Skip to content

Staying off the grid nearly got us stuck abroad indefinitely — reader mistake story

April 27, 2020
7 min read
Staying off the grid nearly got us stuck abroad indefinitely — reader mistake story
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.

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Omar, who missed some pretty important news while on vacation:

On March 5 my wife and I departed the U.S. for our honeymoon in Argentina. We had an awesome itinerary that included a few days in Buenos Aires, a glacier hike in Patagonia and a week in Mendoza where we would relax while visiting some of the regions wineries. When we arrived in Buenos Aires we found it to be so accessible that we opted not to get a SIM card for our phones and stay reasonably off the grid. At the time, COVID-19 was just starting to become a major problem for people back in the U.S., but seemed to be an afterthought for those wandering around Buenos Aires.

After nearly a week in Buenos Aires we traveled to El Calafate where we planned to hike the Perito Moreno Glacier. After completing the second leg of our trip we arrived back at the El Calafate airport (FTE) where we were scheduled to travel to Mendoza for our final adventure in Argentina. Standing in line waiting for the check-in counter to open we noticed that the small airport was starting to fill up, with long lines forming throughout the check-in area and onsite ticket purchasing area. We figured it must just be due to the size of the airport and the nature of the city and didn’t think anything of it.

Eventually we started chatting with a woman who was traveling home to London. After a few minutes she asked us point blank if we were being evacuated. Apparently within the past 24 hours the Argentinian government had issued travel restrictions into the country which included halting all incoming flights from the United States. This came as a shock to us, as we didn’t spend much time watching the news in our hotel room, didn’t receive any notification emails from United, and weren’t notified by our hotel in any way. Our flight to Mendoza included a stopover in Buenos Aires (where we were scheduled to depart five days later) so we figured we would regroup when we landed there.

I guess we were among the last people to hear the news because every U.S. carrier at the Buenos Aires airport (EZE) had lines formed that looked to be multiple hours long, so we logged into the EZE Wi-Fi to check to see if there were any updates with our flights. We also learned a very important lesson: You cannot make changes to award travel on the United app.

At this point we knew that it was time to face the music and cancel the final portion of our trip. We called Marriott Bonvoy to see what the damage would be (also a good lesson: 1-800, and 1-888 numbers are free over Skype). I luckily got through within five minutes, and after explaining the situation to the representative I was told that Mendoza was in a “flagged” region, and all of my points would be returned to me without penalty.

When we finally managed to get through to United about our flights back to the U.S., we were informed that there were no more United flights scheduled to leave Argentina, and a direct quote, “if your plans are flexible we will be resuming flights sometime in April.” Note, no definitive date in April. Sometime. For reference, the current date at this point is March 15, so an open-ended return date was out of the question. We asked to speak to the representative’s supervisor and got out the United app so we could see what flights were scheduled to leave EZE on our end and HOPEFULLY figure out what was going on.

After some back and forth the agent came back with an option that worked for us, a two-stop routing back to the U.S. flying Ethiopian Airlines from Buenos Aires to Sao Paolo, and then COPA to New York with a stop in Panama.

New to The Points Guy? Sign-up for our daily newsletter and check out our beginner's guide.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

This is a rather long story, but it highlights the many moving parts that go into planning (and canceling) a vacation, and how much you can benefit from quick, flexible thinking when things go sideways. While Omar submitted this to us as a reader mistake story, I'd argue that the way he managed to get himself and his wife out of the country as the borders were closing is an undeniable success.

The first point I want to address is his decision to stay off the grid and not buy a local SIM card for his phone. That can be a great decision if you're trying to have a relaxing vacation and immerse yourself in nature, but as he learned, it carries some risks as well. At the very least, all travelers should sign up for STEP, the State Department's "Smart Traveler Enrollment Program" before traveling abroad, so you can receive notifications about safety-related developments including border closures. This takes some of the pressure off you to follow the news when you're supposed to be vacationing, but makes sure you don't miss any important updates.

When you're rushing to make the last flight of the day or fighting something like a border closure, every minute counts. Small things like knowing how to call certain international numbers for free using Skype, or knowing that you can usually reroute on an alliance partner if your flight is disrupted, might have made the difference that allowed Omar to make it out on time.

Related: What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Omar a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jumpstart your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by (Photo by chabybucko/Getty Images)

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023