Here’s how travel insurance can help during the COVID-19 pandemic


Travelers make their way through Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in Charlotte, NC.

Travelers make their way through Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in Charlotte, NC.

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The travel industry was among the first to feel the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After travel bans were implemented during the early stages of the outbreak, international tourist arrivals declined in 2020 globally, with 1 billion fewer travelers compared to 2019, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Since then, travel industry experts have predicted that there would be an increase in passengers from 2020, signaling a recovery from the financial hit taken over the last two years as people desire to make up for lost time.

“People are booking their trips further out,” said Amanda Coppola, the branch manager at the Mann Travels Arboretum location in Charlotte. “With cruises, you can book them two years out, so I do have a lot of cruises for 2023 already on the books.”

In addition to wearing a mask in airports and on other transportation hubs to protect from COVID-19, travel insurance is recommended for travelers to cover unexpected delays or trip interruptions.

What is travel insurance?

Travel insurance is coverage designed to protect against risks and financial losses that could happen while traveling.

What does the insurance cover?

Depending on the coverage you select, travel insurance can cover a variety of damages and losses, including:

  • Injury or sickness: Travel insurance can help cover medical expenses that are not covered by your health insurance plan. Most health insurance plans don’t provide full coverage in foreign countries.

  • Lost luggage: Travel insurance can help cover expenses stemming from lost luggage. This can be useful when an airline loses your bags since it can be difficult to get reimbursed.

  • Last-minute cancellations: Most resorts or cruise lines won’t give you a full refund when you cancel. Some resorts charge cancellation fees if you cancel more than two weeks before your trip, and most will not give you any refund if you cancel within two weeks.

Many airlines also offer pre-departure waivers, Coppola said, which allows passengers to revise or cancel their bookings at any time and receive a full refund for the cost of their trip.

“It really protects their investment and gives them peace of mind that they can get their money back if they feel unsafe, or if something comes up like a positive COVID-19 test,” she explained.

How much does coverage cost?

Travel insurance typically costs five to 10% of your total trip cost. The amount can be influenced by several factors, including your age, how much you’re spending on the trip, the amount of coverage you’re choosing and the number of people covered under your policy.

“Sometimes it can be as low as $100 per person, and that’s a very low price when you’re looking at a trip that’s $5,000, since you can get your money back,” Coppola said.

The most important factor in determining pricing in trip cancellation coverage is age, according to Berkshire Hathaway. The older you are, the more likely you may be forced to cancel your trip.

Trip cancellation makes up a large part of most companies’ claims. A trip where the upfront cost is extremely high means the company would have to reimburse you more if that trip were canceled.

Other factors that impact prices

  • The number of travelers: A single travel insurance policy can cover multiple family members on the same trip, however, some companies offer family-friendly packages.

  • Destination: When determining rates, the destination is a factor for some insurance companies. Companies may examine crime statistics and injury rate for tourists when setting their prices.

  • Trip length: There is a higher chance that something will happen to you on a longer trip. Longer trips also tend to be more expensive trips taken by more exotic destinations, often with many people covered under the same policy.

Airline cancellation policies

After the pandemic essentially halted air travel for months, major airlines in the U.S. implemented policies to give passengers more flexibility to change or cancel them.

  • Allegiant Air: As of May 21, 2021, Allegiant’s change/cancel fee has been reduced to $25 per person, per flight segment. A flight segment is one takeoff and one landing.

  • Alaska Air: The airline’s policy allows travelers to change or cancel their tickets if they were purchased on or before April 30, 2021. Tickets must be changed or canceled prior to the departure of your original flight. If you purchased tickets through a third party, contact them directly.

  • American Airlines: The airline has eliminated change fees for short-haul international and select long-haul international flights. Basic Economy fares bought on or after April 1, 2021 are non-refundable and non-changeable.

  • Delta Air Lines: Customers who purchased Basic Economy tickets on or before April 30, 2021 can make changes or cancel their tickets and receive an eCredit. Cancellation fees and change fees do not apply to these tickets. Tickets purchased in 2022 can be canceled, but are subject to a cancellation fee that will be deducted from the value of your ticket.

  • Frontier Airlines: Change and cancel fees have been waived for bookings made through March 31, 2021. Fees for flights booked from April 1-July 26 are waived if changes or cancellations are made more than 60 days prior to departure.

