As TPG’s senior travel reporter, I’ve spent the last six months researching, writing and experiencing — in real-time — what it’s like traveling and living during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I deleted most of my travel and networking apps from my iPhone in early March 2020, convinced that I wouldn’t use them any time soon. Keeping a hotel or cheap flights app on my phone didn’t make much sense while quarantined in my New York City apartment with no travel plans in sight.
We’re entering a new phase in the pandemic, which has people cautiously optimistic and fearful. Positive cases and deaths from the virus have dropped, and nearly 60% of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated. U.S. air travel has topped more than 2 million passengers a day nine times in June. At the same time, some U.S. states lag in vaccinations, many countries haven’t received a single vaccine, and the Delta variant has health professionals concerned.
But, like many people, I am traveling and going out again. So I’ve created what is essentially a “COVID travel folder.” I redownloaded some old travel apps and added a few new apps to help while traveling in these mid-pandemic times. Here are the apps and websites I’m using to navigate travel — and life — during the pandemic.
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Vaccine passport apps
With 60% of New York City adults fully vaccinated, New York City is all but open. However, some pandemic features remain. For instance, some venues — particularly those with large crowds — have required proof of vaccination to enter. I saw the logistics of this play out in real-time a few weeks ago while attending an event that required proof of vaccination.
I saw several guests struggle to find a screenshot of their vaccination cards, or pulled crumpled, dog-eared cards out of their wallets or handbags. Trying to find a screenshot of my own vaccine card at previous events proved tedious. I was also worried I’d eventually lose or damage my vaccine card if I carried it around in my wallet, so I downloaded the Excelsior Pass.
New Yorkers can use the Excelsior Pass if fully vaccinated in New York state, had a negative PCR test administered in New York within three days or took a negative antigen test in New York in the last six hours.
After entering my date of birth and vaccination location, my record was located, and I created a digital card in my Wallet iPhone app. The Excelsior Pass Wallet app is available for iOS or Android.
CDC Travel advisory
Before booking a flight or even settling on an international travel destination, I check the COVID-19 status in that country. For example, I chose a recent last-minute trip to Turks and Caicos after looking at vaccination rates, transmission data and travel advisories in that country.
Several government agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequently issue updated travel advice for the world’s countries. These risk assessment levels are ranked Level 1 through 4. Countries without updated COVID-19 figures are assigned a “level unknown” designation.
The CDC’s threat levels are determined by the number of COVID-19 cases in a given country.
The agency recommends getting vaccinated before visiting any country at any level. However, its guidance for unvaccinated travelers varies by how severe the pandemic is in each particular nation. For example, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to countries at Level 4, the highest threat level. Countries in that category have more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 28 days. Level 4 countries include nations such as United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Brazil and India.
Level 1 countries like Anguilla, Australia and New Zealand are considered the lowest-risk destinations because they have reported fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 28 days. However, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated before traveling to any location at Level 1.
US State Department advisory
The U.S. State Department has its own travel advisory risk system, ranging from Level 1 to Level 4. You can see this information in list format or on a color-coded map.
Travel guidance from the State Department isn’t always 100% in sync with the CDC, as it considers other factors aside from health-related risks. For instance, the State Department says it still recommends U.S. citizens reconsider traveling abroad, which differs from what the CDC has publicly said about travel.
On June 28, the State Department added five countries — including the United Arab Emirates — to its highest designation, Level 4 “Do Not Travel.” Dozens of countries, including Fiji, Sweden, the Netherlands and Trinidad and Tobago, are all in the Level 4 designation. In addition, the State Department this spring warned Americans to avoid traveling to about 80% of the world’s countries due to COVID-19.
As someone with dozens of loyalty programs, I needed a single place to help to keep track of my various account balances in one app. Now that travel is picking up, I am booking trips well in 2022.
The TPG App helps me monitor my spending habits and gives recommendations on which card to use when purchasing at a particular store. I spend most of my “fun money” on food or groceries, so a neat feature is receiving location-based alerts that will help me choose the right card to maximize my spending while at the supermarket or out for drinks with friends. That means I’m starting to use some of the hundreds of thousands of points and miles I earned during the pandemic on travel.
I have extensive travel goals for 2021 and 2022 — think Qatar QSuite, stays at multiple Ritz-Carlton hotels — so the TPG App helps guide me on the best ways to burn my points and miles on my dream redemption.
If you want to do the same, you can add your name to the waitlist for the TPG App now. Note that the TPG App is currently only supported by iOS 13 and above — but TPG plans to launch an Android version in the months to come.
Featured photo by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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