I am making fully refundable bookings using points. However I’ve been avoiding transferring American Express and Chase points when I do not have to, because while awards can be redeposited into an airline frequent flyer account the points cannot usually be moved back from the airline account to Amex or Chase. When you transfer flexible bank points there is a cost in lost flexibility.
Domestic travel should be mostly doable this summer, especially for the vaccinated. The current vaccines seem likely to be less effective against the South African and Brazilian Covid-19 strains which don’t appear to be common here – that’s tentative because the U.S. does very little genomic surveillance – and Pfizer and Moderna are working on boosters and reformulations.
International travel remains a question mark, at least for most destinations that are currently closed to Americans.
I’ve got a couple of award trips booked to visit my family in Australia later this year, but I have no idea whether I’ll be able to take them – Australia may not open its borders.
- Countries that have largely kept the virus at bay remain almost completely at risk, since their population doesn’t have a base level of immunity. They need to stay closed longer because they’re highly vulnerable to spread.
- Countries that aren’t vaccinating quickly will remain at risk, too.
- Some will open to those who are vaccinated, even though it’s likely that vaccination only reduces risk of spread rather than eliminating it. Expect vaccination plus a negative test to be a common requirement for countries that re-open to travel.
My bet on the data is that March will be a lot better here than February, that by end of May or June the virus will be at a very low level in the U.S. By that I mean a few thousand cases per day in the U.S., rather than six figures of cases a day we’ve seen the past few months. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a more or less virus-free summer here, and in Europe. How things look in the fall depends on vaccinations and mutations in the virus. (I believe this with a 75% probability.)
But I wouldn’t spend non-refundable cash (or trust cash to companies I wasn’t really confident of staying in business and honoring refunds) because too much remains uncertain. All of my bookings – to Europe, Asia and Australia – are on points. All of my hotel stays are on points, or fully cancellable and booked direct.
There’s simply been too much uncertainty. No change fees helps, but with travel credits there’s breakage and of course you wouldn’t want to get stuck with Norwegian vouchers. And carriers like Air Canada have proven themselves too untrustworthy to buy tickets from.
We need to do everything possible to vanquish the virus. The FDA should approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been approved already in the U.K. and Europe, perhaps prioritizing it for younger people. There’s a leased vaccine factory in Baltimore we should be relying on to get U.S. doses quickly. Travel will resume even though business travel won’t completely come back.