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What’s in my pandemic app folder as travel rebounds

July 05, 2021
6 min read
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As TPG’s senior travel reporter, I’ve spent the last six months researching, writing and experiencing -- in real-time -- what it’s like traveling and living during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I deleted most of my travel and networking apps from my iPhone in early March 2020, convinced that I wouldn’t use them any time soon. Keeping a hotel or cheap flights app on my phone didn’t make much sense while quarantined in my New York City apartment with no travel plans in sight.

We’re entering a new phase in the pandemic, which has people cautiously optimistic and fearful. Positive cases and deaths from the virus have dropped, and nearly 60% of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated. U.S. air travel has topped more than 2 million passengers a day nine times in June. At the same time, some U.S. states lag in vaccinations, many countries haven’t received a single vaccine, and the Delta variant has health professionals concerned.

But, like many people, I am traveling and going out again. So I’ve created what is essentially a “COVID travel folder.” I redownloaded some old travel apps and added a few new apps to help while traveling in these mid-pandemic times. Here are the apps and websites I’m using to navigate travel -- and life -- during the pandemic.

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Vaccine passport apps

(Photo by ArtistGNDphotography/Getty Images)

Excelsior Pass

With 60% of New York City adults fully vaccinated, New York City is all but open. However, some pandemic features remain. For instance, some venues -- particularly those with large crowds -- have required proof of vaccination to enter. I saw the logistics of this play out in real-time a few weeks ago while attending an event that required proof of vaccination.

I saw several guests struggle to find a screenshot of their vaccination cards, or pulled crumpled, dog-eared cards out of their wallets or handbags. Trying to find a screenshot of my own vaccine card at previous events proved tedious. I was also worried I’d eventually lose or damage my vaccine card if I carried it around in my wallet, so I downloaded the Excelsior Pass.

New Yorkers can use the Excelsior Pass if fully vaccinated in New York state, had a negative PCR test administered in New York within three days or took a negative antigen test in New York in the last six hours.

After entering my date of birth and vaccination location, my record was located, and I created a digital card in my Wallet iPhone app. The Excelsior Pass Wallet app is available for iOS or Android.

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Travel advisories

Travelers walk through John F. Kennedy Airport ahead of Memorial Day weekend on May 28, 2021, in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

CDC Travel advisory

Before booking a flight or even settling on an international travel destination, I check the COVID-19 status in that country. For example, I chose a recent last-minute trip to Turks and Caicos after looking at vaccination rates, transmission data and travel advisories in that country.

Several government agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequently issue updated travel advice for the world’s countries. These risk assessment levels are ranked Level 1 through 4. Countries without updated COVID-19 figures are assigned a “level unknown” designation.

The CDC’s threat levels are determined by the number of COVID-19 cases in a given country.

The agency recommends getting vaccinated before visiting any country at any level. However, its guidance for unvaccinated travelers varies by how severe the pandemic is in each particular nation. For example, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to countries at Level 4, the highest threat level. Countries in that category have more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 28 days. Level 4 countries include nations such as United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Brazil and India.

Level 1 countries like Anguilla, Australia and New Zealand are considered the lowest-risk destinations because they have reported fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last 28 days. However, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated before traveling to any location at Level 1.

US State Department advisory

The U.S. State Department has its own travel advisory risk system, ranging from Level 1 to Level 4. You can see this information in list format or on a color-coded map.

Travel guidance from the State Department isn’t always 100% in sync with the CDC, as it considers other factors aside from health-related risks. For instance, the State Department says it still recommends U.S. citizens reconsider traveling abroad, which differs from what the CDC has publicly said about travel.

On June 28, the State Department added five countries -- including the United Arab Emirates -- to its highest designation, Level 4 “Do Not Travel.” Dozens of countries, including Fiji, Sweden, the Netherlands and Trinidad and Tobago, are all in the Level 4 designation. In addition, the State Department this spring warned Americans to avoid traveling to about 80% of the world’s countries due to COVID-19.

TPG app

As someone with dozens of loyalty programs, I needed a single place to help to keep track of my various account balances in one app. Now that travel is picking up, I am booking trips well in 2022.

The TPG App helps me monitor my spending habits and gives recommendations on which card to use when purchasing at a particular store. I spend most of my “fun money” on food or groceries, so a neat feature is receiving location-based alerts that will help me choose the right card to maximize my spending while at the supermarket or out for drinks with friends. That means I’m starting to use some of the hundreds of thousands of points and miles I earned during the pandemic on travel.

I have extensive travel goals for 2021 and 2022 -- think Qatar QSuite, stays at multiple Ritz-Carlton hotels -- so the TPG App helps guide me on the best ways to burn my points and miles on my dream redemption.

If you want to do the same, you can add your name to the waitlist for the TPG App now. Note that the TPG App is currently only supported by iOS 13 and above — but TPG plans to launch an Android version in the months to come.

Featured image by LightRocket via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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4 / 5
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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.