All Travel Is Up In The Air Right Now, Only Spend Miles And Book Cancellable Trips

I continue to travel, and I continue to make travel plans. But I’m doing the best I can to use miles whenever possible, and book cancellable itineraries. The next couple of months couple be touch and go. I’m not making a prediction of what happens, but I live my life on probabilities and make the best decisions I can given the knowledge I have at the moment. And right now I’m giving myself as much optionality as possible.

What I’m really saying is that many people seemed to have calmed after the initial scare over Thanksgiving about the Omicron variant, when they still seemed to think banning travel from South Africa could somehow prevent it from spreading (it was already spreading in the U.S. at that point). And I don’t think we’re really internalizing what the next couple of months could (not will) look like.

I stress could because we still don’t know exactly what to make of Omicron. But we’ll only know what to make of it when it’s already happened, so…

  • We know it spreads incredibly rapidly, with some estimates of doubling every 2 days
  • We know that it infects people with immunity from prior infection and vaccination
  • We know that it seems to hospitalize fewer people
  • And we know that early indications are it’s already peaked and is in decline around Johannesburg where it was first identified.

Omicron has taken over in the U.K. and Denmark. It’ll likely be the dominant variant across Europe next week, though the European CDC predicts early January. In the U.S. we already don’t have enough tests, we do a lot more sequencing than we used to do but not nearly as much as the U.K. and Denmark. It’ll be here in a dominant way soon enough.

Even if the variant is less severe, and even with all of the background immunity in the community, the sheer number of infections could still overwhelm hospitals. The hope of course is that South African data which suggests the hospitalization rate for Omicron is 1/10th (~2%) that of Delta (~20%) holds.

Even so with the flu shot especially poorly matched to the virus actually circulating this year there could be extra hospital stress there, too. In the Northeast and California, your kids may be going back to Zoom School.

Maybe it comes on quickly and ends quickly. It’s unclear why things seem to be turning there so quickly, maybe everyone was infected already (and it was subclinical, no testing) or maybe not everyone is susceptible, maybe it runs through a connected network and there’ll be another wave. But when it infects 1% or more of a population every day, it can’t keep going for that long mathematically unless immunity to the specific variant doesn’t last.

    Most of us will wind up fine. Especially if we’ve been boosted. But infect enough people and the total number of people not fine will wind up very large. And at this point we’re not preparing for that, with policies that are mostly to be able to make excuses later (‘see? I tried’).

We’ve effectively given up on the idea of a variant-specific booster before the big wave comes, even for the most vulnerable populations. Dr. Fauci says it’s only something the FDA might consider if the effectiveness of boosters drops below ~ 50%. And it hasn’t done that. Of course once it’s already done that it’s too late.

I’m boosted. I continue to travel. I live in Central Texas so I continue to dine outdoors. I was disappointed to learn that the 1/10th (3 microgram) dose being tested for children under 5 doesn’t produce a robust enough immune response, so we’re months further from being able to protect children, who of course are at lower risk than adults from the virus.

Given the risks here the questions for travel are,

  • What new border restrictions might be put into place, such that you won’t be able to visit?
  • What new activity restrictions (lockdowns) might be put into place, such that it won’t make sense to go?
  • What places will have the greatest concentration of virus, such that they’re beyond your risk tolerance to visit?

It seems like for about the next 8 weeks there’s a ton of uncertainty.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Time to move on and live your lives. One death, who knows if from something else. South Africa has dumped all contact tracing and quarantines. Most new Covid cases in Denmark occur in people who are vaccinated or boosted – and that is true for both Omicron and earlier variants.

    Multiple doctors and scientists saying this is caused by the vaccine. Keep adding boosters and it will get worse. Mainstream and blogs like this keep spreading the fear. Lockdowns come you can kiss the US goodbye!

    Puppet Joe will cause more FUD Tuesday.

    NYC and other similar areas are a mess, not in terms of deaths but just sick people with cold-like symptoms. All masked up, vaxed up, multiple boosters and still “testing” positive. NY will pass a law in January to arrest any person they feel is a “danger” and put you in concentration camp. Look it up people!

    Canada truckers will stop hauling next week if they are forced to jab. You better load up on supplies.

    Keep it up Gary! You doing a fantastic job promoting this mess!

  2. Doubtful. Omnicron is a failure for the media. As is the vaccine which isn’t keeping anyone from catching the failed omnicron. Winter is here and nobody is dying. Very few hospitalizations. It’s essentially a mild cold. it’s time to WAKE UP AND PUSH BACK! END THE MADNESS!. BACK TO NORMAL LIFE!

