If you’ve waited anxiously to scratch that travel bug itch since the coronavirus pandemic began, it looks like you finally can. While most of the world is still closed to Americans, there are a handful of places with open borders — although some have stipulations. With the right travel credit cards, you might even be able to pay your way there on rewards alone.
Here are three unforgettable destinations Americans can travel to now and how to get there for free with points.
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What to consider before booking a trip abroad during the coronavirus pandemic
Research entry requirements for any international destination to make sure you have everything you need to gain entry. In some cases, that includes a recent negative coronavirus test result and travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Even if it’s not required, taking a coronavirus test within 72 hours of departure, wearing a good face mask (and wearing it properly), staying socially distant, and possibly quarantining are all smart precautions.
It’s also important to consider the pandemic status of the region you’re traveling to. If it has suffered severe outbreaks or doesn’t have good healthcare facilities, rethink going. Do some research beforehand to gauge whether locals are welcoming tourists or prefer for them to stay home for the time being. Just because you can travel somewhere doesn’t mean you should.
1. Riviera Maya, Mexico
Cities along Mexico’s stunning Riviera Maya, from Cancun to Playa del Carmen to Tulum, have been popular with Americans lately — and for good reason. Mexico never closed its borders, so entry is fairly easy, and the region is welcoming tourists.
All the best things to do in this strip of Caribbean bliss on the Yucatan Peninsula involve the outdoors, too, which bodes well for avoiding COVID-19. The turquoise and white-sand beaches are the biggest pull, but there are also dozens of jaw-dropping Mayan ruins and hundreds of cenotes — natural underground swimming holes — throughout the Yucatan.
How to get there with points:
Fly into Cancun, which you can do on most major airlines, so you can likely use whatever airline miles you have. JetBlue and Southwest offer some of the most affordable award flights to Cancun, with plenty going for less than 10,000 points one-way from most major airports, and both airlines are part of major transfer programs.
You can convert Chase Ultimate Rewards points into Southwest points. JetBlue takes part in all four major transferable points programs (Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One Venture Rewards), so TrueBlue points are even easier to earn. To top it off, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt (or earn Hyatt points directly) and use them to book one of two all-inclusive Hyatt resorts, the Hyatt Ziva or Hyatt Zilara Cancun.
2. Split, Croatia
While the European Union overall is still banning American citizens, it has allowed member countries to institute individual border policies, and Croatia decided to ignore the wider ban. As of September 2020, this Mediterranean jewel is one of very few European countries allowing entry to American tourists.
With 3,600 miles of coastline along the Adriatic Sea and over 700 islands, Croatia is a good place to spend days out in the open air. Flying into Split gives you direct access to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and islands, as well as some impressive Roman ruins. You can even rent a camper van in Split and road-trip along the Dalmatian coast. If you can’t find flights to Split from your hometown, try Dubrovnik, a coastal medieval city so well-preserved it was a filming location for Game of Thrones.
How to get there with points:
United and Lufthansa, both members of the Star Alliance team, have plenty of flights to Croatia from most major cities. Delta, KML, and Air France, all members of the SkyTeam alliance, also have quite a few flights. Both offer very affordable award flights right now — a one-way flight using Delta SkyMiles starts at 25,000 miles, and a one-way using United MileagePlus miles starts at 30,000 miles.
If you’ve got Amex Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to Delta. You can also transfer your points to All Nippon Airways (ANA), which in turn allows you to book flights with Star Alliance member United. That can get you an excellent deal on business class in particular. If you’re using Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your points directly to United or search for availability on Air France/KLM, Iberia, and British Airways, as they’re all Chase transfer partners with good deals on flights to Europe.
3. San José, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is opening its borders to travelers from some U.S. states. San José is a great jumping off point to visit several nearby volcanoes, waterfalls, and coffee farms; popular surfing beaches on the Pacific coast are only an hour and a half from the city by car. Rainforests surround this tropical capital, making it easy to spot all kinds of wildlife — from toucans to sloths to monkeys — on a day trip.
As of Sept. 15, 2020, residents of New York, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Colorado, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Michigan, and Rhode Island can enter Costa Rica, as long as they have a negative coronavirus test (taken within 72 hours of departure) and purchase the proper travel insurance. Californians will be allowed to enter as of Oct. 1, 2020, and it seems likely that the Central American country will continue to open its borders to other states soon. Residency is determined by your state driver’s license.
How to get there with points:
Most major airlines fly to Costa Rica’s capital, but some of the best deals using points can be had with JetBlue and Southwest. Unfortunately, Southwest has suspended flights to Costa Rica until at least January 2021.
However, flights on JetBlue start at just 10,000 points each way, and the TrueBlue program is a transfer partner with all four of the major credit card rewards programs. Just make sure to book a round-trip flight, as Costa Rica requires proof of onward travel within 90 days of entry — if you don’t have it, you might not even be able to board your flight.
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