Reader Keeps Taking Covid-19 Tests To Find A Negative One And Return To U.S.

I’ve had a lot of odd, surprising jobs in my life and should probably tell more of these stories, especially when they relate to travel. I’ve driven around the state of Michigan giving talks on U.S. foreign policy, cold-called people who might be interested in selling their homes, and sold cars. I’ve also written correspondence under the signatures of two Majority Leaders in Congress.

It’s used cars I want to talk about for a minute. When the business would take cars in on trade, they would get sent to an outside shop for emissions testing. The cost was $35 for a test, or $70 for a passing test. Whereas most shops did re-tests for free, at this one if a car failed the first time they’d charge for the second test but the car always passed. The tech would stick the emissions probe in the tailpipe of his own car, every time.

A reader recently wrote to me about returning to the United States with the current requirement of a negative Covid-19 test to enter by air. This requirement really doesn’t do much to keep Covid-19, or new variants (which are already spreading wildly), out of the country.

  • Three day old antigen tests are accepted
  • People with negative tests and recent exposure to family members who test positive can fly home
  • Arrivals by land don’t have this requirement
  • There’s no quarantine or re-testing required

And the quality of testing varies tremendously. Anyone who tests positive can just keep keep trying, using tests with low specificity. This reader took five tests until he finally got a negative one. He had to pay emissions tester four re-testing fees, it seems.

The CDC says that vaccinated people can travel at low risk, that they do not need to quarantine when they return to the U.S., and that they do not much contract or spread the virus. Vaccines produce a stronger immune response than prior infection, yet those with recent prior infection (past three months, with medical clearance to travel) do not need to test to return to the U.S. – but those who have been vaccinated do. Current testing requirements to enter the U.S. are Covid theater.

Yet they aren’t costless. It’s not just the time and expense, either, but travelers might receive a false positive result and have their lives disrupted as well, with their return home delayed – causing problems for work and family. Since the benefit to testing vaccinated travelers is so limited under current rules, those rules should be revised.

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, 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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  1. Has anyone paid attention to the amount of $$ being spent by travelers overseas to have a negative covid test so they can return to the US? It seems that the laboratories conducting these tests have a major windfall in income. I recently returned from the Dom. Rep. and I went to a testing facility, paid $35 for about 3 minutes worth of service. Multiply this by about 2000 people a day flying from the D.R. to the USA and that adds up to quite a profit for the laboratories.

  2. I am not in favor of the testing pre travel, but this “reader” is a complete douche bag. He had 4 positive tests yet he still felt important enough to fly and to risk himself and everyone on that plane? Sorry but you should be butchering this dirt bag not applauding how he games a broken system. Sorry but if you choose to travel and find yourself being positive it’s ok to get a second opinion, but I hope they charge this person with endangerment and arrest them!!

  3. You’re right GJ Gerard. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the laboratories abroad may simply be issuing negative test results to anyone paying them the fee.

  4. In Mallorca a German Doctor was caught providing fake covid-19 results to tourists who wanted to return to Germany. So you can be sure it is happening everywhere and frequently

  5. I paid less than the equivalent of $45 yesterday to get a rapid antigen test and email/SMS link to a digital certificate with my test results in order to fly back to the US this weekend. The lowest commercial rate I could find for the general public was about $48. And this was for testing in Sweden.

    For me to fly back from the US to Europe, I may or may not need another Covid-19 test but it depends on the circumstances at that time. But my next return to Europe during this pandemic will have me being vaccinated against Covid-19 and yet it won’t waive me from any testing requirements at the more likely destinations for my next US-Europe trip this quarter.

  6. While I agree that the possibility of a false positive is a problem, especially when someone has already been vaccinated anyway, and that the protocols need to be adjusted, someone that has tested positive 4 times in a row has an absurdly low probability of actually being negative. This was a contagious person trying to game the system in order to intentionally and illegally risk the safety of everyone around him. That’s reckless endangerment. I hope that reader gets charged. And not the kind of charge you earn CC points for.

    When you travel abroad right now, especially unvaccinated, you’re taking the risk that you might get sick abroad and the accompanying costs of staying there until you’re no longer contagious so that you can safely return. You know that risk when you plan your trip and you are accepting it by taking said trip. It stinks, and we’ll all be glad when it’s over, but it is what it is and intentionally endangering others because you don’t want to deal with the consequences of your own decisions is not acceptable.

  7. I found this on the CDC webpage…..are they still requiring test to fly home?

    Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People
    Updated Apr. 2, 2021

    Summary of Recent Changes
    Fully vaccinated people can resume domestic travel and do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
    Fully vaccinated people do not need to get tested before leaving the United States (unless required by the destination) or self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States.

