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You’ve finally gotten your vaccine and are ready to roar into 2021. You might hug Grandma for the first time in a year, and you’re finally set to jet off to hike Machu Picchu. Even newly issued guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that travel is low-risk for vaccinated people.
Not so fast.
A vaccination plus the CDC’s low-risk designation don't add up to the key to unlocking your dream vacation. Given ongoing international quarantine rules, capacity limits, complicated testing requirements and more, avoid setting your heart on a dream vacation just yet.
Here are several factors that may curb your trip, even if you’re vaccinated.
What could limit your big trip this year?
Slow vaccination rollouts
While vaccine rollouts might feel painfully slow (especially if you’re low in the pecking order), the U.S. has among the highest vaccination rates of any country. With vaccinations going slowly, many countries are still undergoing lockdown measures similar to the ones you experienced in 2020.
Closures and curfews
Indoor dining bans and nighttime curfews might be painful reminders of the past year. In many countries, those restrictions are still active.
Morocco imposes a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., set to run through at least April 20. In Italy, curfews are in force through at least April 30, running from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. In some Italian regions, even stricter restrictions mean restaurants and ice cream parlors are open only from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. That won’t work when you’re jet-lagged and want a 2 a.m. gelato fix — let alone a 7 p.m. dinner.
Temper your expectations for activities, too. In Paris, the Musée du Louvre and the Musée National Eugène Delacroix are closed due to government restrictions. If your post-vaccine dream trip involves travel in France, maybe hold off until you can see Mona Lisa's famous smile.
These are just a few examples from around the world, and it’s impossible to say how long lockdown measures like these will go on. But even as the U.S. eases some coronavirus-related restrictions, some countries are going in the opposite direction, reimplementing various lockdown rules and closures.
Even if restrictions roll back, capacity limits in both the U.S. and abroad could make planning a challenge.
For example, Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort requires you to book the specific theme park you want to visit in advance, and due to lower-than-normal attendance caps, it can be tough to snag your preferred reservation. As of early April, the Magic Kingdom — largely considered the centerpiece of the resort — is already booked out on most days through the month.
To visit Walt Disney World, you’ll need a reservation to enter any of the four theme parks. As of April 1, there wasn't a single day in the month when all four parks were still available.
Ask yourself: Will your trip be worth it if you can’t get into the main attraction at your destination? If not, consider putting it off a little longer.
Capacity limits and closures aside, some countries aren’t even open to tourists, vaccinated or not. For example, Vietnam's borders are still closed to all foreign nationals with few exceptions, and many European countries won't allow U.S. visitors yet.
Thailand began a phased reopening this month, but most tourists, even if vaccinated, can visit only certain provinces after quarantining for 10 days. Come July 1, you can skip the quarantine if you’re vaccinated, but only in Phuket. Phuket is nice, but visiting this summer means you’ll miss out on the country’s other treasures. As of now, Thailand's government has said it doesn’t anticipate being fully reopened to vaccinated tourists until Jan. 1, 2022.
Other countries may follow suit.
Entry requirements change by day and by country, so don’t assume you’ll be able to eat your weight in crispy lumpia on Boracay now that you’re vaccinated. The Philippines has among the strictest travel restrictions, as leisure hotel operations have been suspended.
Testing requirements for returning to the U.S.
Even if you’re visiting a country with no travel restrictions, there’s a roadblock to getting back home: In January, the CDC issued an order that all travelers entering the U.S. must show proof of a negative test taken within three days of boarding the return flight.
Do you really want to spend your last days on vacation tracking down a testing facility? Instead of sitting at the pool bar, you could be sitting in a doctor’s office.
It’s not clear when this restriction will be lifted.
Some hotels are incentivizing travelers with on-site testing. For instance, between now and May 31, 2021, all of Hyatt’s 19 resorts across Latin America offer free, on-site tests to guests traveling to the U.S.
If you do test positive, you’ll need to rebook your flight last-minute and find lodging to quarantine — probably not the ending to the vacation you were hoping for.
Tips for booking a trip, even once you’re vaccinated
If you want to cut down on potential headaches and roadblocks, it might behoove you to hold off on bucket-list or international travel a bit longer. This summer, consider a trip that's relatively easy to change or cancel, and think about domestic rather than international travel.
If you’re committed to an international trip or another grand vacation, take these steps to ensure it can be canceled with as close to a full refund as possible.
Book flexible airfare and hotel reservations
Many U.S. airlines eliminated domestic change fees on most fares, and many major hotels waive fees for reservations canceled at least 24 hours in advance. Some cruise lines even offer full cash refunds if you cancel for a coronavirus-related reason.
Carefully read the cancellation policy on all paid reservations — and consider booking only with companies that have flexible policies.
Pay with a credit card that offers travel insurance
Many travel credit cards offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage benefits, where you may be reimbursed for eligible expenses on disrupted trips paid for with that card. Just know that what’s eligible for a refund is somewhat limited.
For example, a disinclination to travel because you read about a spike in cases isn't a covered reason. However, getting sick (whether from coronavirus or another illness) is typically covered.
Consider a separate ‘cancel for any reason’ insurance policy
That’ll cover nonrefundable reservations no matter why you cancel, but there are a few trade-offs. It’s generally pricier than standard policies and usually refunds only 50%-75% of the trip cost.
The bottom line
It’s tempting to finally book your dream trip once that needle jabs your arm. But while you may feel ready to sit in every theater in London's West End or jump aboard a cruise ship out of Vancouver, those places aren't necessarily ready for you.
For now, consider a vacation that jibes a bit better with ongoing restrictions. If you want to get away from the contiguous U.S., jet to the Caribbean, where you can avoid passport requirements in U.S. territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.
Even if you feel like a vaccine is your ticket to freedom, be realistic that most trips in 2021 will look vastly different than they did before the pandemic. If it’s a seamless, restriction-free vacation you’re after, hold off a bit longer.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card