Travel bubbles: Here’s what they might mean for your future trips

Dec 17, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Travel bubbles. Green zones. Air bridges. Green lanes. You might be hearing much more about all of these in the weeks and months to come.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

We first heard the terms when writing our in-depth country-by-country guide to reopening travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. These are essentially agreements between countries believed to have controlled the spread of COVID-19. They go by different names, but all allow travel — essential or otherwise — across otherwise closed borders, often without long quarantines and other major restrictions.

Most recently, Singapore said it would begin allowing certain “high-value” visitors from countries around the world beginning in January. Those visitors, according to Reuters, would be kept in small groups, or bubbles, making it one of the first nations to attempt a travel bubble that isn’t limited to certain countries.

And in Oceania, a long-awaited travel bubble is finally set to begin between Australia and New Zealand in early 2021.

Related: A country-by-country guide to the Caribbean

So, what countries are attempting travel bubbles and how could they affect your future trips? Here’s what we know so far.

In This Post

 

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Asia travel bubbles

Singapore September 2019. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Singapore, along with South Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand will allow exceptional-need travel for essential businesses. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Singapore announced this week it will start a new program in late January 2021 that will allow so-called “high-value” travelers from most countries to come to the island nation. The program seems to be intended mostly for business travelers, company executives and diplomats.

Travelers will be confined to designated luxury hotels, but may be able to meet in groups of up to five people at what Reuters calls “segregated facilities.” Meetings will be allowed, but only in rooms with floor-to-ceiling, air-tight glass panel dividers. Meals will be dropped off outside visitors’ rooms. Travelers in this bubble will also be required to carry contact-tracing devices and will be tested regularly.

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) that is usually held in Davos, Switzerland, is being moved to Singapore in May of this year. These Singapore bubbles are preparation for the forum, so it may be able to go on as scheduled.

In China, a planned bubble connecting the republic to Hong Kong has been delayed until 2021 after new outbreaks in Hong Kong. But a bubble between China and South Korea exclusively for business travelers was among one of the first to open, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Shanghai. (Photo by Xiaodong Qiu/Getty Images)
Shanghai is among the cities giving limited access as a green-lane city under a travel bubble between China and South Korea. (Photo by Xiaodong Qiu/Getty Images)

Beginning as early as May, both countries began allowing fast-track immigration in so-called green lanes between the two nations, with South Korean business travelers to visit certain regions in China and the cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing. Health screenings are mandatory and a quarantine period is still part of the process. Travelers need to quarantine at a government-run facility for one to two days. Testing for COVID-19 is also mandatory.

China has reportedly also had talks on allowing essential business travel with Austria, Germany, Singapore and at least 10 other nations. Japan is also in talks to join the group.

New Zealand and Australia

Auckland February 2018. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Auckland is one of the cities included within New Zealand and Australia’s Tasman travel bubble. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

New Zealand and Australia were among the first to announce plans for a “Tasman travel bubble.” On Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, the two nations agreed to allow travel between the countries beginning in the first quarter of 2021.

It will allow quarantine-free travel for citizens of the neighboring nations who are not sick.

Fiji and other Pacific Island nations have also suggested they are open to joining in any expanded trans-Tasman bubble.

Australia and New Zealand are also involved in discussions for a larger “trade bubble” that would allow for essential business travel between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and Singapore.

In fact, trade ministers from Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have agreed to allow travel “on an exceptional basis” for essential businesses.

Europe

In the U.K., which has its own quarantine requirements for international arrivals, business leaders are demanding the use of so-called sky bridges to allow international visitors from countries with low infection rates into the country without that mandatory quarantine.

In fact, there could be a travel bubble for business travelers between London and New York at some point.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news and said the “growing availability of COVID-19 tests in the U.S.” might eventually allow for “shortened traveler quarantine periods” for travel between the financial capitals. The Journal was hopeful there would be a travel corridor approved by the end of 2020, but that appears increasingly unlikely.

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian poured a bit of cold water on the idea, telling the U.K.’s Financial Times newspaper, “I think New York [to] London is complicated.” Bastian suggested it would be easier to almost any other European capital.

In addition, U.K. citizens are currently barred from entering the U.S. if they’ve spent time in the U.K. within the last 14 days. That ban would likely need to be lifted if the corridor between London and New York City was put into place.

Vilnius, Lithuania May 2019. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Vilnius, Lithuania. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have created the Baltic bubble. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

In May, the people of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were allowed to travel freely between the neighboring nations, making the “Baltic bubble” the first of its kind in the European Union. But in September, a spike in coronavirus cases in Estonia forced Latvia to implement new restrictions, and Estonians were asked to start self-quarantining for 14 days upon arrival. The step backward underscores just how delicate these travel bubbles are.

Germany reopened its borders with some neighbors on June 15, while the Czech Republic opened its borders to Austria and Slovakia. Croatia is allowing quarantine-free travel within its own bubble with Slovenia, too.

What about Americans?

Statue of Liberty
(Photo by Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the United States has still not been welcomed into any travel bubble, as it currently has the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any country on Earth. Even Canada isn’t welcoming Americans at the moment. But with the arrival of promising new vaccines, travel bubbles could very well be the next step toward resuming international travel.

Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.