2021 travelYour next vacation is coming. You may not be traveling tomorrow, next week or next month, but sooner or later, we're all going to wake up, and say, "Wait, a minute. I've been vaccinated for COVID-19. My neighbors have been vaccinated. My cousin's second cousin has been vaccinated. It's safe to fly. It's safe to stay in a hotel room. I'm even looking forward to standing in a long line to get a rental car."

In other words, it may not be a good time to take a vacation now, but it's time to start planning one. Perhaps not a winter getaway or spring fling, but possibly one for late summer or fall. 

So with that in mind, you may be in the market for a new credit card, and one that specializes in travel. And, boy, if that's what you're thinking, do we have some ideas for you. There are many fantastic credit card offers that can help people start dreaming and planning for brighter days ahead, because those days are coming.

Where to travel in 2021?

Sahara Rose De Vore, a travel coach and travel consultant, thinks the travel industry is going to come back roaring again once the pandemic has eased up, citing a 2020 study by the travel websiteSolo Traveler, in which 46% of 2,915 respondents said they would travel more often post-pandemic and 25% said they'll take longer trips.

If you're looking for ideas on where you might travel, De Vore has several predictions on what trends are likely coming.

Holistic trips. Feeling like this pandemic has driven you half crazy? De Vore says that she thinks that "destinations with healing purposes such as hot springs, thermals, natural landscapes, and rich in culture will be popular choices. Some examples of those destinations may include locations like Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Turkey, Iceland, and Peru."

Vacations where you can relax six feet apart. Despite many of us craving human contact, De Vore suspects that at first, travelers will likely chose places that are more remote, "where they can have the feeling of exclusivity" rather than being in a big metropolis such as Sydney, Tokyo, or New York.

Slow travel. De Vore also thinks that "slow travel" is going to pick up. That's the concept of spending more time being immersed in a destination.

"Some places of choice for slow travel may be India, Argentina, Indonesia, or a combination of close-by countries," she says.

Of course, you have to pay for these trips, and that's where credit cards that specialize in travel and the cash back, miles and points that you can rack up can really help offset the costs of getting from here to there.

So with that in mind…

Credit card welcome offers and ongoing travel rewards

Some travel credit cards have such generous welcome bonuses that those alone could go a long way towards helping to pay for a trip. Also, keep in mind that if you steadily use your rewards credit card until your travel dates, you will accumulate even more miles, points or cash back to be used for a trip. And since you'll also get a lot of points when you actually pay for your trips, you'll start accumulating points, miles and cash back that could be used for another future vacation down the road.

Some of the cards you may want to pay special attention to include…

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Welcome offer: Earn a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $95

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: Earn unlimited two-times the miles on every purchase and redeem those miles for almost any travel purchase without blackout dates or restrictions.

Travel perks to keep in mind: No foreign transaction fees means this is a great card to travel internationally with. Plus, cardholders are eligible for a reimbursement of their Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, a perk worth up to $100. This way, you can sail through security – and avoid large crowds of people – something we’re all likely going to be programed to do for some time to come.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, a bonus worth up to $1,250 in travel.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $95

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: Cardholders earn two points on travel but also dining at restaurants (including takeout and delivery). You'll receive one point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. Also important to note: points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. So basically live your life, use your card, and you could have quite a few points later that you can use on a trip.

Travel perks to keep in mind: Lots of perks, including no foreign transaction fees and trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance. Hopefully you won't need to cancel your trip, but you never know.

Discover it® Miles

Welcome offer: It's a very cool, generous welcome offer, though it takes a while to get it. Cardholders earn 1.5 miles for every dollar spent, and then Discover matches all the miles you've earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder. So say you earn 35,000 miles in your first year, you’ll actually walk away with 70,000 miles at the end of the year.

Annual fee to pay attention to: Happily, none. There is no annual fee.

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: Because you’re essentially earning three miles for every dollar you spend during your first year as a cardholder, there’s potential to build up a huge welcome offer bonus to use towards future travel.  Not receiving the welcome bonus until the end of your first year as a cardholder could be a downfall for some people, but if you're in the "I don't think I will go anywhere big in 2021" camp, you may not mind waiting another year before you have a treasure trove of rewards. And redeeming those miles is easy. You just make your travel purchase (i.e., buy airfare or pay for hotel rooms) and request your redemption in the form of a statement credit.

Travel perks to keep in mind: You can travel abroad without worrying about incurring foreign transaction fees. As you might be aware, when you have a credit card with a foreign transaction fee, you're going to pay more for your trip when you travel internationally– often around 3% more than with a credit card that lacks that fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Welcome offer: You'll get 60,000 points (that's worth $900 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®) after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening an account.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $550. No, sorry; that is not a misprint. But at least there are some excellent rewards and perks that come with the credit card which should easily offset the hefty annual fee.

