Skip to content

Pre-pandemic to now: 8 ways I'm booking travel differently

June 11, 2021
11 min read
Naviglio neighborhood in Milan, Italy
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

As travel returns in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic remains a concern in much of the world and international travel to many destinations is still tricky. After all, some of the destinations that are open to tourists without quarantine have confusing entry requirements, while others use stoplight systems that could change restrictions overnight. Plus, some destinations are still completely closed to tourists.

My husband and I have rebooked international trips repeatedly during the pandemic as schedule changes and border closures made the trips impossible to take as planned. We've also thrown in the towel on a few trips, opting to cancel and get a refund. But, we've hung on to some trips due to their lucrative elite status earning rates and low cost.

Managing and booking a few new trips has highlighted that we need to change how we book trips amidst the pandemic. So, today I'll discuss eight ways we're booking travel differently now.

Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter.

How we booked travel pre-pandemic

Gate in Lome, Togo (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Before the pandemic, my husband and I lived out of hotels full-time as global digital nomads. We chased airline elite status with multiple airlines, including Executive Platinum status with American Airlines and Diamond status with Asiana. In 2019 alone, we each flew more than 250,000 miles.

We booked most of our trips for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To fly on a lucrative mileage or elite-earning itinerary
  • To try our a new airline product
  • To visit a particular destination
  • To take advantage of an excellent mileage or paid fare, including mistake fares

We frequently lined up trips, putting just a night or two between them. Sometimes we nested trips, meaning we'd start a new round-trip itinerary in the middle of another itinerary. We'd also book itineraries with many segments and non-direct routings to maximize mileage earnings. Other times we'd book overnight layovers in third countries to sleep better or see a new city.

We still have several lucrative mileage-earning trips on the books. We booked some pre-pandemic and others early on. when we still expected global travel would return quickly. But, flying these complex itineraries isn't easy (or, in some cases, feasible) due to ongoing entry restrictions and reduced airline routes and schedules.

Related: 11 ways earning and burning points and miles could change this year

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Trending toward simple one-off trips

Waterfall at Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Before the pandemic, we rarely booked one-off trips. After all, we didn't have a home base and we'd sometimes nest one or more other trips within a trip to snag inexpensive fares. But now, some positioning flights aren't feasible due to border closures and nested trips can be easily wrecked by an airline dropping a route or a single country on the itinerary not allowing entry. So, we're not booking many heavily nested trips right now, instead preferring simpler one-off trips from the U.S.

We'll still book positioning flights within the U.S. to snag less expensive awards or paid fares. But we're avoiding positioning flights across borders, including between the U.S. and Canada. After all, the more flights and countries you add to a trip, the more likely something will go wrong. Plus, by keeping each trip discrete, we can easily cancel or reschedule trips that aren't feasible.

Related: Why I (almost) always book one-way flights

More focus on change and cancellation policies

Speaking of which, we're focusing a lot more on change and cancellation policies for airlines and hotels.

Whenever possible, I've made refundable hotel bookings. For flights, we didn't put much weight on change and cancellation policies. When we needed flexibility, we'd book with Southwest Airlines or book an award with American Airlines. After all, one perk of American Airlines Executive Platinum elite status was free award cancellation, until AAdvantage opened this benefit to all members.

However, now we're paying a lot more attention to change and cancellation policies when we book. Sure, the trips we're booking for early 2022 will likely be changed by the airline before we fly (which will allow us to request a refund if we decide to cancel). But, we're still trying to book with programs that offer changes and cancellations for no fee or minimal fees to maximize our flexibility.

Related: Low fees, stopovers and open jaws: The best airline miles for flexible travelers

Every trip should have a compelling reason

Sunset on a beach in Liberia (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

When it became clear last summer that we wouldn't be able to return to our globe-trotting ways quickly, we bought an RV. Unlike our first two and a half years living as digital nomads, now we have a home base in the form of our RV. As such, we find ourselves being more selective about the trips we book. In particular, we find ourselves focusing on trips that have a compelling reason for us.

Of course, compelling reasons will be different for each person. But for us, we're focusing on trips that allow us to get lucrative elite earnings on American Airlines (and to a lesser extent, on Asiana or Delta) or take us to destinations we want to visit. We're also prioritizing some high-value redemptions we expect may be ripe for devaluation.

