Have Cards, Will Travel

How to strategically plan for travel in the new year

Accomplishing reward travel resolutions for 2020 is easier if you start planning now


Wanting to travel more is a popular new year’s resolution. Resident travel writer Stephanie Zito shares her expertise on how strategic planning can help you tick off this resolution with ease.

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If you’re anything like me, one of the things you’ve been doing over the past few weeks is reading every single travel magazine’s list of the top places to visit in 2020. And you’re also most likely working on your own list of places you want to travel to this new year and decade.

While my dream destination list for 2020 might be a little longer than yours – and might take the whole decade to accomplish – I’m sure we have at least one thing in common. You, like me, are hoping to use your credit card points to make all these trips on your list happen.

The good news is this is completely possible! With a little bit of work, strategy and spending, you can literally get anywhere you want to this year.

Here’s the secret: The trick to using your rewards to knock out the many 2020 dream trips on the list is to start planning now, then spend and save wisely.

Here’s what’s on my list and how I’m attacking my 2020 rewards travel planning:

See related: Recapping the year’s best travel redemptions

1. Review your list and set realistic goals

There is a good chance your list, like mine, is too long and slightly unrealistic.

The problem with reading too many “Top places to go in 2020” articles is that they make us want to go everywhere. Just browsing the lists from CNN, Lonely Planet and Travel and Leisure this week, my head was spinning with more than 80 new travel ideas.

Realistically, we only get 52 weeks, so you can’t possibly go everywhere. You’ll need to be strategic. After you make your list, put a star by the trips you really want to make happen.

The international trips on my dream list this year include the South Caribbean, Guyana, Ecuador, Crete, Georgia, Uzbekistan, the UK, Saudi Arabia, another attempt at Lebanon, Mt. Fuji and possibly a milestone birthday trip with a friend to French Polynesia.

I want to go to them all – but for planning purposes, only Crete, the UK, Georgia, Guyana and the South Caribbean get stars.

Domestically, I’ll also be heading to New York City for Women’s Travel Fest, Washington, D.C., for a wedding and possibly a few new national parks in Utah this summer. And I’ll be visiting family in Florida more than usual because I have an adorable new niece. These all get a star.

2. Review your points and miles strategy against the destinations on your list

Once you have your short list, consider the logistics for how you are going to get to your destinations. Start by doing a little research to see which airlines fly to the destination where you want to stay – and how many points you’ll need to purchase your reward ticket.

Don’t wait to count your miles until it’s time to think about booking your tickets. That’s the equivalent to starting your resolution to diet just a couple of days before your big high school reunion.

When I’m starting my research from scratch, I always check Google Flights just to see who flies there, then I think about how those airlines match up to the rewards points I’m already earning.

I’ve already started planning for my top three destinations: Crete, Georgia (the country, not the state) and Guyana. The airlines I plan to use are American, Delta and JetBlue, respectively. I fly to Crete in March, so the sooner I plan, the better.

Once you nail down your airline strategy, do the same for your hotel options if you’re also planning to pay for your accommodations with rewards points.

3. Adjust your wallet and your spending accordingly

Now that you’ve determined what points you’ll need to get to your destination(s), match this list against the list of credit card rewards points you have banked. You’ll want to adjust your spending if there are any gaps – or perhaps add another travel credit card to your portfolio.

For my three trips above, I know I’m already set with AA points from last year’s spending. I also just added the AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard to my wallet and will be banking another 75,000-point signup bonus as soon as I meet the minimum spending requirements.

See related: Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?

Since I’m traveling to Guyana via JetBlue, my trip will be covered by the balance I already have in my TruBlue account. And if I need to top off a small amount of miles for any reason, I can transfer American Express Membership Rewards from The Business Platinum Card® from American Express to JetBlue.

The biggest adjustment I’ll need to make to take the trips above is some intentional earning of Delta SkyMiles. Because I know that I want to make this trip by early fall, I’ll plan to start shopping around for a Delta SkyMiles American Express Card in the spring (when I know I’ll have some bigger expenses coming up to meet a minimum spend).

The final, and most important, thing you need to do to turn a travel resolution into a reward reality is book the tickets and get the trip on your calendar.

Lots of people are talking about where they are going to travel this year, but we all know that intentions aren’t the same as plane tickets. What about you? Where are you going?

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