  3. Datapoint:
    My partner, who is double-vaxxed but not boosted, started feeling sick on Monday 12/13.
    She had to stay in bed Wednesday & Thursday. She tested positive for Covid on 12/16 (home-kit).
    Mild symptoms: cough, loss of tast buds, headache, chills. She has started to feel better since Saturday. We do not know if she got the new variant or not.

    Meanwhile, I got my booster (Moderna) early December and I feel 100%, no symptoms. Got a PCR on Friday which came back negative. Will get another one befor Christmas.

    As Moderna just announced that their booster protects from Omicron, I hope I will avoid getting sick.

  4. It has been my plan that when international travel starts up again, I would burn up all my miles first (and I have a lot stranded on some specific airlines because of cancellations from back in spring-2020). Currently, I have a business trip to Europe planned in the spring, but got the tickets with fully refundable miles (and fully refundable fee) for the flexibility.

    I wonder if there is any of the FF blogs that track the experiences flying from the US to other countries in terms of where they get their PCR tests, who checks what documents, what it is like to arrive at (or transit through) various major airports like LHR, FRA, CDG, AMS, what apps or documents they need to visit places while there, and then again getting tested and checked for the return. It would be helpful to know what that experience is truly like.

  5. No worries. The mainstream media propaganda oulets will stir up another scare with the Pi variant, followed by Rho, Sigma, Tau, Ypsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, and Omega.
    So, at least until 2025 or later will we hear about “everyone dying of COVID!!”, “hospital are overflowing!!” and “lockdowns now!!”.

  6. Omicron to me is the pure end of the Covid pandemic. It’s here forever and ever. Nothing we can do to stop it. Live on! Take whatever precautions you feel necessary for your own personal needs. No govt should be restricting any travel or activities. We live on in bad flu years , people get very sick, people sadly perish but our freedoms and liberties should never have to be at stake.

  7. First of all I’m vaccinated and have gotten a booster shot. I don’t have any international travel planned until March (which is points and miles so could be canceled).

    As for domestic travel ai just got back from a week and a half of travel to Denver, SF, LA and Bradenton FL. I have trips in January and February for casino gambling to Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Tunica. Not changing those and LV is only destination that currently requires masks. I also eat indoors in restaurants including sitting at the bar next to people.

    Basically I trust the science that even if I get infected (we likely ALL will over the next year or two regardless of what we do) it will be mild or asymptomatic so I am continuing to live my life!

  8. This concerns me for our trip in April. Our flight is non cancel. Though the hotel is. Just hoping things be a little better then so we can at least do this trip.

  9. Typically diseases often become less virulent over time as they reach a balance point with their hosts. After all they don’t want to kill their habits. There likely will be more variants but like lowering waves on a beach. In time people will evolve some immunity too. Tough in the meantime though.

  10. Freedom riders get up early!
    I’ve been hearing about these
    “concentration camps” for years!
    Come on, guys, produce! Or are you waiting for JFK Sr. & Jr. to come back and run them? Nothing you say every comes true! Ever heard of credibility?

  11. Why are there so many insane trumpers on this site? Do they just truly have no where else left to post?

  12. This could be great for frequent flyers and hotel loyalty program elites. If this ends up being a bad winter, the airlines and hotels will have to do something. I don’t see them just extending status again because there are way too many elites after two years of status extensions. It seems like at this point the airlines and hotels can only improve their respective programs, especially in the case of IHG, Marriott, Hilton and Delta. I could also see American holding back its new program if this is a real bad winter.

  13. It’d be pretty scary if coronavirus were dangerous.

    But since it’s not, I’m just waiting until I can fly from North American to the Maldives again without wearing a face diaper for 30+ hours! ;D

  14. Good lord. The hysteria is unreal still.

    This is a pandemic of the *vaccinated* now.
    Since the vaccine doesn’t prevent the spread, or catching covid.

    Those who got covid ‘naturally’ have much better protection and immunity.
    All of those who got vaccinated will be suffering for the rest of their lives :/

    Very sad how everyone got duped here.


    I flew internationally yesterday.
    It’s amazing what happens when you don’t listen to the corporate media and just live your life.

  15. Still flying clt-sdf-dfw-clt weekly.
    MSC YC cruises are booked for February and May.
    Yes, I am vaxxed and one booster.
    I will continue to enjoy life and travel freely until the tyrants close the door or are voted out..

  16. No Vax. Natural immunity. Never stopped living my life. Can’t get time back. Feel bad for people still living in fear – NOT!. COVID made smart people very wealthy when the markets tanked.

    If sleepy joe wants to give me another opportunity to stack my $ with this hyped up BS, I’ll take it.