  • Hawaiian Airlines: Any Main Cabin or First Class ticket purchased or expiring in 2021 now won’t expire until Dec. 31, 2022. Main Cabin Basic tickets purchased between Aug. 17-Oct. 31, 2021 for travel on or after Aug. 17, 2021, May 1-Aug. 16, 2021 for travel on or before Oct. 31, 2021, between Jan. 1-April 30, 2021 and tickets purchased between March 1-Dec. 31 2020 can be changed without a fee.

  • JetBlue: Change and cancel fees for customers traveling through Jan. 31 will be waived. A few airports in the U.S. and abroad have specific change/cancellation fee policies.

  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest has a policy of not charging change or cancellation fees. Non refundable tickets not flown on the travel date, but canceled in accordance with Southwest’s No Show Policy, can be applied for future travel for up to one year from the original purchase date.

  • Spirit Airlines: Flight changes can be made 60 or more days in advance without fees. Changes made seven to 59 days prior to departures will incur a $49 fee, three to days prior incur a $79 fee and zero to two days from departure incur a $99 fee.

  • United Airlines: Change fees for most economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean have been removed. Redeposit fees for award flights are also being waived.

Is booking a cruise now still a safe option?

Although cruise lines have started operating again, the CDC recommends avoiding cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, as the chance of contracting COVID-19 on a ship is “very high.”

While it may not be a good time to board a cruise ship, Coppola said those looking to travel on the water over the next couple of years should book now, since many cruise lines have implemented variable cancellation policies due to the spread of COVID-19.

“Now is a good time to book everything because the prices are so low,” said Coppola. “If they need to change from going to Europe to the Caribbean, it’s super easy. There’s a lot of flexibility with all of the cruise lines.”





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‘I’ve got terminal cancer. Here’s why I’m prioritizing travel’


(CNN) — Kris Sokolowski has always been active, spending his free time mountain climbing, running and practicing martial arts.

And at every opportunity, he could be found boarding a plane, en route to explore the world. On his first official date with his now wife, Sokolowski booked flights to South Africa for two weeks. The couple have a son, now 11, who also joins them on their adventures.

Sokolowski’s outdoor pursuits have helped keep him healthy. At his last yearly physical checkup in December 2020, his doctor called him “Iron Man.”

But around six months after that appointment, Sokolowski started experiencing what he describes as an “odd feeling” in his stomach.

“It was kind of like a gurgling, like you’re hungry. And it just wasn’t going away for a couple of days,” he tells CNN Travel today.

Sokolowski went to get checked out and was told it was likely acid reflux. He was given some pills and sent home. A couple days later, the gurgling sensation was still there, so he sought further medical advice and a scan, after which he was told to see a gastro specialist right away.

Sokolowski’s doctor told him there was a “big mass” on his colon and liver and he suspected late stage-four cancer. Stage four is the most advanced stage of cancer and usually means it has spread from its origin.

“My first reaction was, ‘How can this happen? I’ve never missed an appointment,'” Sokolowski recalls.

But at 48, Sokolowski hadn’t been old enough for recommended regular colonoscopies in the United States (the age has since lowered to 45). And until the gurgling sensation, he hadn’t experienced any symptoms.

An MRI scan, colonoscopy and tissue sample confirmed the worst: Sokolowski had stage four colon cancer.

“The MRI showed it in six places on my body,” says Sokolowski. “So it was my colon, my liver, my sternum, my spine, my lymph nodes, and the walls of my abdomen.”

Oncologists told him there was no cure for his condition.

“They gave me a lifespan between two and a half and five years to live,” he says.

Love of travel

Kris-Sokolowksi-travel-photos-(1)

The Sokolowskis traveled to China in 2015, here they are on the Great Wall.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

Atlanta-based Sokolowski is the first-generation American son of two Polish immigrants. He says his love of travel stems from the many childhood summers he spent back in Poland. In his 20s, he started traveling whenever he could, regularly exploring Europe.

When Sokolowski met his wife Elizabeth in his thirties, the two realized they were united in a thirst to see the world. That first date in South Africa sealed the deal, and the couple were married six months later.

