling yet another trip. What I’ve learned is that the uncertainty can easily paralyze us. These feelings are natural. What is important is to step back, take a breather, and evaluate the situation.

Not everyone will agree with me here, and I completely understand. But if you’re out there wondering “when will I be able to travel again,” I want you to know that I can’t promise that 2021 or 2022 will be good times to travel. What I can tell you is that if you think they will be, now is a better time than ever to start thinking, planning, and booking travel for late 2021 and 2022.

And if you need help booking your future travel, feel free to take advantage of our Award Booking Service to make it easier for you.

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