Have Cards, Will Travel

What to do if you get COVID-19 while traveling

If you have to cancel a trip, here are your options


If you contract COVID-19 while you’re away from home, find a safe way to quarantine, then consider the available options to help you recoup any losses from canceling the rest of your trip.

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As more and more people start feeling comfortable about returning to ­– or planning their return to travel, there is one big question that brings pause to even the most optimistic travelers among us: What happens if I get COVID-19 when I’m traveling?

Since most of my travels of the last year have been road trips within a 500-mile radius of my own home, this question hasn’t given me much pause. Had I started feeling unwell or needed to isolate due to exposure, I’d point my Google Maps toward home and quarantine there.

See related: Strategies for planning 2021 travel

What to do if you are exposed to COVID-19 or test positive far from home

Just after the Christmas holidays, a good friend of mine (we’ll call her Maeve) traveled with her family to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for a ski trip. Their plan was to spend a week together on the slopes. But they wound up with a couple of days visiting doctors and hospitals, two positive COVID tests, and a 1,900-mile, cross-country drive to get back home to quarantine in Pennsylvania.

Several weeks later, the whole family is back to full health and out of quarantine, and Maeve has a story to tell that we all can learn from. What I learned is this: You don’t have a lot of options if you get COVID-19 while on the road. Here’s what you need to do:

Step 1: Take care of your health and get tested

If you get sick while you’re away, get tested and self-isolate – just like you should if you woke up with a fever at home.

Luckily for Maeve and family, they contracted the virus when they were in a tourist destination where urgent care and testing were accessible for visitors, but this might not always be the case. Before you travel anywhere, it’s important to do reconnaissance on what medical care is available in your destination and what your medical or travel insurance will or will not cover. Avoid traveling to destinations where the health system is already overburdened or has limited capacity to care for people beyond its own community.

Step 2: Hunker down or find a new way home

Even if you can easily get all your medical problems sorted, COVID-19 brings with it its own set of logistical challenges. Once you have a known exposure – whether you test positive or not – you’ll need a place to quarantine. And you certainly won’t be catching a flight home for a while.

For example: Per United’s COVID-19 testing policy, you must wait 10 days after the date you tested positive and only after you have two successive negative COVID-19 results that were administered at least 24 hours apart in order to be eligible to rebook your ticket.

As most people I know aren’t taking month-long holidays, this predicament means you’re facing an ultimatum: hunker down or find another safe way home.

In Maeve’s case, staying put was not an option. They had been renting a popular vacation home property that didn’t have availability for them to extend their stay. Finding new accommodation in which to quarantine as a COVID positive family was complicated and cost prohibitive at hundreds of dollars per night for an additional two weeks.

They took the option to find a new way home, cutting short their stay and extending their rental car for a couple of days to the tune of a costly $800 one-way drop off fee – ouch.

Step 3: Recover any expenses you can using travel insurance

Travel insurance doesn’t fix everything. But when things go south, being able to recover any expenses of an interrupted trip is better than taking it all as a loss.

In the midst of reconfiguring logistics and caring for her family, Maeve took quick actions with the airline, accommodations and credit card companies to help salvage some of the costs of her trip.

United quickly issued her a flight credit for the return portion of her family’s tickets from Steamboat Springs (SBS) to Newark (EWR) that would go unused. She’ll be able to use the dollar value of this travel to go somewhere else once everyone is well and up for traveling again.

On the family’s accommodation, they wound up checking out of their rental home several days early, losing $1,600 on their non-refundable booking made through Turnkey. For this, Maeve turned to her Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s travel insurance.

See related: Should I buy travel insurance?

“When you’re dealing with someone being sick, filing a credit card insurance claim is probably not top of your mind, but it’s important to at least get it started. That way you’ll know what documentation you need while you’re still there and it’s easier to get,” she recommends.

“We told Turnkey immediately that we’d be checking out early, and I knew from starting the claim with Chase that I’d be required to provide documentation of the cancellation, a copy of Turnkey’s accommodation cancellation policy and a letter from Turnkey confirming that we didn’t get any reimbursement from them.”

Even in advance of travel, there are steps you can take that will set you up for the best scenario in case something happens. For example, when purchasing your flight and booking your accommodations and car rentals, use the card that offers the best travel insurance policy. In the case that you have to cancel your trip, or if it gets interrupted by a qualifying reason, you’ll be able to include all of your expenses in one claim. Maeve did this right by using her Chase Sapphire Reserve for all of the big expenses for her Steamboat ski trip.

See related: Events canceled due to coronavirus: How to get your money back

Final thoughts

Getting COVID on vacation certainly isn’t the best scenario, as Maeve will attest, but it’s a risk we all take when choosing to travel these days. You never know what’s going to happen – so make sure to have a plan ahead of time. Be safe out there friends.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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