6 ways to stretch your vacation dollars after coronavirus reopening

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This summer is looking much different than years past.

Between the coronavirus pandemic threat at large and the tens of millions facing unemployment, many Americans are reevaluating their summer plans and budgets. While not everyone is eager to get out of the house, one-third of Americans are ready to take a summer vacation according to a recent survey conducted by The Points Guy, a Bankrate sister site. However, 47 percent of those surveyed said they planned to take it slow by starting with in-state road trips.

After months of hunkering down and with states beginning to reopen, travelers are starting to think about summer escapes  — but more budget friendly and health conscious.

If you’re one of those people ready to get away, here are six tips for stretching your post-shutdown vacation dollars.

1. Leverage your points and miles

“In these uncertain economic times, it’s more important than ever to conserve cash for the unknown,” says Brian Kelly, travel expert and founder of The Points Guy. “For travelers, there’s never been a better time to use frequent flyer miles since airlines have reduced/eliminated fees to change or cancel awards. So you save money and get increased flexibility if your plans change.”

Points and miles are one of the easiest ways to cut down on travel costs. If you had been saving them for a big redemption prior to the pandemic, you may want to reconsider as both tend to lose value over time. So not only will you save cash now, but you will likely get more value out of your points as well.

Even if you’re not planning to redeem your points stash for a summer stay, you may want to look further ahead and make some flexible future bookings. In this case, you might even get lucky with an awesome first-class redemption while the demand is still low.

2. Strategize spending to maximize your budget

With the U.S. unemployment rate being the highest it’s been since the Great Depression and the economy officially in a recession, many Americans are tightening their wallets and looking for ways to earn extra cash.

One way to do this is by taking inventory of your wallet. What credit cards do you have? Do you have a premium travel rewards card that offers an annual travel credit? Can you earn cash back or travel rewards by using them? If so, credit cards can help you avoid leaving money on the table. However, that is assuming that you are planning to pay off the balance in full and on time. If you are not able to commit to that, then you should steer clear of running up your charges during this difficult time.

If you are fortunate enough to be financially stable, you should consider putting away some of that disposable income in a high-yield savings account. Even if it’s only for a few months, you’ll end up with more money than you had before, giving you some extra cash to fall back on during hard times.

3. Take advantage of low rental car rates and gas prices

Over the past few months, gas prices have dropped significantly. This was largely due to the global pause on travel and lack of demand. Now that states have begun to reopen and summer is upon us, travel is starting to pick back up with road trips being a popular choice thanks to the lower level of risk and more affordable fuel costs.

Just recently, AAA reported that gas prices have started to rise above the $2 mark again although prices remain cheaper than last summer, according to Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for AAA.

Ultimately, prices are the lowest they’ve been since 2004, making this a good opportunity to finally take that great American road trip you’ve been talking about.

In addition to low gas prices, many markets are offering ultra-low rental car rates. Experts are predicting, however, that these low rates will increase as the summer progresses. However, if you are able to snag a good deal then this could be a great option to avoid the wear and tear on your personal car.

4. Check for discounts

Before you book anything, be sure to check if you’re eligible for a discount. After all, who wouldn’t want to pay less? There’s a variety of discounts you could qualify for that could save you anywhere from a couple bucks to free admission.

Here are some of the most popular discounts:

  • AAA member discount
  • AARP member discount
  • A service member or veteran discount
  • Student discounts
  • Resident discounts
  • Frontline worker discounts are also becoming popular with many travel companies offering paid vacations for healthcare workers

There are also some great online services that offer discounts and deals including Groupon, UNiDays, Honey and Rakuten.

5. Eat in and pack snacks

The cost of eating out while on vacation can really add up, especially when you have a larger family. Instead of eating out for every meal, stock up on snacks before hitting the road and make a grocery run once you arrive at your destination.

To put that into perspective, say you’re a family of four and you go on a seven-day vacation and eat out daily for lunch and dinner at roughly $15 a person per meal… At the end of the trip, you would have spent $840 on dining out alone.

If you were to go grocery shopping for that week-long vacation instead, only dining out a few times then you would likely spend half as much. For instance, the U.S Department of Agriculture suggests that a family of four with a moderate budget spends between $212 and $254 — that’s a quarter of the money you would have spent if you ate out twice a day.

Not only is this an easy way to cut back on costs, but meal prepping and cooking can also be a fun family activity.

6. Consider a nearby destination

Vacation doesn’t mean you have to jet off to some faraway destination. Survey your surroundings and you may find that there are some cool destinations nearby that you may have overlooked before.

Maybe it’s a state or national park or even a small town you’ve always thought of exploring, but never got around to it. By visiting somewhere nearby, you can cut back on a number of costs from transportation to accommodations.

Bottom line

A summer vacation may not be in the cards for many Americans and that’s okay. Instead, consider using this time to strategize your long-term saving plans and goals.

Ultimately, the decision to travel during this uneasy time is a very personal one. Many things have changed, so there’s a lot more to consider when taking a trip such as assessing your personal risk tolerance and lots of preplanning as many destinations and businesses are requiring reservations and advanced bookings.

Featured image by JGI/Jamie Grill of Getty Images.

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