“When our son was born a year later in 2010, we made a commitment that every year, we would take him out of the country,” says Sokolowski.

It’s important to the couple to introduce their son to cultures and experiences outside of the US.

Since he was born, the family has been to 19 countries and counting.

“We both work for corporate America, but we save up all year, and usually take about three weeks to travel, whether it’s Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, wherever we can go.”

Solowski says he and his wife always look forward. They rarely return to the same place, and focus on how they can make the best of their current circumstances and plan something exciting for the future.

Kris-Sokolowksi-travel-photos-(4)

Here’s the family in Seoul, South Korea.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

It’s that attitude that Sokolowski brought to his terminal cancer diagnosis.

He says he’s on the highest dosage of chemotherapy available. He was warned by doctors of side effects of fatigue, vomiting, hair loss and weight loss.

“I said, Look, I’m a young guy, I’m 48 years old, I have a 10-year-old at home. Throw everything you got at me now while I’m young and strong,” recalls Sokolowski.

So far, side effects have been minimal and he’s continued to exercise and run regularly.

“I’ve never been sick a day from it,” Sokolowski says. “Fatigue kicked in a little bit, but I was able to overcome it. So everything they told me was going to happen, didn’t happen with me.”

Sokolowski and his family canceled a planned trip to Iceland in summer 2021, but as the months rolled on, he was advised that, against the odds, his tumors were shrinking, and he was well enough to afford to skip one of his chemo treatments — which occur every two weeks — to go on vacation abroad.

Even catching Covid-19 in November 2021 didn’t put a stop to plans — fortunately Sokolowski was vaccinated and only mildly ill with the virus.

Kris-Sokolowksi-travel-photos-(7)

The Sokolowskis love to get outside on their vacations. Here they are exploring in Slovenia.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

When he got the go ahead to travel with his family over the Christmas period, Sokolowski was thrilled.

“Even above my health, travel was still a priority,” Sokolowski says. “Because it was a commitment that we made when we got married, it was a commitment that we made to our son when he was born — that we would take him out of the country every year. So to me, that was always priority number one.”

Sokolowski and his wife Elizabeth and son Braden started planning a trip for Christmas and New Year. They settled on a three-week adventure in French Polynesia, heading to Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti.

Sokolowski traveled with his chemo pills, as well as a precautionary letter from his doctor to ensure he could get back into the United States — “just in case there was some kind of lockdown because of Covid. And that letter basically stipulated that ‘Kris has stage-four cancer that’s terminal, that he’s really dependent on his chemo.'”

While Sokolowski had avoided many side effects of his treatment, when departure day rolled around he was suffering from a condition called hand-foot syndrome, which can cause the bottom of your feet to become really tender and prone to blistering and swelling.

Kris-Sokolowksi-travel-photos-(5)

The Sokolowskis rarely go to the same place twice. Here’s the family on a past trip to Malta.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

“When I was running before our trip, it caused me to have blisters on both of my feet, I think I had four on each foot and it was extremely difficult to walk — it was almost like walking on razor blades,” he says.

“So the day we were leaving for French Polynesia, we went through three different airports. We went through Atlanta airport, LAX and then in Tahiti, and in all three airports, I had to be in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk, and that was kind of difficult.”

But Sokolowski says arriving in Bora Bora and diving into the turquoise waters was almost instantly healing.

That was likely the salt water at work, he says. But Sokolowski also thinks the happiness and delight he felt at being on vacation in a beautiful place with his loved ones lifted his spirits, providing invaluable palliative care.

Under warm blue skies, the family enjoyed swimming with black tip sharks, jet skiing, exploring volcanic landscapes and relaxing.

“We spent an enormous time out on the water. I mean, how can you not? It’s crystal clear. It’s a turquoise color that you’ve never seen before. You know, you could see right down to the bottom where the fish are swimming. And it’s just very peaceful and relaxful.”

Living for the moment

Kris-Sokolowksi-travel-photos-(3)

Kris, Elizabeth and Braden Sokolowski, pictured here on the island of Moorea, fell in love with French Polynesia during their trip at the end of 2021.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

For Sokolowski and his wife, it was important to be candid with Braden about his father’s cancer, while also easing him into this new reality and supporting him through it.

Sokolowski says the family’s focus is on making memories, and continuing to encourage their child to embrace new opportunities and adventures.

