Ready to travel? These are the 11 things you need to do before leaving home

Mar 12, 2021

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The forecast for travel is getting better every day. As more people across the globe receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, the mood lightens. The promise of a return to normal life — gathering indoors with friends, attending concerts and sporting events, dining out and traveling — is within sight. Yes, we all still have to be extremely cautious, but we’re seeing a trajectory that takes us to normalcy.

So, more and more people are starting to think about future trips. And others are beginning to plan and schedule them for later in 2021. No matter which camp you’re in, you’re going to want to do some thinking about what has to happen before you set out on your next trip. It’s time to dust off those travel credits that have been piling up, renew your passport, dig up those lounge access cards and more.

If you want to get ready for the return to travel, make it happen with this checklist from The Points Guy.

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Tally your travel credits

When the world shut down, many of us had to cancel or postpone flights, hotel stays, vacation home rentals and theme park tickets. That means many of us are sitting on a ton of credits to use on future travel arrangements.

If you didn’t already do so, make a list of the credits you have and how to access them. It may be helpful to note any limitations, such as a flight credit that must be used in the same cabin class as the originally booked ticket.

Screenshot courtesy of United Airlines

You should be able to find that information right in your email inbox and most travel providers sent confirmations when issuing credits. Alternatively, log into your frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program accounts online and you should be able to view any pending credits.

With your list of credits in hand, you can start matching them with future trips.

Make sure your passport isn’t expiring

It might have felt like time was standing still during the pandemic lockdowns, but we basically lost a year. If you haven’t been carrying your passport around, you might have forgotten when it’s due to expire.

Grab your passport — and the passports for everyone in your family — and check the expiration dates. You may realize it’s time to mail in a renewal package or go in person for a last-minute expedited renewal if you have imminent travel plans and your passport has expired or is about to.

Here’s what you need to know about passport renewals:

Renew Global Entry, if necessary

(Image by Evgenia Parajanian/

While Americans aren’t allowed to travel to as many international destinations these days, there are still some spots — like the Caribbean, Mexico and Maldives — that are open to us. When returning from an international destination, Global Entry makes the arrival in the U.S. streamlined and efficient. Now is a good time to see when your Global Entry membership expires. When you renew, you may be selected for another in-person interview at a Homeland Security office at select airports around the country. It can take months to find an appointment that works for you, so it’s important to time your renewal correctly. The good news is that you can begin the renewal process up to a year before the expiration date on your card. That gives plenty of flexibility to get your renewal done without this important travel tool expiring.

Here’s what you need to know about Global Entry renewals:

Check up on your Clear status

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve headed to the airport but, back in ye old days, you may have had a Clear membership, which facilities expedited screening through security checkpoints. (Clear is found at major airports and also stadiums, but you probably haven’t been to one of those in a few months either.)

We’ve got great news if you have a Clear membership. The company is offering to extend your expiration date by three months. The extension is for all current members plus their family members who are on the primary member’s family plan. But, you need to contact Clear to receive the extension. It is not automatic.

Learn more about expedited airport security screening:

Take inventory of free night and upgrade certificates

Cortes Ocean View Suite (Photo courtesy of Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve)

If you carry a credit card that offers special perks in a particular hotel program, you may also have some free hotel night certificates or upgrade instruments at your disposal.

Here are just a few credit cards that offer free night certificates as a benefit:

The information for the Hilton Aspire card, Radisson Rewards Premier Visa has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Many programs extended the expiration date of these valuable perks, so it’s a good idea to see what you have and note the new expiration date.

Determine your credit card’s annual travel credits

Various travel credits are a perk of many premium credit cards these days. While you haven’t been traveling — or at least not as much as you used to — those credits may have been forgotten.

Screenshot courtesy of Chase

Go through your cards, see what travel credits are associated with each and then determine what you have to use for 2021. Don’t let them go to waste!

Here’s more information on travel credits:

Check elite status perks

If you have elite status with an airline or hotel, you may also have some perks that are waiting for you. For example, Delta Medallion status holders are eligible for Delta Choice Benefits. One of those options includes four Regional Upgrade Certificates. RUCs expire a year after they are issued, so you might have some that can be leveraged for 2021 trips.

Likewise, American Airlines offers its Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members a choice of benefits, one of which is a systemwide upgrade (one for Platinum Pros and two for Executive Platinums). These can be used to upgrade from coach to business class or from business class to Flagship First on any flight operated by American. SWUs expire one year from the date of selection as the perk of your choice.

