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There are plenty of travel sites that tell you how to do things the right way — but as every traveler knows, sometimes things go wrong. In his bi-monthly travel and credit card mistake series, TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten invites you to learn from his mistakes — his many, many mistakes.
I like to keep my travel expenses low, and using miles and points is helping me meet that goal as I get ready for a trip to Africa this week. I booked flights from Nairobi to Johannesburg to Cairo and back to Nairobi for only 35,000 MileagePlus miles (plus $113 in taxes/fees), traveling on United’s StarAlliance partners South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. I’m using IHG PointBreaks for a 5,000-point hotel redemption in Johannesburg, and I found a 10,000-point Hilton HHonors redemption for a 5-star hotel in Cairo. The best part is that the long-haul flights between New York-JFK and Nairobi (NBO) were a steal: $475 round-trip on Jet Airways (operated by Etihad).
I expect that something can go wrong on a trip, and I always make sure to bring a credit card that works well in other countries (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Amex Platinum and the Citi Prestige, all of which have chip technology and no foreign transaction fees) in case of unforeseen expenses.
But this week, as I dashed around town making final arrangements to leave, feeling pretty smart about my low-cost trip, something I wasn’t expecting to impact my budget quickly escalated to a significant expense. It was something as important as a passport and easier to get than a visa:
Vaccination costs were threatening to become my latest travel mistake.
There’s no good reason not to get travel vaccinations, but there is a good reason to budget for them. Vaccinations aren’t always cheap – especially when you wait, as I did, until just prior to departure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a list of recommended vaccines for travelers, and some nations require proof of certain vaccinations prior to entering the country. About a week before leaving, I consulted the CDC’s website for the countries I was visiting (I was particularly concerned about Kenya, where I’d be traveling outside of the metropolitan areas) and then called my doctor’s office to see which of the recommended vaccines I really needed.
Armed with information, I visited my local urgent care clinic to get my needed vaccines, only to be told that they don’t give yellow fever or meningitis vaccinations. (In fact, very few facilities are authorized to give yellow fever vaccines, in particular.) However, I was able to get a tetanus shot, flu shot and a prescription for anti-malaria medication. The cost of the office visit and shots: $120.
I then called a local travel-health clinic and made an appointment for my yellow fever and meningitis vaccines. The office visit: $50. The vaccines: $360!
I’d been excited that those round-trip flights from JFK-NBO were only $475, but now my vaccination tally was suddenly a whopping $530. My travel budget was blowing up … and I hadn’t even left home yet.
Could I have gotten these shots done somewhere else for less? Probably. But I was leaving soon and didn’t want to risk being unprotected — I’d rather be a dumb consumer than a dead consumer. Thank goodness I’d already gotten my hepatitis A & B and typhoid vaccines taken care of prior to my trip to Nepal and India last year — otherwise, my vaccine costs for this Africa trip might have ended up eclipsing my total airfare costs!
As much as none of us like to pad our travel budget, you shouldn’t be a skinflint when it comes to your health. Yes, vaccines are a pain (in the shoulder and the wallet) but contracting an illness like yellow fever would surely cost more in both money and misery than a pricey shot in the arm.
The good news is that for many of these vaccines, I’m now covered for life and won’t ever have to pay for them again. Plus, I put all of the visits to the doctor office, clinics and pharmacy on a points-earning credit card, so at least I’ll have a head start on my travel redemptions next year.
Make sure to consider the expense of vaccinations when planning a trip abroad. If you’re fortunate, you may pay little to nothing for your treatments. If not, it’s better to know before you go.
Leave enough time before you depart to take advantage of lower-cost options. For instance, a flu shot is $35 at my local urgent care clinic, $15 at Costco and free at some health fairs in my area. (Costco even has its own “Full Service Travel Immunization Program” at some locations.)
Maximize your doctor visits. If you know you’ve got a trip coming up and are seeing the doctor anyway, see if you can get your immunizations taken care of without having to pay for a separate office visit.
Check with your health insurance plan to find out which treatments and medications are covered. If a treatment recommended by your doctor isn’t covered, you may wish to press the issue. In my case, a phone call for a “pre-authorization” from an insurance provider turned my anti-malaria prescription from a $104 bill into a $5 copay.
For more on trip-planning in advance (in order to avoid making your own travel mistakes), be sure to see:
Know before you go.
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