One of Sokolowski’s favorite moments from the 2021 French Polynesia trip was watching Braden diving with sharks for the first time.

“He was a little apprehensive about getting into water with sharks. But then he saw us doing it. So he jumped in,” says Sokolowski. “And the first time a shark came up to his face and then turned around and just left — I was underwater with him and the look on his face, it was just — it was pure excitement, adrenaline and joy. And I saw how much he enjoyed it and he couldn’t get out of the water, I mean, it was fantastic.”

Kris-Sokolowski-travel-photos-(8)

Diving with sharks in French Polynesia in 2021 was a highlight for the family.

courtesy Kris Sokolowski

Sokolowski has yet to take his son to Poland, but he says that’s on the agenda for future travels. He’d wanted to wait until Braden was old enough to understand and fully appreciate the trip.

While the family are currently based in Atlanta, the Sokolowskis are also seriously considering moving to French Polynesia, if they can make it doable with remote working and healthcare.

“For 15 days, I had a smile on my face, ear to ear,” Sokolowski says of the family’s time there. “I honestly believe if there’s anything that’s going to cure my cancer, it’s going to be living a life of positivity and happiness.”

Wherever they’re based, travel will remain a priority. In 2022, the family hope to travel to Pamplona, Spain to watch the annual running of the bulls festival — a longtime dream of Sokolowski’s.

Prioritizing health and travel

Sokolowski hopes to defy expectations and statistics to recover from his illness. However much time he has left, he’s vowed to spend as much of it as he can exploring the world with his loved ones.

“I don’t know how long I have left on this earth, but I want to leave behind fond memories of travel and a legacy where my son can make our planet just a bit better,” he says.

Sokolowski has a blog where he recaps his own experiences with cancer. He’s become passionate about encouraging people with illness to travel if they can, and he’s similarly committed to encouraging people in their 40s to get a colonoscopy.

When he got his diagnosis, Sokolowski asked his gastroenterologist what the outlook would have been if he’d had a colonoscopy three years earlier.

“Before I even finished my sentence, he goes, ‘I would have pulled out a couple of polyps, and you wouldn’t even be sitting here, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.’ And that really struck me hard.”

Sokolowski says dwelling on this “what if” isn’t helpful for him.

“I do not look in the rearview mirror,” he says. “That doesn’t help me at all. It is what it is. And I only look forward, the only time that I look back is to tell people my story and say, ‘This is what happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.'”

Instead, Sokolowski’s focus is on staying as healthy as possible, and looking forward to future adventures with his family.

His wife Elizabeth tells CNN Travel she has the same outlook.

“You need to live your life, you only get one life,” she says. “The memories is really what is going to make you happy in the end.”

Sokolowski adds: “The one thing I’ve always told people is get out of your bubble, get out of your city and go see the world.”

“It amazes me how many people are not interested in traveling — or interested and they tell me ‘Well, we can’t do this’ and they make excuses. Stop with the excuses and do it.”

Top photo: the Sokolowski family in Padar, Indonesia. Courtesy Kris Sokolowski



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Here’s how to beat the long queues






Covid travel: Here’s how to beat the long queues


































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East Bay thieves using ‘sleight of hand’ to steal jewelry, police say. Here’s how their alleged scam works


Photo of Jessica Flores

File photo of police car lights. Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

File photo of police car lights. Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

Jacom Stephens/Getty Image

Union City police are searching for two people who have allegedly scammed victims by stealing their jewelry and replacing it with fakes.

The suspected thieves — a man and woman both believed to be in their 30s — allegedly stole jewelry from victims in three separate incidents on Jan. 13 and 14, Union City police said in a statement.

Police said the suspects offered and placed costume jewelry onto the victim’s necks and wrists. On all three occasions, police said the victims declined the jewelry and the suspects then used “confusion and sleight of hand” when removing it to take the victim’s authentic jewelry and watches.

Police said they believe the victims were possibly targeted because of their visible jewelry.

People were encouraged to be cautious when approached by strangers and to travel and walk in pairs or with small groups to protect themselves, police said.

Anyone who has been targeted in a similar incident or have witnessed a similar event were asked to contact the police department’s tip line at 510-675-5207 or by emailing [email protected].