  8. One must get vaccinated to prevent infections from assholes that do short-sighted self-important shit like this.

    The problem that all of us that do the travel game know:
    If there is a system, it can be gamed.

  9. These stories about people “scamming the system” will probably not contribute to a change in mind by politicians and a quick re-opening. Au Contraire. It just provides fodder for continued draconian measures.

  10. What VBSCRIPT2 said and what Ben O said.
    So how many readers here would be pleased to be seated on the plane next to, “This reader took five tests until he finally got a negative one. He had to pay emissions tester four re-testing fees, it seems.” Hands, a show of hands, please raise your hand if you are volunteering to have this reader sit in the middle seat next to you.

    The article does not say the reader has been vaccinated, and even for a small percentage of people who have been vaccinated, they still get covid. In fact I read an article today that said that 74 people who had been vaccinated and were well beyond the weeks to wait for full immunity, 74 people have died of covid after being vaccinated. If I recall right, I think it was 5,400 people were positive after the full vaccination period. The vaccines are not 100%.

    This selfish person’s seat mates could have health issues that would be very bad for them to catch covid (maybe check with the families of the 74 people who have died post vaccination).

    I get it we are all tired of wearing the mask and washing our hands and social distancing. We are all tired of it, but I do want the people on the plane with me to not cheat the system.
    Would you want your infant daughter, your toddler daughter, to be seated next to dear reader?

  11. What I read from all this:

    1 in 5 tests will miss a positive case and report a negative


    Some testing is so inaccurate that 4 out of 5 tests will result in false positives.

    Either way, overall testing is either 20% accurate or 20% inaccurate, but either one means I could probably report a positive covid test based on if someone has a fever, and that alone, and be more accurate than the actual tests.


    You can pay for a fake test, it will be approved, and therefore the entire charade of testing people is pointless because a known covid-19 positive person can still travel in spite of all of it.

  12. Trying to find an outlet that will provide proof of vaccine administered without actually getting it.

  13. @Fran Orphal – yes, testing required within 3 days of travel for air arrivals into the US (or proof of recovery from prior infection in past 3 months)

  14. In Ohio an elderly Amish man was asked why the Amish don’t get Covid 19. His answer: “we don’t watch television”.

  15. Hmm all the more reason to that only vaccinated people should be allowed to travel and why we should have vaccine passports verified through state databases. None of this forged card crap. Covidiots have demonstrated time and time again that they have no problem with putting the rest of us at risk.

  16. Australia and New Zealand and China and Singapore and Taiwan and Bhutan have it right: quarantine works. The US is such a joke, the world’s wealthiest country and a year later every day it still kills more than its citizens than all the above countries combined did since the pandemic begun. Oh, you can add China too. Plus with a third of those who survived COVID having permanent damage, it’s a grim future.

  17. What a surprise, the Covid scam has created a profit motive for the unsavory and morally-challenged segment of society. Ironically, those who have engendered and promoted the fraud, like Gary, are complicit

  18. @James N – new Parler is reallyyyyy short on people participating in the “conversation” over there, I think you would fit in perfectly

  19. My son HAD to travel for major cancer treatment. We took every precaution possible due to his low white blood cell count, but someone like this moron could have killed him. Anyone who knowingly gets on a plane with a contagious disease is an a**h***. Period. Great job, Gary, for encouraging this behavior.

  20. This is why a pandemic is not “personal” health risk but a PUBLIC Health disaster.
    CAM, in your shoes I would be absolutely FURIOUS too.
    Bet the gentle reader is a maskhole also.

  21. Antigen tests here in the U.S. are 91% accurate, or so I’ve been told by doctors. So it’s not at all surprising that by taking 5 tests the duchebag in question was able to finally get one that gave him the answer he wanted.

    However, the article didn’t tell us if he did all the tests in one or 2 days. If his 5th test came after the 4th or 5th day of the first one, it’s not inconceivable that the test came negative due to the reduced virus count (or whatever it’s called).

    In any case, while the antigen test is much less accurate than PCR, it’s better than no test, and I can see why the government wants it.

  22. Once you’ve had the virus or been vaccinated, that should be it. No more testing, no more useless Fauci theater crap. Enough already. And before someone tells me that a vaccinated person could theoretically get the virus, in rare cases it’s happened. But they don’t get that sick.

    Clearly this entire thing is being mismanaged worldwide, as there’s little to no difference in outcome between places that lockdown and places that don’t; or between places with mask mandates and places that don’t have them. The jurisdictions that have done best through this are those that are the most isolated from the rest of the world. Are we going to become a world of hermits?

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