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You'll get 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit; 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services and takeout; and 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Then every year, on the anniversary of opening your account, you'll receive a reimbursement of up to $300 in a statement credit - to cover travel expenses such as airfare and hotel rooms. After that, for every travel expense you pay with your credit card, you'll get 3X points. Plus, your points receive 50% more value when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Travel perks to keep in mind: No foreign transaction fees;  airport lounge access at more than 1,000 lounges worldwide; travel insurance and car rental insurance; and a statement credit of up to $100 to cover TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership.

American Express® Gold Card

American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $250; See Rates and Fees

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You'll get 4X the points on restaurant purchases (carryout, curbside and delivery included) and 4X the points on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $25,000 spent each year, then 1X); 3X the points per dollar on flights booked with airlines or via AmexTravel.com; and 1X point per dollar on everything else. Plus, earn up to $120 in dining credits at select restaurants.

Travel perks to keep in mind. Perks abound, including no foreign transaction fee and a $100 hotel credit to spend on qualifying hotels. Terms apply; See Rates and Fees

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $95

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You'll earn two points earned on every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases, two points per $1 on grocery store purchases through 12/31/21, and unlimited 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases. There's no limit to the points you can earn, and your points don't expire. So spend away, and the points are going to add up nicely when you later redeem them back for a big future trip down the road. And if you have an eligible Bank of America or Merrill account, your points could be worth as much as 25% to 75% more.

Travel perks to keep in mind: Among other things like the no travel insurance, there is no foreign transaction fee, and you'll receive up to $100 in an airline incidentals statement credit annually as well as up to $100 in statement credit for your TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry application fee. Airline travelers can also look forward to an airline incidental statement credit of up to $100 a year to cover expenses such as lounge access, in-flight services, seat upgrades and baggage fees. This credit is automatically applied to your statement after a qualifying purchase has been made.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Welcome offer:  Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $695 (but waived for active military personnel, and otherwise easily offset with the card’s numerous perks); See Rates and Fees

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You'll earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. during your first six months of card membership (up to $25,000 in combined spending).

If you earned $25,000-worth of points at 10x per $1 spent, you'd be looking at 250,000 points, which could really help offset the cost of your next vacation.

You'll also receive 5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year); 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com; and 1X point per dollar on all other purchases.

Travel perks to keep in mind: Complimentary access to the Global Lounge Collection in hundreds of airport lounges worldwide, where you can wait for the next available flight in comfort. You'll also receive a credit of $100 or $85 for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®, respectively, application fee; no foreign transaction fees; baggage insurance; up to a $200 airline fee credit annually to cover baggage fees and more at one qualifying, pre-selected airline — the list of perks just goes on and on. See Rates and Fees

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months; additionally, earn three points per $1 spent on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery service, for the first year. Also worth noting that the welcome offer continues: the Premier card earns 6,000 bonus points annually after your card member anniversary, which can be redeemed for flights or any of the other available redemption options.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $99

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: Earn two points per dollar spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases, and one point on everything else. Those points can be particularly useful if you're working towards earning a Companion Pass, where you can get a free airline ticket for a companion each trip you take while you hold companion pass status (minus paying taxes and fees).

Travel perks to keep in mind: No foreign transaction fee, thankfully, and a lot of those valuable extras every cardholder likes, such as auto rental collision coverage, roadside dispatch coverage, lost luggage insurance for you and your immediate family, baggage delay insurance, and travel accident insurance.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Welcome offer: For a limited time earn 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 in statement credits on eligible purchases made on the card at any of the Hilton family of hotels in the first 12 months of card membership. (Offers expire 8/25/2021.) 

Annual fee to pay attention to: $0; See Rates and Fees

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You can earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. You'll collect 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card. And once you do start traveling? You'll earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.

Travel perks to keep in mind: Quite a few, including baggage insurance plans, roadside and global assistance hotlines, car rental loss and damage insurance and travel accident insurance.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Welcome offer: Earn three free nights (up to 50,000 points each) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn 10X total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores within your first six months from account opening.

Annual fee to pay attention to: $95

How you can leverage the rewards for a future trip: You'll earn 2X points on all purchases, but once you do start traveling, you'll get up to 17X points for every dollar spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.

Travel perks to keep in mind: No foreign transaction fee, and many extras such as trip interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and Visa Signature® Concierge Service.

Trip cancellation insurance

Of course, you might be thinking, "Yes, I want to take a vacation very badly, but what if my trip is cancelled due to catching the virus? Or for some other reason?"

Well, for starters, we're suggesting you plan a vacation for a time when the pandemic has greatly eased up, and it's safe to travel and when you aren't likely to catch anything more than some rays from lying out at a beach. But even so, you might feel better knowing that many of the best credit cards have trip cancellation insurance.

That is, if your trip is scrubbed, and you've paid for airfare, train tickets, hotels or tours, and the money isn't refundable, you may be able to get some of it back through your credit card.