Jessica Flores is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:
[email protected]
Twitter:
@jesssmflores





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Here’s which airline rewards program gives the most value


(NerdWallet) – Airline rewards programs are complicated. It might seem like you need a Ph.D. in complex systems (or at least fine-print reading) to understand them. But underneath the complex gobbledygook lies a simple pair of questions:

  • How many points or miles do you earn per dollar spent on flights?
  • How much are those points or miles worth?

At the end of the day, that’s what an airline loyalty program is about: Rewarding frequent flyers with value (in this case, points or miles) that they can use for future trips.

With this in mind, we can set about determining which airlines deliver on this simple promise and which fall short.

To do this, our team at NerdWallet compared U.S. airlines’ rewards programs across these two factors to arrive at a single “rewards rate” for each. This rewards rate shows which airlines offer the best bang for your travel buck. For example, a rewards rate of 10% means that for every dollar you spend with the airline, you can expect about 10 cents back in the form of rewards (redeemable points or miles).

This particular analysis doesn’t take into account every aspect of an airline — such as in-flight entertainment or elite status programs — but it does boil down the most critical value proposition for frequent travelers. It also gives us a new way to think about which airline provides the best loyalty program in 2022.

Which airline offers the best rewards rate?

To determine these rankings, we collected hundreds of data points from real-world airline routes to determine the value of points or miles for each airline. Then, we combined these results with the number of miles earned per dollar spent.

Our analysis is based on main cabin flights. If you’re a business or first-class traveler who sits at the front of the plane, the rewards rates will likely differ.

Enough math. The point is that Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan is easily the most rewarding domestic airline program. You can expect to get about 9 cents in value for every dollar spent with Alaska. That’s far above the 4 to 5 cents per dollar spent you can expect from the big three: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

This is hardly surprising for travel rewards aficionados, as Alaska’s Mileage Plan has a good reputation for customer-first policies. What could surprise some (it certainly did us) is how well Frontier Airlines performed.

What’s the common thread? Both Alaska and Frontier still grant reward miles based on the actual number of miles flown rather than how much the flights cost. This made a big difference in our analysis.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re an infrequent traveler who takes a couple trips per year and doesn’t bother much with earning airline miles, you can mostly ignore these rankings. They’re called frequent flyer programs for a reason.

If you travel a lot for work, or are a leisure traveler who maximizes travel rewards, these rankings should make a big impact on where you put your loyalty. If you or your company spends $5,000 per year on flights, you could earn back $455 worth of miles from Alaska versus only $185 from JetBlue, for example.

Choosing the right airline loyalty program for you will certainly involve other factors, such as the number of flights from your home airport. But the rewards rate can help tip the scales.

What about the value of points and miles themselves?

Half of this analysis involved determining the value of redeemable airline points and miles. To do this, we compared hundreds of flights using either cash or miles, and determined an average value per mile for each airline. Basically: We ran the numbers so you don’t have to.

You’ll notice less variation among these mile values than among the rewards rates above.

JetBlue Airways offers the most valuable points at 1.5 cents each, despite lagging in rewards rate. This is because JetBlue awards points based on the dollar amount spent rather than miles flown, and it only offers 3 points per dollar. Think of it this way: JetBlue points are like British pounds. They’re worth more than most other currencies, but you’ll earn fewer of them overall.

That said, if you have the choice to earn either 10,000 United miles or 10,000 JetBlue points as part of a credit card or other promotion, the choice is clear. The United miles are worth about $100 compared to $150 for JetBlue. Go with the more valuable currency when dealing with raw numbers.

Key takeaways

Imagine if you had the choice between two cash-back credit cards: One offered to refund 9% of every purchase, while the other offered only 1.7% back. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the best (Alaska) and worst (Spirit) airline rewards program.

Keep in mind that miles are not cash, and the hypothetical return on spending with any of these programs depends on one crucial variable: whether you actually use the miles. Still, the differences are stark.

If you’re choosing whether to become loyal to one of the “big three” domestic airlines, the good news is that they all offer similar, middling rewards rates. In terms of the pure financials of redeemable miles, you’re not meaningfully better off with Delta than you are with United or American.