Related: Here’s how a last-minute award trip to Italy got me halfway to Delta Silver status

A larger buffer between trips

Since there are always more flights we want to fly and destinations we want to visit than our time allows, we've typically booked trips back-to-back. The origin or destination for many of our trips is often a U.S. hub such as New York City and Los Angeles.

Hotels in these destinations usually aren't inexpensive regardless of whether you're using points or cash. So, we've typically only given ourselves a day or two between tickets, depending on flight frequency and route.

However, now we're scheduling more time between trips whenever possible. This extra time will allow us to get a COVID-19 PCR test if needed for our upcoming travel. Plus, we can handle any schedule or routing changes from the airline more easily between trips.

Related: Battle of the premium travel rewards cards: Which is the best?

Avoiding overnight layovers in transit countries

Boarding an Etihad A380 (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

We typically haven't avoided overnight layovers in transit countries. Instead, we'd sometimes even seek out overnight layovers. After all, I'd rather stay awake during flights and sleep in an airport hotel between flights. In some parts of the world, I can work East Coast hours during an overnight layover -- which is much less frustrating than working on inflight Wi-Fi.

However, transiting a third country now is often much more complex. After all, many countries still have stringent entry requirements that exclude tourists or require quarantine or testing. So, you might end up needing to sleep in the airport. Some countries even look back at the countries you've visited within the last 14 days when determining whether you can enter without quarantine. So, a quick overnight layover could prevent you from entering a subsequent destination.

Related: Everything you need to know about transiting through European airports during the pandemic

More attention to routing

As the previous section discussed, routing matters. After all, some countries even consider places you've transited when determining whether you can enter without quarantine. And in the case of COVID-tested flights to Italy, how you get between your origin and Italy determines whether you can enter without quarantine.

So, we're paying a lot of attention to routing when booking trips now. Of course, it's impossible to say what transit and entry requirements will look like for a particular country next week, much less next month or next year. But, some countries are moving toward reopening -- at least to fully vaccinated tourists -- quicker than others.

Related: How airline route maps may continue to change in 2021 and beyond

Booking liberally when there's free cancellation

I want to return to the Hyatt Andaz Capital Gate on my next trip to Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

We're booking hotels and flights more liberally than ever when we can cancel free of charge. For example, I snagged many Hilton Honors award nights and IHG Rewards award stays earlier this year to lock in inexpensive award pricing while demand was low. And I also booked several Marriott Bonvoy stays with cash instead of points to utilize low paid rates.

We're also booking award flights liberally in programs that allow free cancellation and for which we already have miles. But, I don't typically recommend buying miles or transferring points into a program to make bookings you aren't confident you'll be able to fly. After all, if you cancel your award, you'll be left with miles in a program you don't use much. And, the program may devalue before you're able to use your miles.

As we're booking new flights, I'm snagging refundable hotel reservations to lock in current prices. But, many trips we've booked during the pandemic haven't ended up happening as planned due to schedule changes and entry requirements. So, I'm no longer spending time planning other trip details until I feel confident a trip will happen as planned.

Related: My approach to hotel loyalty and why I’ve mostly ignored Hyatt, Hilton and Wyndham

Avoiding trips that require a rental car

Finally, you've likely read about or experienced the rental car shortage. We rarely rent cars, so this shortage isn't affecting us as much as many travelers. But even so, I didn't book a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine this summer due to expensive rental car prices. And another trip where I assumed we'd get a one-way car rental from Fairbanks, Alaska to Anchorage proved infeasible when multiple searches returned no rental cars.

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 secrets that may help

Bottom line

Our experience rebooking existing travel during the pandemic has been exhausting. And, while researching Italy's entry requirements for my recent COVID-tested flights and writing about Denmark reopening, I've discovered just how difficult it is to understand entry requirements now. For many reasons, we've needed to change how we book travel.

Many travelers are booking last-minute trips now. After all, constantly changing entry and testing requirements make it challenging to plan. But, last-minute trips often don't feature fares that are both inexpensive and good for earning airline elite status. Plus, sometimes, it can be challenging to get away for a last-minute trip. So, we'll continue to book most of our trips well in advance when we can snag low fares. We're just booking these trips differently now.

Featured image by (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023