Holiday Travel and Vaccines for Kids: Factors to Consider

Now that children are authorized to receive the coronavirus vaccine, that means changes to 2021 holiday travel.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Kevin Berry

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In a huge milestone for battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old.

The news comes just as many families are making holiday travel plans — or at least wondering if they should — based on how the vaccine rollout plays out among children. If holiday travel is on the table for you this year, here’s what you should expect:

Understand the timeline for vaccinating children

If your decision to travel with kids is contingent upon whether they’re fully vaccinated, here are some key dates you’ll need to know.

The CDC recommends that two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be given three weeks (21 days) apart. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the CDC.

If you want your kids to be fully vaccinated by ...

  • Monday, Dec. 6 (last day of Hanukkah): Working backward from this date, kids have already missed this timing window that would require a Nov. 1 first dose, followed by a Nov. 22 second dose.

  • Friday, Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve): Assuming you schedule the second dose exactly three weeks after the first dose, you’re looking at needing a first appointment by Friday, Nov. 19, and a second one by Friday, Dec. 10.

  • Saturday, Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day and last day of Kwanzaa): Keeping with the recommended 21-day window, you’d need to schedule a first dose by Saturday, Nov. 27, allowing the second dose to be given by Saturday, Dec. 18.

Expect bigger crowds for travel this year

Even before news of vaccine approval for kids came out, we knew this would be a busier travel year than 2020. Close to 3 in 10 Americans who say they didn’t travel during the 2020 holiday season (29%) plan to spend money on flights/hotel stays during the 2021 holiday season, according to a September 2021 NerdWallet survey conducted by The Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults.

Expect lots of rusty travelers who might be hopping on their first airplane in about two (or more) years. For young kids, that’s an especially long period that they haven’t flexed their travel muscles. And for many kids, it also means this might be their first flight.

Pack your patience, as novice travelers are more likely to fumble in the process of loading the overhead bins or trudging through security than an experienced jetsetter.

To help avoid airport crowds, consider applying for TSA PreCheck. This program, conducted through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, allows members to use expedited lanes at more than 200 U.S. airports, where you won’t have to take out your laptop or remove your shoes, belt or jacket.

To gain membership, you’ll have to fill out an application, undergo an interview and pay an $78 application fee. Many travel credit cards offer a statement credit for the application fee if charged to that card.

Still make refundable travel plans, if possible

While the CDC says that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at helping provide protection against COVID-19 variants that are currently circulating — including the Delta variant — people can sometimes still get (typically mild) infections of COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated.

During past surges, some people walked back on previously made travel plans. It’s not unreasonable to anticipate that you might do the same. If you think there’s a chance your trip might not pan out, consider purchasing travel insurance that includes Cancel For Any Reason coverage.

If you don’t want to pay for that added expense, at least try charging your trip to a travel credit card that offers trip cancellation and interruption coverage benefits. While these are more limited in terms of what’s covered (typically “disinclination to travel” is not a covered reason), you may be reimbursed for eligible expenses on some trips, especially if you or someone in your travel group gets sick prior to, or during, your trip.

For maximum protection, try booking with companies that have flexible policies. Many U.S. airlines and hotels have eliminated change or cancellation fees on many types of reservations, but not all. For example, most basic economy airfares are set in stone once you buy them, so you may want to avoid such fares.

The bottom line

The COVID-19 vaccine approval for young kids could have implications for an ever-changing travel industry. With more families feeling comfortable about putting their children on an airplane or in a hotel, demand could go up. That means bigger crowds, more competition for reservations and possibly more chaos as the youngest, least experienced travelers among us hit the road this winter holiday season.

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 2023, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
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NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


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