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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.
From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how your trip went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made it right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).
Recently, I posted a story from Benjamin, who had to buy a last-minute ticket due to confusion over airport codes. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Amy, who was barred from a flight due to passport restrictions at her destination. Here’s what she had to say:
A while back, I was headed to Hong Kong to make a presentation to a customer. I had limited time, so I planned a quick turnaround by leaving on a Sunday afternoon and coming back on Thursday. Because it was a short trip and I wouldn’t be leaving Hong Kong, I knew I didn’t need a visa. My passport was about six months from its expiration date, but I didn’t want to risk a delay in having it returned to me, so I decided to wait and renew it after my trip. That turned out to be the wrong move!
I tried to check in online as normal, but was having issues, so I figured I’d just do it at the airport as I checked my bag. When I got to the airport, however, I kept getting an error from the check-in monitor, and had to have an agent assist me. She also wasn’t sure what was happening, so she had to bring in a manager, who consulted a book of error codes.
The problem turned out to be with my passport. At the time, Hong Kong required visitors from the US to have a passport that was valid for at least six months beyond the trip — that’s six months from when you exit the country, not just from when you arrive. My flight there was fine, but my return flight fell within that six-month limit, which invalidated the entire itinerary.
That Monday was a federal holiday, so I wasn’t able to expedite a passport renewal. The trip was already so short that I couldn’t reduce it by the number of days needed to meet the entry requirement, so I ended up missing it completely. Luckily, I had someone based in Hong Kong who was already in possession of my product samples, and I was able to call in for the meeting. But it was less than ideal, and it didn’t result in any new business with that customer.
I had been traveling regularly for years, sometimes internationally, and felt like I had checked through everything and was prepared. This extended time beyond passport expiration for the return flight threw me for a loop, and now I make sure to check it every time I leave the country. I learned my lesson the hard way, but hopefully my embarrassing experience will help others avoid falling into the same trap!
US citizens have among the most powerful passports out there, offering visa-free access to over 170 countries. However, it’s important to make sure your passport is valid and be aware of potential restrictions even when you don’t need a visa. Hong Kong is just one of many destinations that require a buffer between your departure date and passport expiration. That limit has since shrunk to just one month beyond your intended stay, but China, Russia and many European countries still require six months of validity. Once your passport falls inside that buffer, it won’t be usable.
It’s also important to remember that visa requirements can change, as they did for Hong Kong previously, and in 2016 for Americans visiting Vietnam, Kazakhstan and more. Be proactive about checking those requirements when you’re planning a trip abroad. Even if you’re an experienced international traveler or you’re headed to a familiar destination, verifying the rules ahead of time can help you avoid unpleasant surprises at the airport.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Amy for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.
I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured image courtesy of Hong Kong Immigration Department.
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