Why We're Doubling Our Travel Budget During a Pandemic

by Kevin Payne | Updated Sept. 2, 2021 - First published on Sept. 21, 2020

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A boy in a mask on a beach poses with his wake board.

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Travel may or may not return to normal soon, but saving more money in a travel fund now could lead to premium travel experiences later.

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Travel may or may not return to normal soon, but saving money in a travel fund now could lead to premium travel experiences later.

The coronavirus crisis has hit everybody to some degree, whether it's their health, their wallets, or their vacations. This year, our family of six has had two major trips canceled, and another vacation was postponed twice. While many popular travel destinations have opened back up recently, we're hesitant to venture out. Several family members have underlying medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

We're not giving up hope on exploring the world, though. We've traded in our beach vacations for socially-distanced day trips and regional weekend excursions.

We also decided to double down on our travel budget going forward.

Why budget more money for travel during a pandemic?

My wife and I consider ourselves very fortunate that so far, the coronavirus pandemic hasn't had a substantial economic impact on our family. We know that's not the case for hundreds of thousands of people.

If this year has taught us anything, it's to prioritize the things you value. For us, that's travel. We've taken our fair share of trips over the years, but we now are making travel one of our family's core values.

To reflect, we've reworked our budget to save twice as much money in our travel fund than we typically have in the past.

How we are building our travel fund

We do some of our banking locally, but we took steps to set up several sinking funds online through Capital One. A sinking fund is money that you set aside each month towards a preplanned expense. Some of our sinking funds include:

  • Travel
  • Christmas
  • School and extracurricular activities
  • Clothing
  • Car repairs

We use Capital One 360 Performance Savings accounts for all of our sinking funds. There are no monthly fees, and they also earn interest. We can track our travel fund and other savings goals online and through the mobile app no matter where we are traveling.

One of the lesser-known perks of Capital One Performance Savings is that you can open up to 25 accounts. If you're familiar with the cash envelope method of budgeting, it's essentially the same concept, but in digital form.

We might earn more interest if we kept all our savings in one account, but that's not the idea with these funds. We get motivated by tracking each goal's progress.

We currently budget a month ahead, so on the first of the month, a predetermined amount of money is automatically transferred into each account from our main checking account. Setting up automatic transfers makes it easier to save than if we did it manually. There's no second-guessing or spending it on another expense.

Stockpiling travel rewards for future travel

Doubling our travel budget will give our family the means to travel more. We also take advantage of travel credit cards to earn rewards. Over the past few years, we've used points and miles to fund several family vacations.

With a family of six, it isn't easy to earn enough rewards to pay for all of us, so we focus first on points for accommodations and then air travel. We tap into our travel fund for our other expenses.

Versatile travel rewards are huge for us, especially now when we're not planning for a specific trip. My wife and I both have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and I also have the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card that I use for all of my business expenses. Both cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, one of the most popular and versatile travel rewards.

Not only do both these cards come with a massive sign-up bonus, but Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you book travel directly through its hub (often at a discounted rate) or by transferring points to one of its partner programs. Partner programs include domestic and international airlines as well as major hotel chains.

Travel rewards enthusiasts often look at redemption values, which is a great strategy. However, as we primarily travel as a family, we place value in other criteria, like accommodations that comfortably fit six people and transfer partners that are family-friendly.

Our travel rewards aren't limited to cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards. We've earned a considerable amount of points through other travel cards this past year:

My wife and I each have credit cards we use for everyday spending along with a handful of other rewards credit cards we use as needed. Both of us are currently under the Chase 5/24 rule, so we will probably add a couple of Southwest Airlines cards into the mix to try and earn a companion pass. We've enjoyed this perk in the past, although it's not always easy to achieve. We may also add a premium credit card with airport lounge access as we get closer to traveling again.

It’s ok to have multiple credit cards as long as you manage them properly. The last thing you want to do is to earn rewards and negate them with interest charges. Whenever we use credit cards, we make it a point to pay them off completely and never carry a balance. We earn all our travel rewards from everyday spending that's already part of our budget. A simple spreadsheet helps us manage all of our credit cards.

Our future travel plans

Our travel plans typically don’t include stays at luxury accommodations or first-class flights. The number of points and miles needed for a larger family to fund a week-long trip solely with rewards usually isn’t feasible. Now we've doubled our travel budget, though, we're probably going to splurge on an epic family vacation full of upgraded travel perks.

We've traveled considerably, but nowhere you would consider exotic. With the safety restrictions and family health concerns, our travels will end up staying domestic for the time being. We're considering an extended family trip to Hawaii, a road trip up the California coastline, and other western locations. We're in desperate need of a beach soon so we could work our way down towards Destin, Florida, or Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We usually build our travel fund and earn rewards with a specific trip in mind, but we're just stockpiling right now. We hope that the current situation improves enough that we will feel safe to travel again soon. And when it does, we'll be ready.

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