These rankings are a good indication of which airlines are dedicated to offering value to their most frequent customers and which are throwing up smoke and mirrors. The fact that it took us weeks of data collection and analysis to determine these figures demonstrates how opaque the travel rewards game can be. Hopefully, this offers some clarity.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:



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Here’s which airline rewards program gives the most value


(NerdWallet) – Airline rewards programs are complicated. It might seem like you need a Ph.D. in complex systems (or at least fine-print reading) to understand them. But underneath the complex gobbledygook lies a simple pair of questions:

  • How many points or miles do you earn per dollar spent on flights?
  • How much are those points or miles worth?

At the end of the day, that’s what an airline loyalty program is about: Rewarding frequent flyers with value (in this case, points or miles) that they can use for future trips.

With this in mind, we can set about determining which airlines deliver on this simple promise and which fall short.

To do this, our team at NerdWallet compared U.S. airlines’ rewards programs across these two factors to arrive at a single “rewards rate” for each. This rewards rate shows which airlines offer the best bang for your travel buck. For example, a rewards rate of 10% means that for every dollar you spend with the airline, you can expect about 10 cents back in the form of rewards (redeemable points or miles).

This particular analysis doesn’t take into account every aspect of an airline — such as in-flight entertainment or elite status programs — but it does boil down the most critical value proposition for frequent travelers. It also gives us a new way to think about which airline provides the best loyalty program in 2022.

Which airline offers the best rewards rate?

To determine these rankings, we collected hundreds of data points from real-world airline routes to determine the value of points or miles for each airline. Then, we combined these results with the number of miles earned per dollar spent.

Our analysis is based on main cabin flights. If you’re a business or first-class traveler who sits at the front of the plane, the rewards rates will likely differ.

Enough math. The point is that Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan is easily the most rewarding domestic airline program. You can expect to get about 9 cents in value for every dollar spent with Alaska. That’s far above the 4 to 5 cents per dollar spent you can expect from the big three: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

This is hardly surprising for travel rewards aficionados, as Alaska’s Mileage Plan has a good reputation for customer-first policies. What could surprise some (it certainly did us) is how well Frontier Airlines performed.

What’s the common thread? Both Alaska and Frontier still grant reward miles based on the actual number of miles flown rather than how much the flights cost. This made a big difference in our analysis.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re an infrequent traveler who takes a couple trips per year and doesn’t bother much with earning airline miles, you can mostly ignore these rankings. They’re called frequent flyer programs for a reason.

If you travel a lot for work, or are a leisure traveler who maximizes travel rewards, these rankings should make a big impact on where you put your loyalty. If you or your company spends $5,000 per year on flights, you could earn back $455 worth of miles from Alaska versus only $185 from JetBlue, for example.

Choosing the right airline loyalty program for you will certainly involve other factors, such as the number of flights from your home airport. But the rewards rate can help tip the scales.

What about the value of points and miles themselves?

Half of this analysis involved determining the value of redeemable airline points and miles. To do this, we compared hundreds of flights using either cash or miles, and determined an average value per mile for each airline. Basically: We ran the numbers so you don’t have to.

You’ll notice less variation among these mile values than among the rewards rates above.

JetBlue Airways offers the most valuable points at 1.5 cents each, despite lagging in rewards rate. This is because JetBlue awards points based on the dollar amount spent rather than miles flown, and it only offers 3 points per dollar. Think of it this way: JetBlue points are like British pounds. They’re worth more than most other currencies, but you’ll earn fewer of them overall.

That said, if you have the choice to earn either 10,000 United miles or 10,000 JetBlue points as part of a credit card or other promotion, the choice is clear. The United miles are worth about $100 compared to $150 for JetBlue. Go with the more valuable currency when dealing with raw numbers.

Key takeaways

Imagine if you had the choice between two cash-back credit cards: One offered to refund 9% of every purchase, while the other offered only 1.7% back. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the best (Alaska) and worst (Spirit) airline rewards program.

Keep in mind that miles are not cash, and the hypothetical return on spending with any of these programs depends on one crucial variable: whether you actually use the miles. Still, the differences are stark.

If you’re choosing whether to become loyal to one of the “big three” domestic airlines, the good news is that they all offer similar, middling rewards rates. In terms of the pure financials of redeemable miles, you’re not meaningfully better off with Delta than you are with United or American.

