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Have Cards, Will Travel

How to plan a rewards trip as travel restrictions ease

Ready to travel again? Research your potential destinations, stay on top of their rules and get vaccinated


With the blessing of the CDC’s new travel guidance for vaccinated Americans, we reward travelers can now (or soon) get back to what we do best with our travel credit card points – plan vacations.

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It’s been way too long since I’ve been able to regularly share about reward travel experiences that I’m actually having. This week, however, I’m super excited to report that I’m now back in business, fully vaccinated, and I feel like I’ve re-grown my travel wings!

With the blessing of the CDC’s new travel guidance for vaccinated Americans, we reward travelers can now (or soon) get back to what we do best with our travel credit card points – plan vacations.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Keeping up with changing guidance and travel regulations

If you’ve been paying attention to the travel industry or the world these days, you’ve probably noticed that the CDC isn’t the only one changing its guidance on pandemic restrictions. Travel rules and requirements these days can change as quickly as airline fares did in 2019.

Beyond deciding where you want to go and calculating how many points you’ll need to cover your hotel, planning 2021 travel requires you to consider many more questions as part of the planning process.

Will the country be open or closed by the time of my trip? Do I need a negative COVID test before I travel there? Will I need another test upon arrival? Is there a mandatory quarantine? Can I be exempted from any of these requirements if I can prove I’m vaccinated?

While travel restrictions are certainly easing and risks related to travel have decreased, planning travel in 2021 is far from being uncomplicated or back to normal.

See related: What to do if you haven’t traveled in a while and your points are expiring

Tips for booking your return to reward travel

While it can feel like a lot to navigate, don’t let uncertainty stop you from putting your trip planning hat back on. Here are a few tips for how I’m keeping up with all the changes, staying prepared and planning my own return to the road.

Get to know your destination in advance

Researching the places that I visit in advance has never been my strong suit, but it’s a step that can’t be left out of post-pandemic travel planning. Rules for coming and going to destinations around the world are changing week to week. If you want to get back to travel sooner rather than later, you’ll have to do the work to keep up.

While I truly wish that I could give you a link to a magic website that had every travel restriction for every city, state and country listed around the world in real time, I’ll be the first to tell you that it doesn’t exist. While many websites and blogs are publishing lists, they seem to go out of date as soon as they’re updated.

To check the status of travel to specific countries, I personally follow along with the open borders list on the Women’s Travel Collective (a paid service), and then I double check by looking up the most recent information on the country’s national tourism board or consular webpage.

For states, counties and cities, I look up the local tourism board online and check to see if it has a Facebook page where I can ask questions about what is open or not. I recommend checking more than one source and always checking the date of the information you find.

Call the hotel (before you book and before you go)

After my latest travel experience when I arrived at a resort in Hawaii only to find that no hotel facilities had yet re-opened, I’ve also added a step into my travel planning routine to call the hotel I’m hoping to stay at in advance.

Before I even book a hotel award night these days I like to confirm the status of every amenity in the hotel that I’m expecting to use – breakfast, housekeeping, pool, spa, hot tub, restaurants, hotel gym, etc. Knowing what’s available helps set my expectations and decide if the experience I’m going to have is worth the investment of my hard-earned points.

A few days before travel I also like to call again just to know what’s progressed (or regressed) in the hotel’s opening progress. It may seem silly, but no one wants to be disappointed by a trip they’ve spent an entire year of lockdown saving for and dreaming about.

See related: Your guide to travel insurance ahead of your next trip

Book wisely and watch for changes

If you plan to go wild with your return to travel and are booking a trip to a place that may or may not be opening soon, know that you’re taking a risk. Plan your ticket accordingly so its cancelable or changeable.

When booking this type of ticket with points, be sure you’re selecting a ticket that will allow you to redeposit the miles to your account without fees if things don’t go your way. And as the trip gets closer, be sure to keep your eyes on the destination-specific requirements.

Get vaccinated

Now that vaccines are widely available without restrictions across the U.S., the easiest thing you can do to ensure that you’re trending in the same direction as travel requirements is to get your vaccine.

While the U.S. government has said there will not be an FAA-required vaccination passport for flying domestically, proof of vaccine is definitely shaping up to be a way you’ll be able to open doors to destinations outside the lower 48 and around the globe while avoiding lengthy quarantine requirements.

To be considered fully vaccinated, you’ll need to have a record of both of your vaccines and have waited out the full two-week inoculation period (or one shot, plus two weeks if you’ve had the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine). Considering that this is a three-to-six-week process, you’ll want to be vaccinated and ready to go before you start searching for last-minute deals to Iceland or one of the other countries now welcoming travelers with proof of vaccine.

Bottom line

Travel certainly isn’t back to normal yet, but it’s moving in the right direction. In the meantime, do what you can to get yourself prepared and get back out in the world if you can.  Hang in tight, friends, easier travel days are coming soon.

Editorial Disclaimer

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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