Best Travel Deals for Summer 2021: 7 Ways to Save

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  • New CDC recommendations advise that it is safe for vaccinated individuals to resume travel.
  • After a year of canceled vacations, the new guidelines suggest travel is poised to make a comeback.
  • Experts told us where people are going this summer and how you can beat the rush and save money.

To date, 1 in 6 Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. And now that the CDC issued new guidelines recommending travel for vaccinated individuals, travel is expected to return in a big way this summer.

After all, warm summer weather and vacation from school will merge with a year of canceled vacations, likely resulting in pent-up travel demand in a way we’ve never seen before. Expect to see fully-booked hotels and what one car rental expert called, “the rental car apocalypse.”

In anticipation, Insider reached out to travel experts across the industry to find out this summer’s biggest travel trends, plus how to find the best travel deals.

For more on safe vacations during COVID-19, read our guide to expert-backed vacation ideas during the pandemic.

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“Now is a great time to book domestic travel. It’s almost certainly going to be cheaper on average than it will be a year from now,” said Scott Keyes, the founder and chief flight expert of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

In the past few weeks, Scott’s Cheap Flights, a membership-based website for flight alerts, found fares to Hawaii as low as $267 round-trip from Oakland, California, in addition to round-trip Delta flights to Alaska from Atlanta, Orlando, and Indianapolis for only $239. These flights would easily cost double or triple that price before the pandemic.

Adit Damodaran, an economist at the travel booking app Hopper, agreed. “We’re seeing demand start to cluster in late May and early June and expecting prices to start rising by 15 percent,” Damadaran said, citing a Hopper report that predicts summer rates will average out to $296 for a round-trip domestic ticket.

However, Keyes doesn’t believe airfare deals will disappear. “I’m expecting fares to go up this summer, but that’s because fares always go up over the summer,” he said.

According to PROS, a company that uses AI to analyze search booking data for over 20 large airlines, now is indeed a great time to fly on the cheap. Surain Adyanthaya, the company’s senior vice president told us, “Some fares are rising to destinations like Florida and Hawaii, but we don’t believe they will rise completely to pre-pandemic levels.”

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“Everybody wants to go to Hawaii, Alaska, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico because they’re iconic,” Keyes said. “You would think that increase in demand would increase the price, but because the airlines know everyone wants to go there, airlines are throwing their capacity on those leisure routes, which is why we’re seeing more good deals popping up right now.”

Adyanthaya added, “Since international travel is still somewhat suppressed, a lot of carriers are moving bigger planes to domestic destinations. Prices will be driven by consumer booking behavior and we’re entering that period when people start booking their summer vacations.”

If you’re interested in flying this summer to any of these hot-ticket destinations, or elsewhere in the US, follow Keyes’ advice: when a good airfare deal strikes, it’s like lightning and gone almost as soon as you see it. And if you do fly, here’s what you should know about safety.

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Turo

If you’ve tried to book a rental car lately, you may have noticed that prices have gone way up and cars are harder to find.

According to Jonathan Weinberg, the founder of Autoslash, a car rental site that tracks car rental prices, this is because the pandemic forced many rental car companies to unload their inventory when demand dropped by 90 percent.

Now that more people are getting vaccinated and traveling, car rental companies don’t have enough cars. Customers are also taking longer trips and working remotely from the road, which ties up the cars for a longer period.

“Airports in Florida completely sold out. Initially, it seemed like an anomaly, but the same thing was spreading to other areas,” Weinberg said. “Hawaii was another and it’s even harder to get cars there. Same for San Juan, Puerto Rico. People were canceling vacations because they can’t get a car.”

Weinberg also said that prices have doubled and tripled in popular areas, citing that daily rates for certain weeks in May in Miami rose to as high as $263, or $190 in Honolulu.

In remote areas, they might even be nonexistent. Weinberg told Insider that Glacier Park Airport in Montana is already sold out for the entire summer, which serves as a warning to anyone considering renting a car in a remote destination, book as soon as you can, at least a month in advance, especially if you see the daily rates have started to rise.

In rare cases, prices increased tenfold with rental rates reaching heights of over $500 per day because of high demand in places such as Orlando and Maui.

We tested this out too and found that a three-day rental in Maui over the weekend of May 14 to 17 returned daily rates of around $240 per day, plus taxes and fees, as of publishing.

The good news though, is experts say renting a car during the pandemic is safe.

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Magic Castle Hotel

Many travelers chose to stay home in 2020, or if they did venture out, preferred to book private vacation rentals on Airbnb to avoid interactions with others. Now that hotels feel safer, and have vigorous new cleaning policies, it’s likely they too will see a surge in interest.

“With big-city destinations, we’ve seen prices remain stable going into one to two weeks before your reservation,” Domaradan said. “For a more leisure-oriented destination, we recommend booking about a month or two in advance to get the cheapest prices. But as long as you’re booking at least three weeks in advance, you’ll avoid the biggest price spikes.”

Hopper also tracks hotel prices and Domaradan confirmed that search volume has risen above normal levels for the upcoming Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays, but that rates in vacation destinations are still down 20 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Southwest and Southeast hotels prices are rising the fastest

However, prices are increasing the quickest in destinations such as Florida beaches, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Las Vegas, southwest Utah, and destinations near the Smoky Mountains like Gatlinville and Pigeon Forge.

If you do take advantage of one of the aforementioned flight deals to Hawaii, hotels “are about 10 to 20 percent up from where they were in March, but not increasing quite as rapidly as those other destinations,” Domaradan said.

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If you’re overwhelmed by the prospect of planning a summer vacation in what’s likely to be a crowded and busy season, a prearranged small group tour is a nice way to eliminate stress.

Major tour operators like Intrepid Travel have debuted new itineraries along with vaccination and testing requirements that apply to all trips. Travelers and tour leaders must show proof of vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before day one of the trip.

According to Matt Berna, Intrepid’s Managing Director of North America, their website saw a huge increase in traffic and bookings after the CDC announcement sanctioning vaccinated travelers for domestic travel. “We’ve seen our bookings increase over 50 percent from March to February.” Tour departures are in demand and certain itineraries like the four-day Zion Ranch Stay itinerary, which “instantly sold out.”

A prearranged small-group tour also guarantees that you have accommodation, which may be harder to find in July and August when summer travel hits its peak.

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