These rankings are a good indication of which airlines are dedicated to offering value to their most frequent customers and which are throwing up smoke and mirrors. The fact that it took us weeks of data collection and analysis to determine these figures demonstrates how opaque the travel rewards game can be. Hopefully, this offers some clarity.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:



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Here’s what you need to know






Marriott is now selling travel insurance: Here’s what you need to know























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Planning to visit South Africa? Here’s your travel guide


Even as the Omicron variant continues to pose a threat, you can plan a hassle-free travel to countries like South Africa if you adhere to Covid restrictions. Some of the destinations that you can explore are here.

Discover the adventure-filled Drakensberg

KwaZulu-Natal is home to the Drakensberg mountains (the Zulus call them the ‘Barrier of Spears’) in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, a natural and cultural World Heritage Site owing to the mountains’ rock art and natural beauty, and a popular destination for local and international tourists alike. The mountains offer dramatic views and outdoor activities, and are an important cultural resource, containing many thousands of works of San rock art that date back to the late Stone Age.

Travellers can go to Drakensberg during the weekend, to stretch their limbs and indulge in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, hot air ballooning, helicopter rides and horseback trips into the mountains.

Ostriches in Oudstshoorn

Inland from the Cape’s famous Garden Route, travellers will find Oudtshoorn – popularly known as the ostrich capital of the world. The town is home to several interesting attractions like Cango Caves with its truly grand stalactite and stalagmite formations and Cango Wildlife Ranch, which offers thrilling crocodile-cage dives. It is also one of the few places in the world to enjoy a meerkat safari.

Look out for the Big 5 in Limpopo

Known for its huge rivers, splashing hippos and immersive culture, Limpopo is one of the most interesting, and abundant provinces in South Africa. Here you will find vast open spaces with wildlife galore and breathtaking mountainous landscapes covered in mist. With seven of South Africa’s eleven official languages being spoken here, travellers stand a good chance of meeting people from a majority of the country’s ethnic groupings.

The region is also endowed with a remarkable number of game and nature reserves, housing one of the country’s highest population of rhinos and a multitude of elegant antelope species. With Kruger National Park – the largest national park in Africa – situated here, this province can easily be termed the ‘Mecca of Wildlife’. The wildlife seems bigger and more exciting in this place of strong, gushing waterfalls, enormous trees, open sky, and never-ending bushland.

East London

A contemporary setting and a laidback charm gives East London a distinctive identity. Well-travelled Indians would appreciate this picturesque city, still untouched by tourist commercialisation as the perfect solution for leisurely vacations clubbed with a variety of adventure experiences in very untouched natural settings. East London is also one of the few places where one can see the White Lion at the Inkwenkezi National Park.

Slice of history at Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth houses South Africa’s third largest national reserve where travellers can watch hundreds of African elephants roam around freely, making it a great safari experience. The Addo National Park also has a thriving marine life and rich flora and offers the only Big 7 safari options in the world. This safari is a combination of marine safari searching for sharks and whales and the famous Big 5 safari. Port Elizabeth also includes Nelson Mandela Bay where one can find Route 67 – a collection of 67 art pieces celebrating the years Nelson Mandela devoted to public life.

Coffee Bay

Nestled within the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape Province is Coffee Bay – a beautiful coastal town that draws in enormous interest from visitors due to its unspoilt beaches and rich, traditional Xhosa lifestyle. The Coffee Bay is also widely known for the Hole in the Wall, a geographical marvel that rests within its gates. It is an offshore stack of rock through which the elements have eroded a hole; this hole amplifies the sound of the waves onto the rock, inspiring the local Xhosa people to name it esiKhaleni which means ‘place of sound’.

Indulge in water sports at Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay is located on the east coast of South Africa, in one of the most unique and unspoiled parts of the world. Sodwana’s spectacular coral reefs in a national marine protected area are among the southernmost in the world, and are a scuba diving and snorkeling mecca. Note to all those keen about fishing: game fish abound.

West Coast

A 90-minute drive from Cape Town, the West Coast is a local favourite for a restorative weekend away. Travellers can hike, explore bike trails through fynbos (small belts of natural shrub land), or visit the icy waters of Langebaan Lagoon for kayaking and sailing. West Coast National Park is great for spring wildflowers (between August and September when the blooms are at their peak). Southern right whales can be viewed between August to November.

