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7 ways I've changed my flight routine to make pandemic travel easier

Feb. 14, 2021
5 min read
7 ways I've changed my flight routine to make pandemic travel easier
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When I took my first mid-pandemic flight in August, everything felt different.

Whether it was the mask or the deserted departure hall, I felt like I was living in a whole different world. Since then, I've been adjusting my flight routine to adapt to the new reality.

Whether it's doubling down on previous practices or starting new ones, here's a look at how I've modified my flight routine due to the pandemic.

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Overhauled booking pattern

Before the pandemic, I booked travel anywhere from 330 days before the trip to hours before departure using both a mix of cash and points. Nowadays, I'm no longer comfortable purchasing nonrefundable airfare well ahead of the trip.

With ever-changing travel restrictions, I'm using miles for flights that I'm not 100% committed to taking. With free redeposits, there's little downside to booking speculative awards. (Though most major U.S. airlines have permanently dropped change fees for paid tickets, you'll only receive a future travel credit should you voluntarily cancel a nonrefundable reservation.)

I have speculative awards held for flights to Tel Aviv (Photo by NIcky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

For flights booked within a week or two of departure, I'll still use cash, or travel credits received from other canceled trips.

Another benefit to booking flights closer to departure is the ability to predict the odds of scoring an empty middle seat.

Related: Why I'm booking speculative awards as a top-tier elite

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Driving instead of ride-sharing

Although data shows that flying is safe, I'm doing all that I can to minimize my person-to-person interactions throughout the travel journey, including how I get to and from the airport.

To that end, I've now parked a car at the airport for my three most recent trips, instead of taking a taxi or rideshare. The same is true at my destination — I've rented a car for every domestic mid-pandemic trip I've taken thus far.

Using the CLEAR security lanes

In 2019, I was using CLEAR to avoid a crowded TSA PreCheck security line. In 2021, I'm using it to avoid lowering my mask during the travel experience.

With CLEAR's facial recognition software, you can enjoy a fully touchless security identification process using just an iris scan. You'll then avoid interacting with a TSA agent who would otherwise ask you to take off your mask to match your face to the picture on your photo I.D.

Related: TSA PreCheck vs. CLEAR - Which one to get?

Skipping the lounge

I've long been a proponent of skipping the airport lounge before the run-of-the-mill domestic flight. That's especially true these days, as I'm trying to avoid indoor dining in crowded spaces.

I've stopped into a few lounges here and there during recent travels, but most of the top-notch amenities (like spas and stretching rooms) that differentiate the best outposts are closed due to the pandemic.

United's Polaris lounges have been closed since the outset of the pandemic (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

In many cases, even if wanted to spend time in the lounge, many are still closed. Except for the largest hubs, most lounges remain shuttered, including American's Flagship Lounges and United's Polaris Lounges.

Being the last to board for a new reason

Another new habit I'm developing is being one of the last on board. This way, I'll avoid overcrowding in the poorly ventilated jetway.

But even more importantly, this is a key step to snagging an empty middle seat. By being one of the last on board, I can monitor the real-time seat map to see which were assigned to standby travelers. I can then ask the gate agent to reassign my seat if necessary before boarding.

Scoring an empty middle seat (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Once on the plane, it's significantly harder to play musical chairs, especially during the chaotic boarding process.

Related: 4 ways to make sure you’re not boarding a crowded flight

Strategically choosing seats

In addition to strategizing for an empty middle seat, I'm also now choosing flights based on seat availability, especially for those with unique, spacious configurations.

For instance, take a look at JetBlue's new Airbus A321neo. Seat 25A is one of the best on the plane. The window doesn't have a seat in front of it, and it's about as distanced as you'll get from others.

Seat 25A on the left side doesn't have anyone in front of it (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

On longer transcon routes, I'm looking for flights operated by spacious twin-aisle jets in the hopes of scoring one of the private business-class pods.

Limiting in-flight eating or drinking

The inflight experience of 2021 doesn't look anything like 2019 (unless, of course, you're flying in the recently refreshed JetBlue Mint cabin).

Across the board, airlines have cut most inflight food offerings. Some continue to offer a snack pack, but don't expect more than a bottle of water or a can of soda and a one-ounce bag of pretzels on your next flight.

Delta's inflight COVID-era offering (Photo by Laura Motta/The Points Guy)

As such, I've stopped eating or drinking on most short domestic flights. If I'm adequately distanced from others in a business- or first-class seat, I'll consider taking a quick bite. But with the limited inflight offerings, there's less of a reason to eat in the air.

Featured image by Terminal 5 JFK
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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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.