  17. The good news for kids is that even unvaccinated they have way lower risk from C19 than most other things life throws at them.
    That list includes flu, car accidents and drownings.
    The whole kid vaccination standard is flawed. The vaccine keeps individuals out of hospital and kid infections rarely ended up in hospital anyway. Immunocopromised should vaccinate but most will have unchanged health outcomes vaccinated or not
    Further kids small lungs mean they are not spreaders of the virus.
    Don’t be disappointed for the 2-5 year Olds. Celebrate their bodies already handle this.

    More kids died ok flu in 2019 than died of C19 in 2020 and 2021 combined.

  18. Wow.
    Would you have unprotected sex with a person who has syphilis or gonorrhea?
    No?
    Why not?
    Because you all are pushing this “natural immunity” garbage.
    Syphilis and gonorrhea are communicable diseases. COVID is a communicable disease.
    Pretending you are not at risk through magical thinking is nothing more than intentional ignorance.
    I can’t belive you morons could actually be on a plane that I could be on.
    There is no reasoning with the intentionally ignorant. We are done with you. Omicron isn’t.

  19. Thank you Gary for a well thought out piece. Looking at the data and expraloating possible ramifications on travel, your expertise, down the line.

    I’m with you that a lot of us are tired and have our head in the sand, hoping for the best, not really preparing for the worst. That said, the government can be planning, but they’re also very aware the general public is tired of anything covid related.

    Even my work peers, mix of healthcare mgmt and clinical, we’ve sort’ve adopted a slight fatalistic perspective. Still cautious in our behavior but also understand that we’re all going to contract it sooner or later, with the hope we’re under some decent protection afforded by whatever vaccine/booster is available at the moment.

    But the public as a whole, I don’t think they see just how bad it can get again. I never thought we would see blanket travel bans or full-blown lockdowns but here we are again, 21 months later and parts of the world are going back to that.

    Our federation of 50 states will differ in our approach to any surges but fingers crossed the next surge is brief in duration and we can all go back to traveling again come summertime.

  20. @Todd
    Let’s see. Who are the fearless. Obviously, the anti-vaxxers aren’t afraid. The people who are vaxxed are not afraid. Let’s see, that leaves you Todd. Congratulations.

  21. @everyone – who has kids and deciding whether to vaccinate them…. This is the single most important decision you may make regarding their future health.

    Do a search for “Before your child is injected, watch Dr. Robert Malone’s”….
    First link that comes up. Watch his video recently updated.

    This man is not a blogger or random scientist or random doctor. He is someone who created the mRNA vaccine technology.

    Note – People have tried to scrub and rewrite Dr. Malone’s past accomplishment. But he is clearly credited in Wikipedia, which you can see using the web archive of the original posting..

  22. Being fully boostered I know I am unlikely to get the disease and if I do it is extremely unlikely to be severe. It is the unvaccinated who are dying off quickly. So I wouldn’t hesitate to fly per se. The question is whether the purposes for going remain valid or not. If things I want to see and do will be closed, there’s not any point in traveling. I agree with the premise of the article to use miles whenever possible and book things that can be canceled.

    And FDA, every day you don’t meet on Paxlovid, there will be that many more deaths on your hands. Get to work already!

  23. @Todd

    Again, intentional ignorance.

    You say: “People have tried to scrub and rewrite Dr. Malone’s past accomplishment. But he is clearly credited in Wikipedia, which you can see using the web archive of the original posting”

    And in fact, it CLEARLY does say: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been criticized for promoting misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.[1][2][3][4]”

    Because that is how Science works. The guy could have been a genius in his 20’s, but once he goes down a path that nearly every medical researcher disagrees with now in his 60’s (with scientific articles confronting the errors), then he no longer speaks with authority.

    Ulness you are desperately looking for someone that kinda validate your view. (By the way, he also caught COVID and now has persistent symptoms of long COVID.)

    If others are interested, cause grifters gotta grift: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/08/robert-malone-vaccine-inventor-vaccine-skeptic/619734/

  24. Domestic travel should remain fine. I definitely wouldn’t be making any nonrefundable plans. Making intl plans before June remains unwise. Believing your shots protect you now is a religious belief. But religion as comforted people for millennia.

  25. Don…and others. You are the duped ones. Even “the former guy” got jabbed. What you are vomiting our is not factually correct. Over 800,000 have died with many more still suffering from long Covid. Out healthcare is heavily impacted and those of you who choose NOT to get the vaccine should stay home when you can hardly breathe. After all Covid is a big hoax. Just ask the families of the dead, or do you not believe that fact either. Covid doesn’t care what you believe, it will infect you despite your beliefs.