American Airlines Flagship first class
American Airlines Flagship first class (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Marriott also offers elites an annual choice of benefits. Five Suite Night Awards is one of the perks Platinum Elites can select. Titanium Elites can also pick those five Suite Night Awards or a free night worth up to 40,000 points, among other options.

Determine what elite status perks are waiting in your accounts and see if they can be used for trips you are planning for 2021 or 2022.

Total your points and miles balances

Now is a good time to take stock of the points and miles that have been piling up in your accounts. If you track your accounts in a consolidated place, such as with an Award Wallet membership, log in to see where you’re at. You may find that you’re close to a dream redemption. If so, check the program to see if there are any promotions to help you boost your balance in a simple way.

For example, World of Hyatt Credit Card members were invited to register for a promotion during which they’d earn bonus points for making a certain number of transactions of $1 or more: 1,000 points for 10+ transactions, 2,500 points for 25 transactions and 5,000 points for 50+ transactions.

Some Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card holders were targeted to earn 7,500 bonus points each time they spent $7,500 and could repeat the process up to 10 times.

Find current program promotions:

Check for testing or quarantine requirements

Depending on where you’re going, you may be required to take a COVID-19 test a certain number of days/hours before your departure flight. Or, you may be required to consent to a COVID-19 test upon arrival at your destination. Check the conditions of entry for your destination and be sure to follow its mandates — or risk being turned away upon arrival.

If you’re going to Hawaii, for example, the state’s pre-travel testing program requires all visitors to take a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, from an approved testing partner within 72 hours and obtain results before departure to Hawaii. If you arrive without a negative test, you’ve earned a mandatory 10-day quarantine.

If you’re heading to the Bahamas, you’ll also need to carry a negative COVID-19 test and get a Bahamas Travel Visa, the cost of which includes mandatory insurance that covers you in case you fall ill with coronavirus in that country.

And, of course, if you leave the U.S., you’re required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival back in the country. Only those with negative tests will be allowed within our borders.

Related: 17 things you need to know about getting COVID-19 tested for US-bound international flights

Read up on vaccine passports

Vaccine passports, digital health apps, vaccination cards, immunity passports — you may hear a lot of terms right now that refer to a method to vet whether or not an individual has been vaccinated for COVID-19.

TPG’s Victoria Walker is following this issue closely and updating readers as we get more clarity on what airlines, public places and international destinations will require a vaccine passport for entry.

Some European countries as well as Thailand as others plan to waive current arrival quarantine requirements for anyone who’s vaccinated. But, you’ll need proof that you’ve been vaccinated. Digital health passport apps are in the works to make that process easier.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) will launch the IATA Travel Pass, which is being tested by airlines such as British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Emirates.

JetBlue and United Airlines, along with the World Economic Forum, are standing behind a similar app, called Common Pass. And some apps are being designed for specific destinations, such as Denmark.

Related: Your guide to digital health passports

Repack your carry-on bag with face masks and hand sanitizer

(Photo by AJ_Watt/Getty Images)

And, of course, if you’re traveling in 2021, you’ll still need to take precautions to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19 and, even after you’ve had the vaccination, to comply with any rules and mandates at your destination. Check your supply of face masks and put some in your usual carry-on bag. If you haven’t been able to purchase N94 masks, try now. Supply has opened up and it’s not as difficult as it once was to purchase them and you’re no longer encroaching on supply meant for medical workers and frontline emergency responders.

And, don’t forget to pack the hand sanitizer. If you’re flying, note that the TSA has relaxed its 3-1-1 liquids rule, which normally stipulates that each liquid you carry on a flight must be in a 3.4-ounce or less container (“3”), all containers must be placed inside one clear quart-sized plastic bag (“1”) and each passenger is only allowed one plastic bag (“1”). Usually, if your liquid items are larger than 3.4 ounces each, you’ll have to leave them in your checked bag. However, right now, you can carry on one container of hand sanitizer that is up to 12 ounces.

Now’s also a great time to review what’s in your carry-on pack and restock it with anything that was running low: trial-size shampoo, conditioner, hand moisturizer, makeup and anything else you normally keep in that bag.

Bottom line

While travel is not normal right now — and won’t be for many months to come — things are getting better. More and more people are being vaccinated across the globe each day and our communities are getting closer to herd immunity. As the world gets safer, destinations will reopen to travel. Make sure you’re ready by doing some “housekeeping” now. You’ll be glad you did.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Business card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.

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