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One of America’s biggest winter holiday traditions is back this year after getting massively scaled back in 2020. The Times Square ball drop is set to ring in 2022, and it should be largely similar to its pre-pandemic ways aside from one major change: You’ll need proof of vaccination and a valid photo ID to attend.
“...everything is coming back full strength, the way we love it. Hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a news conference on Tuesday. “We can finally get back together again. It's going to be amazing. It's going to be a joy for this city.”
New York's New Year's Eve Ball Drop: What to expect
Despite being an outdoor event, vaccines are required for most people, according to the Times Square Alliance.
Attendees five and older must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and valid photo identification to enter. Unvaccinated minors under the age of five can attend if accompanied by a vaccinated adult, and they must wear a face covering if they are medically able to tolerate it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. If your child just recently became eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, or you or a family member are not vaccinated yet, you have until November 26 to get the first dose in order to get the second dose and clear the two-week window before December 31.
The CDC also notes that you can be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a one-dose process. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only available to those over the age of 18.
People who are unable to get vaccinated because of a disability can still attend if they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to the event, and — if medically able to tolerate a face-covering — wear it for the entire event.
Expect the usual celebrations like live performances. De Blasio says the city is “100 percent back.” That’s a huge contrast to last year’s event, when Times Square was closed to the public. The ball still dropped to ring in 2021, but crowds were dramatically pared down, with some frontline workers and their families invited to attend.
How to pay for your New Year's Eve Ball Drop trip
While there’s no ticket required to attend the official event in Times Square, you will have to brave the crowds and likely get there early — which you might be unwilling to do, pandemic or not.
Many night clubs, restaurants and hotels that have views of Times Square run private, ticketed events so you can see the spectacle with smaller crowds (and presumably a more desirable temperature). But budget accordingly, as many of these events cost well over $100 per ticket (and some more than $1,000).
As far as hotels and flights, book now to avoid high prices or sold-out rooms, as demand will likely spike now that it’s confirmed the event is back on.
Booking hotels on points in New York City
Ball drop or not, New York is notoriously expensive — but travel rewards can make it a little cheaper.
Find sweet spots with Hilton, at certain hotels
One of the best brands for spending miles and points in New York is Hilton, which has more than 40 hotels in Manhattan. At press time, Hilton’s Hampton Inn Manhattan/Times Square South is going for nearly $800 per night on Dec. 31, 2021 but just 70,000 points, which is an incredible deal based on a NerdWallet valuation of Hilton points. Meanwhile, book the Conrad New York Midtown in cash, as it’s going for nearly $1,000 per. night, but 467,000 points, which is an extremely bad deal.
Use Hyatt’s award chart
Hyatt is also an appealing pick because it currently does not price rooms based on peak or off-peak dates (though that changes next year). This means the cost to book rooms on points is the same, no matter what day of year you book. A stay at the Hyatt Place New York City/Times Square will run you just 20,000 points on the night of Dec. 31, 2021, but is going for $550 cash at press time, making a points booking there an excellent deal.
What to know about traveling during the 2021 holidays
Whether you’re traveling to Times Square or somewhere else, expect travel to be different this holiday season.
It’s generally a good idea to book travel with flexible change and cancelation policies. While de Blasio says the ball drop is back on, it’s certainly not a guarantee, given how other major cities are still changing or canceling their holiday events. For example, Munich this week canceled one of its upcoming Christmas markets due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Given the number of flight delays and changing COVID-19 safety rules that have occurred throughout 2021, it’s always a good idea to make not just a travel plan, but a backup plan, too.
Otherwise, there’s still a stress-free — and expense-free — way to participate: The Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop will stream online in a commercial-free webcast.