How this family took a safe, last-minute trip to Fiji during omicron
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Editor’s note: Dr. Joe Leader is CEO of APEX (Airlines Passenger Experience Association), a global nonprofit advancing flight experience for nearly five decades. As he must maintain airline neutrality in his role, the views expressed here are entirely his as a frequent traveler.
After a COVID-19 close encounter caused us to miss our planned family cruise, I scrambled for a backup plan. Could we vacation in a tropical paradise while being responsible and avoiding COVID-19? Fiji, a Southern Hemisphere destination north of New Zealand, turned out to be our solution.
Since reopening for tourism on Dec. 1, 2021, Fiji has put special COVID-19 precautions in place, including requiring all visitors 12 and older show proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than two days before their scheduled departure date and take a rapid antigen test at least 24 hours after arriving to Fiji. Thanks to these and other COVID-19 protocols, it’s possible to plan a safe vacation to this far-flung destination, even with little notice.
Booking only one day in advance, we found a Fiji Airways deal for a round-trip itinerary during Christmas week that totaled just $725 per person. The first flight would take us from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji, via Fiji Airways’ newest Airbus 350 aircraft.
The deal we scored wasn’t a one-time offer, though. Other deals for future dates are available, too.
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Read on to learn our five tips for booking a safe, last-minute escape to this distance piece of paradise.
1. Fly Fiji Airways and bid to upgrade
After booking, I found an even better trick for last-minute deals. Fiji Airways has combo packages with hotels that will lower the flight price. For example, booking Valentine’s Day week offers a $653 round-trip fare, but the price will be even lower when paired with a hotel on FijiAirways.com.
Once you’ve booked your flight, navigate to Fiji Airways and select “bid to upgrade.” All three of us cleared to business class on Dec. 21, but six seats in business class remained empty on a flight that was 98% full in economy. It’s a great reminder to always bid for an upgrade when that option is possible and check for last-minute paid upgrades before boarding.
We credited the flight to our American Airlines AAdvantage accounts, earning each of us 50% mileage (or 5,534 miles one-way) for our economy-class fare. That’s enough for a free one-way Web Special on American Airlines in the future.
Booking with The Platinum Card® from American Express provided 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on the airfare and upgrade while providing additional travel disruption insurance.
One final trick with Fiji Airways: Add a 72-hour stopover in Nadi, Fiji, for $0 after booking. You can do this in either or both directions to a final destination that they serve. It’s a hidden bargain that allows for rest and recovery between long flights to destinations across the South Pacific, including Australia.
2. Prepare for a COVID-19-safe paradise
With omicron surging in the United States, my medical doctor wife was particularly impressed by the COVID-19 safety protocols in Fiji. On board the Fiji Airways flight, the airline featured hospital-level protocols. The precautions included a Fiji Airways crew member who was a dedicated “Customer Wellness Champion.” According to the airline, the champion is on board to “manage and maintain customer well-being and safety, and promote wellness through service interactions to passengers.” This may include handing out face masks and reminding passengers to wear them throughout the flight when not eating or drinking.
Fiji recently reopened to fully vaccinated, PCR-tested travelers. The island features unique COVID-19 precautions, including 100% vaccinated stores, tour operators, hotel staff and more. Upon arrival, a careFIJI app provides seamless contact tracing for all travelers.
To travel to Fiji, you must be fully vaccinated with your vaccination card. Next, you’ll need to purchase a COVID-19 health insurance policy approved by the Fijian government for entry. We opted for a policy from April Travel Protection that covered the entire cost of our trip, including medical insurance, for $57 per person.
Three days before your departure, you’ll need to get a COVID-19 PCR test. Book an option locally in advance or do what my wife recommends: Go to your primary care provider. Even at an OB-GYN office like my wife’s, insurance covers testing for all sexes, and results are sent back within 48 hours. Not all primary care providers offer COVID-19 testing, though, so be sure to call your doctor to confirm your options.
Upon arrival, travelers can stay within their chosen resort and tour vaccinated “bubbles” like Denarau Island in the first 24 hours before they must complete their last COVID-19 test. According to Fiji Airways, only six travelers out of more than 100,000 have tested positive for COVID-19 in the country’s first month of reopening.
The testing facilities were open at our hotel from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, including Christmas Day. We received our results for less than $10 each in about 10 minutes. Since the affordable testing on arrival was so efficient, we decided to use it again for our return test required to reenter the United States. PCR tests were also available on-site for countries requiring more detailed testing.
One word of wisdom: Get your return test done at the earliest possible time that your country allows. The return test requires a physical paper issued from a different organization. Receiving that paper took longer than we expected, but we made our flight without delay.
3. Bundle hotels with your flight or book independently
Via Fiji Airways, we booked a stay at the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa a day in advance for $250 a night. Our accommodation included a separate room with a bunk bed for our daughter. At the resort, I found out that Fiji Airways was part owner of the Sofitel. The relationship enabled great vacation rates and the unique ability to drop off your checked luggage at the Fiji Airways desk inside the hotel.
Using my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, I received 3 points per dollar spent on everything charged to the card during our stay, including our activities booked at the concierge desk.
Next time we travel to Fiji, we will stay at the overwater villas at Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, which resemble the luxury accommodations commonly found in Tahiti and the Maldives but with an added level of Fijian warmth. With my Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express, I can use Marriott Bonvoy points to cover the cost and enjoy the fifth night free.
4. Select activities online or on-site
After arriving, we realized that we could have booked advance activities via Viator, but booking at the resort gave us an incredible advantage.
We changed the dates of two sailing tours last minute because of inclement weather. The Sofitel concierge desk made the changes happen magically without any extra charges. Other excursions we enjoyed during our trip included a trip to CBS’ “Survivor” filming locations, one four-wheel-drive adventure, a kava-drinking ceremony (a sign of respect and reverence for the village chief) at a vaccinated village and a caving experience to the site of the last Fijian war that happened more than 150 years ago.
5. Prepare to bathe in Fiji Water and Fijian warmth
Fiji Water can be found everywhere on the islands, making it easy to purchase a few bottles and place them upside down on a showerhead for a relaxing soak.
But the real warmth of Fiji comes from the Fijian people themselves. I learned from our previous trip to Fiji that Fijians are some of the friendliest people on Earth, offering ample smiles, waves and cheerful “Bula!” greetings to everyone who visits. After nearly two years without tourists, the level of enthusiasm and warmth has increased even more.
In late December, we were the first group of six that a guide had led into ancient caves since COVID-19 shut down travel in March 2020, and it quickly became apparent just how appreciative the guide was to share this part of the country with us. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming destination than Fiji.
COVID-19 has reminded all of us to not take travel for granted. Although the latest omicron variant has presented challenges for planning a vacation, the extra reopening protocols put in place by Fiji make it possible to travel there safely to take advantage of amazing prices and experiences in the South Pacific.
By requiring COVID-19 insurance, vaccines and testing before and shortly after arriving, Fiji is helping put travelers’ minds at ease while decreasing the chance of contracting COVID-19 while abroad. With the country’s added safety precautions, I’m hopeful that this slice of paradise will remain a safe spot for travelers eager to enjoy an affordable tropical vacation.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy.
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