  26. @ Zebraitis

    Pull your head out of your butt and look elsewhere other than mainstream as your only source of information. You have no idea what you are talking about. There are tens of thousand doctors and researchers not agreeing with the narrative. But you won’t find that on your favorite channel like CNN or FOX or NY Times or whatever….

    gbdeclaration.org/

    @Valinda – 800,000 have not died from Covid. Perhaps with Covid but no difference than dying with pneumonia or some other Coronavirus. They have co-mobilities. People are obese. Lack Vit. D. Eat food I wouldn’t give to a dog. No exercise. Our healthcare is a mess in the USA and worldwide. Wrong or no treatments. Only protocols.

  27. @Gary, what is the run-down of the “Big 3” US carriers’ COVID waiver policies right now? I was just looking into book a trip to TLV in Feb/March, but it’s really fuzzy if I would be able to CX that and get a trip credit with AA per their current guidance on their waiver – which seems to expire Dec 31, 2021?

    Maybe you could whip up a post on this… as I think airlines are going to have to extend their waivers into the middle of 2022 in order to get people to book anything. Just my $0.02. With numerous EU countries starting to slap Q requirements on vaxxed travelers now, and Israel shutting down travel to/from USA and others… the writing is clearer by the day – INTL border crossings are closing down again, not opening up further.

  28. @Todd

    If a person is struck by lightning, do you blame their death to a vitamin D deficiency? Is that their blamed comorbidity?

    COVID Omicron now has reached community spread, an it transmits twice as fast as delta.

    If your medical scientific argument rests on what channels a person watches, you are not having a scientific discussion.

    My head is fine, thanks.

  29. One word from Gary about COVID, and half you people lose your minds and blather out a horsepile of nonsense with the upshot being “all this is a big hoax”. Please, just stop. Just like Don, you WISH it were all a big hoax, and avert your eyes to the missing 800,000+ Americans who somehow died of “nothing”. It is offensive to those of us who are missing family members. I wish it were all a bad dream, too, but it’s not. Ask a doctor, a real doctor who sees COVID cases. Your blathering here, there and everywhere about how the odd cherry-picked “expert” says this is nothing flies in the face of real clinicians who can assure you this is real, it’s dangerous, and people are dying OF COVID every day.

  30. Spirit has been cancelling about 5 flights per day out of LAX the past several days. Even if domestic travel may be allowed and you may feel safe to go, I doubt flight attendants and pilots will be able to fly with active COVID infections. So if a lot of people get covid at once, there may be a rash of flight cancellations even if its less deadly. I doubt airlines would even want flight attendants serving drinks with the flu. So then you may not want to book un-cancelable hotels, rental cars, event tickets, etc at a destination if your flight may be canceled and you can’t quickly rebook or don’t want to rebook knowing the airline has a rash of cases and the flight they put you on the next day could be canceled too. It doesn’t matter what your position on vaccines is, you need to either have flexible plans if you miss the trip, or fly with a big airline on a route with lots of flights where they can definitely get you there quick if your first flight is canceled. Its also a bad time for people who don’t live near their airport to fly. We drove 2+ hours for our flight, it was canceled at the gate at boarding time with no options the same day, and we had to turn around and drive back home (or wait hours in line to argue with an agent for a hotel). Hopefully if omicron sweeps through its less severe and leaves everyone who had it more immune and we are near the end of the pandemic.

  31. @Zebraitis

    Well, you now have made two idiotic analogies in one day. Unprotected sex and lightening. I can no longer have a discussion with you. I will not downgrade my intelligence to your level.

  32. @SST

    Sorry for any loss you have experienced. I have never called this a hoax and believe it is quite real…..for some.

    Perhaps you haven’t been through the other side of the coin. Whether for a lack of investigative knowhow or just plain don’t question the narrative. I for one have lost one person directly connected to me and have other friends, including doctor friends, who lost people due to incompetence and wrong treatments at the hospital level. Someone I know lost their father-in-law to a stroke but was labeled died from Covid by the hospital even though he was tested 5 times and all negative. Family fought with hospital to change cause of death. They did cave in but only to “died with Covid”!

    My doctor has treated over 350 people with the protocols that are opposite the narrative and along the lines of the FLCCC. All recovered except for one who was not in good health and over 75.

    Yes, people are dying every day. Many of them are dying with Covid not of Covid. Many are dying of the vaccine and many have been harmed by it. If it really worked as well as they say you wouldn’t need two shots and multiple boosters all within one year!

    New today. Vietnamese Province Suspends Pfizer COVID Vaccine Batch After More Than 120 Children Hospitalized! Look it up!