That said, a few things to remember: Many credit cards' trip cancellation insurance may reimburse you for a cancelled vacation if you or a family member (taking the trip) has gotten sick with COVID-19 (or any other illness), but it won't reimburse you if you suddenly think, "Gee, COVID-19 is still in the news. I don't think it's safe to go on a vacation. I think I'll pull out." In that case, anything non-refundable will remain non-refundable.

Also worth noting: There are other reasons a trip might be canceled. Yes, the pandemic has overtaken our lives, but you could also come down with a serious bout of athlete's foot, a hurricane could take out the resort you were planning on going to, you could get jury duty or your home could be burglarized.

Trip cancellation insurance may not be a guarantee you'll protect your trip if you can't go on it, but it's a pretty safe bet. That said, you generally need to be able to prove why you aren't going (if you have COVID-19, chances are, you can get a doctor's note; if your home is burglarized the night before you're about to leave, you'll have a police report to send your credit card company). If you're just not feeling up to traveling and want your non-refundable back, that isn't insurable. Like with anything, it's important to always pay attention to the fine print as covered reasons can be specific and limited.

So how much might you get refunded if you pay for your trip with a credit card offering trip cancellation insurance? We've got a rundown of some of the best credit cards' trip cancellation insurance reimbursement packages:

Credit Card

Coverage Details

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Reimbursement for up to $5,000 worth of travel expenses if you're forced to cancel or cut short a trip

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Reimbursement up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Reimbursement up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Reimbursement up to $5,000 per person and $10,000 per trip

IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card

Reimbursement up to $5,000 per person and $10,000 per trip

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Reimbursement up to $5,000 per person per trip

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Reimbursement up to $10,000 per covered trip

World of Hyatt Credit Card

Reimbursement up to $5,000 per trip

To learn more, be sure to check out our Guide to Credit Card Travel Insurance.

Changing and canceling award tickets

If you've ever had to change or cancel an award ticket (that is, a ticket you buy with airline miles or redeem for points), especially within 24 hours of takeoff, you may have been socked with a change or cancellation fee, which can sometimes be $100 or more.

You'll be happy to know that some airlines have been waiving those fees during this age of coronavirus, like American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta.

You may find that it's easier to book a vacation with rewards because it's easy to change things later if need be. For instance, Chase offers 24-hour COVID-19 travel assistance and recommends customers contact them before booking flights. But as a general rule, if you're going to make changes or cancel a trip, to avoid fees, do it sooner rather than later.

Planning a trip with credit cards

Sarah Rose De Vore, the aforementioned travel coach and travel consultant, says that she uses credit cards with travel rewards all the time.

"There are great deals out there right now for credit cards offering a generous amount of miles for applying and meeting their criteria," she says.

So if you are in the market for a travel rewards credit card, she has a few suggestions that you might want to consider.

Think before you apply. "To get the most out of your travel rewards, you must decide what's most important to you," De Vore says. "Do you value comfort in first class over fancy hotel rooms or do you want to stick to a specific budget and get free flights? You can use credit card rewards for a wide range of amenities and travel perks but use them on what matters to your overall experience most."

Hang onto the rewards you get. It can be tempting to redeem cash back as soon as it's available, but if you want to leverage your miles, points or cash back into a major vacation, it's probably best to resist.

"I'd highly recommend accumulating your rewards and using them for more expensive long-haul flights," De Vore says. "There are so many general flight and travel deals out there now and post pandemic by airlines and companies that sticking to a specific budget shouldn't be very difficult. Instead, make the most out of your trip by using your rewards towards flights that are worth it. Maybe that looks like going from the U.S to Fiji or the Maldives or from Europe to Bali. Flights tend to take the biggest chunk of your budget so apply your rewards where you can to free up cost that can be allocated to more meaningful experiences such as tours, activities, day-trips, excursions, and more."

Think of your credit card as a puzzle piece. That is, if your household already has credit cards - maybe you have one or two, and your spouse does as well - can you get a great travel credit card that complements some of the others that you already have?

"See where you can combine points. Maybe you have several credit cards spread across different loyalty programs," De Vore says.

In other words, if your spouse has a Chase credit card, you may want to get one yourself - then you could later combine your points into a household member's Ultimate Rewards® account and later have a treasure trove of points to go toward a big vacation.

Whatever you decide, the main thing - if you're looking for a travel rewards credit card - is that you give what you want to apply for some thought. Don't just rush and apply for the first card that looks good. There may be a better one out there. And be sure to read the credit card's terms and conditions carefully, too, of course.

In any case, all the ways you can use travel rewards credit cards to plan an affordable vacation is definitely worth thinking about because De Vore is probably right that there's a pent-up demand for taking a far-flung adventure somewhere around the globe – or at least to another part of the country.

Because after all the mask wearing is eventually done and we can hang out with family, friends and strangers less than six feet apart, aren't we all going to need a vacation? 

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (See Rates and Fees); The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Card (See Rates and Fees)

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