Panorama Route

Your visit to the Rainbow Nation would be incomplete without a drive along the Panorama route. With some of the most unique and breathtaking scenery, the highlight of the route is the Blyde River Canyon: one of the longest chasms in the world, consisting of spectacular geological shapes and the most stunning scenic views of the country.

Entry guidelines

South Africa is currently open to all international tourists, including Indians.

– Travellers intending to visit the country will be required to produce a negative PCR test, not older than 72 hours from the time of departure from the country of origin to South Africa.

– South Africa has no quarantine period for anyone who enters the country and passes all Covid-19 checks at the port of entry.

– Visa: Visa fee, e-visa or not, single/multiple entry, processing time.

– There is no visa fee for Indian nationals.

– The VFS logistics fee to process visas from Mumbai and Delhi is Rs 2,040, and Rs 2,301 to process visas from Gurgaon, Jaipur, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore, and Goa.

Processing time:

A minimum of 05 working days in Mumbai and Delhi; a minimum of 07 working days at other centers (Gurgaon, Jaipur, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore, and Goa)

– Vaccine passport: Not available currently.

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I Traveled to Fiji As Soon As It Reopened — Here’s What It Was Like




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As travel surges, here’s why the airlines have been caught flat-footed


For the first time this holiday travel season, the number of passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Dec. 22 exceeded the number of passengers who traveled on that date two years ago

Unfortunately, the airlines are unable to handle this surge in passengers.

In the early days of the pandemic, airlines scrambled to get senior employees to take early retirement as a way to immediately reduce their payroll expenses. The two-part plan was to trim the excess of the most expensive employees and later replace them with new hires at a greatly reduced cost once the demand for travel returned.

The first part of the plan worked better than expected, with nearly 60,000 employees leaving the airline industry. That provided needed relief to airlines that were, at the time, battling a 96 percent drop in traffic

The cost reductions were not enough. The industry lobbied Washington for assistance, resulting in three rounds of bailout money coming their way totaling more than $54 billion.

The second part of the plan, where new hires would help fill the ranks when demand for travel returned, never materialized. For the first time in the history of commercial aviation, the interest in working for airlines was not there. Airlines were experiencing the same hiring problems that were hobbling so many companies across the country.

With a reduced number of employees, the airlines limped into the holiday travel season. As the number of passengers increased, so did the operational challenges. As the omicron variant spread, it impacted many airline employees, who were then subjected to a 10-day period of quarantine. At present, airlines are pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the quarantine period to be reduced to five days, citing the fact their employees are vaccinated and are desperately needed to keep the holiday travel season flowing.

The negative impact became clear on Christmas Eve as United and Delta Airlines were forced to cancel hundreds of flights because of their employee shortage. The absence of many available seats on later flights will make the task of accommodating the more than 50,000 affected passengers even more of a challenge. It is also quite possible that as the last week of holiday travel proceeds, we will see a growing number of flight delays and cancellations, adding to passenger headaches.

Normally this kind of disruption can be attributed to weather or a computer issue, both of which can arise at any moment. If we see any computer problems or bad weather over the next 10 days, the airline network could see thousands of cancelled flights and tens of thousands of stranded travelers.

For those who are flying and encounter a problem with a flight, use the social media tools at your disposal to contact the airlines. Many times, something as simple as a Facebook private message to an airline can provide quick travel options for your consideration.

The key for effective social media interaction with an airline is to first provide your six-digit confirmation number and then briefly describe the problem at hand. This is not the time to document complaints about your last six flights. Keep it short and make it easy to read.

Consider using Flight Aware as a quick reference during your travels. This free site allows us to track our flight as well as the incoming aircraft that makes up our departure, allowing us to review the very latest information.

Once we pass Jan. 3, 2022, airlines will have a chance to regroup, as the month of January is historically a slower travel month. The traffic patterns tend to pick up as we near March, so hopefully airlines will have ample time to prepare for the next rush of passengers, because we can clearly see they were not prepared this time.

Jay Ratliff spent over 20 years in management with Northwest/Republic Airlines, including as aviation general manager. He is an IHeart aviation analyst.





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