    The big problem is therapeutics are not given at the first stage besides the fact the health of people in general is poor, at best. CDC recommends waiting it out at home until it gets so bad then come to the hospital. Too late by then. Once you hit the ventilator and jabbed with Remdesivir it’s over.

    They can do so much more but it is not in their interest.

  33. @ Todd,

    My analogies are directly addressing your logic:

    1) Argument #1 – Avoid covid by improving your lifestyle and general health. And that is a good argument, if you were looking to defeat diabetes or to delay teh onset of heart disease.
    But covid is not preventable via improving your diet.

    That is not how Covid works. The outer spike protein of the coronavirus latches onto specific receptors on the surface of cells in our respiratory tract. In the case of COVID-19, the virus latches on to the ACE2 receptor.

    2) Arguemnet #2 – Comorbidity argument – I pointed out that you are making a spurious argument.

    Imagine if I had cancer. And I was involved in a horrific accident due to a drunk driver. Would the drunk driver suggest that he did not kill due to my cancer?

    Surely his layer may, as the layer is concerned with monetary payout to my family members, but the murder is going to prison, as he was the reason for the death.

    You are not only incorrect in your dismissive attitude of 800,000 dead fellow Americans, but outstandingly insensitive.

    3) Finally, you say “Once you hit the ventilator and jabbed with Remdesivir it’s over. They can do so much more but it is not in their interest.”

    This is the argument for those that don’t get Vaxed. However… We have spent $12 BILLION dollars to prevent EXACTLY what you describe, and it is called a free and easy vaccine for you me, and others.

    And who are the ones on the ventilators? The people that didn’t get vaccines. We have spent $12 Billion, and morons still think that they can drink bleach or eat horse paste and somehow avoid something that is biologically structured to join receptors in your throat and lungs.

    ————————————

    I wish other goodnight, and I look forward to flying again without concern.

  34. @Zebraitis

    Your first and last paragraphs proves this statement….. You are smart but lack intelligence. Good luck navigating what lies ahead for you.

  35. Gary, we know what to make of Omicron. It’s all hysteria and exaggeration like the whole of Covid. If the media, institutions, and the government said nothing about Covid, we wouldn’t know anything about it in our day to day lives. 3 million people died of pneumonia, the flu, and other ailments in 2019. 3 million people died in 2020 but most of those ailments they called Covid. Same in 2021. People got bad colds and the flu before and people died. It wasn’t anything the average person worried much about.

    We know omicron is just for political and globalist purposes. You shouldn’t believe anything coming out of the mouth of people in the medical community who make $150,000 a year to $2,000,000 and have an incentive to exaggerate. Covid is big business and $ for these groups. Anyone who is honest is dismissed from their positions by the establishment. You know that.

  36. The people claiming that Covid is a hoax or that you wouldn’t know anything about it if it wasn’t for the media highlighting/faking the pandemic… I just hope you don’t need a hospital visit yourself. 5 NE states that as of last night have zero ICU beds in any hospital in a 5-state area, largely because they’re filled up with unvaccinated people from the latest Thanksgiving Delta wave.

    Airlines are already facing crew shortages which will only become more exacerbated with the massively increased transmissibility of omicron.

    And while at least one anti vaxxer above boasts of their international travel, reality is your international jaunts will become more and more limited. Canada already requires full vaccination in order to step on an airplane or train. Much of the EU is moving to admit, or transport aboard its air carriers, vaccinated individuals only.

    The latter is why I’ve also been heading advice from folks like Gary. Even trans border travel between US and Canada is fraught with complications during these times. Mandatory negative Covid tests as a requirement to fly (in either direction) mean that travellers whom contract Covid on their trips face up to 15 days in isolation at destination before they can even fly home, a massive disrupter, and with Omicron as much as 4-5 times more transmissible, my concern (and that of most of my clients) is not so much that we’ll be seriously Ill given we’ve all been fully vaccinated (many with their their booster), but rather the concern of being stuck somewhere due to rapidly changing border restrictions and the much higher chance of a positive Covid test result which would prevent going home.

    Starting January I have multiple trips planned to both the US and Europe, but am already questioning some of them such as a large in person convention planned for January.

    Fortunately most carriers are waiving change fees, but I’m also having to keep a track of around a half dozen credits scattered across multiple airliners at this juncture and it’s never ideal to have so much cash tied up in cancelled airline credits.

  37. Who does spelling and grammar checks? Time might be well spent enlisting the aide of a good proofreader. Ii am unable to take an article seriously if it has typos, spelling, and grammar issues.

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