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Make Your Summer Vacation Reservations Now—Or You Could Overpay or Get Shut Out | Frommer's altanaka/ Shutterstock

Make Your Summer Vacation Reservations Now—Or You Could Overpay or Get Shut Out

2021 is turning into a year unlike any other. With so many people vacationing domestically, it's never been more important for travelers to make early bookings.

With millions of Americans being vaccinated each day, we finally have a clearer vision of the road map to the future.

We know that as long as virus variants are around, travel will probably include social distancing and masks. And we also know that according to most predictions, we won't be allowed to travel to Europe and other international destinations in significant numbers until autumn at the soonest. (Fortunately, much of the Caribbean and Mexico are already open to Americans.)

Most of all, we know that most Americans and Canadians will spend the summer of 2021 within their own countries. Availability will be under pressure, so it behooves you to lock down your travel reservations as soon you can.

AirlinesAirline prices are ticking up. Adit Damodaram, an economist with the airfare app Hopper, told The New York Times that domestic July airfares rose 5% between those booked in February and those booked in March. He also noted that, once again, last-minute fares are carrying much higher pricetags than they were for much of 2020. So if you intend to fly, buy your seats ASAP.

But it's a good idea not to buy the lowest class of ticket, basic economy. This year, most airlines changed their fee rules, and basic economy is now the only type of ticket you can't change. The other ticket classes no longer charge penalties to reschedule, but basic economy remains inflexible and nonrefundable. With new viral variants and lockdowns popping up and potentially requiring a change of plans, it's important for you to have flexibility. 

Campervans and RVs
. In 2020, interest in RV vacations jumped 1,000% over the prior year. That trend will continue in 2021, so if you intend to travel this way, secure your rental now.

National park lodges. Even in a normal year, you have to book these far ahead. As more of us venture into our public lands in 2021, securing your spot should happen as early as possible—like, yesterday. Xanterra, a manager of many in-park hotels, told the New York Times its properties are already fully booked for most dates this summer. So at this stage, you may need to do research on rentals and hotels in the communities at the edges of the national parks. If you go for that latter option, note that you will need advance reservations for day passes to Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Glacier National Parks.

Campgrounds. Expect another huge year for camping, which means more stress on limited plot availability. You won't be alone in seeking space, so secure your reservations as soon as possible. Here's some advice for finding your spot.

Home rentals. Airbnb, Vrbo, and the like are seeing increased demand from people in search of roomier lodgings. In many cases, rentals have become more expensive than hotel rooms, so consider traditional hotels if vacation rentals give you sticker shock. The other plus to going with a hotel this year: A reservation can be more easily canceled than a vacation rental can.

Rental cars. Because so many agencies got rid of cars at the start of the pandemic, there's now a massive shortage confronting would-be renters. The first thing you should do this year when planning a vacation is to make a rental car reservation. That way, you might be able to lock in a good price. Last-minute renters have been hit with charges of $300, $400, and even $500 a day—and sometimes, they can't even find a car. This may be the summer to consider car-sharing services.

Hotels. Cancellation policies in this industry tend to be liberal, so it's less important to book hotel rooms far ahead unless there's a property you have your heart set on (like a national park lodge). But if you're choosing a hotel because you want to use its pool, you should be aware that as long as so many tourist attractions and international destinations remain off-limits, resort pools have been extremely crowded. If you want serenity, consider a smaller boutique hotel over a large resort that might attract lots of families.

Whatever you choose, make sure the cancellation policies allow you to change plans without penalty. Leave yourself the flexibility to switch your plans if you find a better deal or have a better idea. Besides, nobody knows what 2021 will bring—maybe normal travel will return sooner than we expect.