How worried should you be about a hotel stay in a pandemic? We answer this question and ones on outdoor dining in bubbles, ski resorts, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column.
Q. “Can you catch COVID-19 from a hotel room? Does the virus linger in the air between guests/housekeeping?” – JH
A. To find out how safe hotel rooms are, I asked Dr. Jessica Green, an indoor environmental microbiology expert and CEO of Phylagen (an indoor COVID-19 testing company). According to Dr. Green, “Yes, you can contract COVID-19 from a hotel room. If an infected person was recently in your hotel room, it is possible that the virus would still be lingering in the air or on surfaces. SARS-CoV-2 is spread mainly through aerosol transmission.”
“Research has shown that aerosolized coronavirus can stay in the air for several hours and that the virus can also be resuspended from surfaces”, says Dr. Green. You want to avoid contact with as many people as possible, so ask housekeeping to skip your room during daily cleanings. (Most hotels are happy to leave a bag of fresh towels at your door each day if you ask.)
Before arriving, confirm that the hotel is following all CDC guidelines and taking precautions (such as extra cleanings). Ask for a room that has been empty between guests for at least 24 hours, if possible. When you check-in to your room, open the windows (if you can) to air it out, as fresh air can help disperse the virus.
Q. “Is outdoor dining in makeshift structures (like igloo bubbles or plastic-walled setups) safe?” – KT
A. Outdoor dining is safer than indoors, because the open-air allows the virus to dissipate. However, now that winter is coming, some outdoor dining setups are starting to look like the indoors, with four-walled structures and roofs. According to Dr. Green, this defeats the purpose. “Structures like igloo bubbles or plastic-walled setups keep us warm by sheltering us from wind and cold air, but it’s that very airflow that we need to stay safe should someone be spreading the virus. Research has shown that aerosolized coronavirus can stay in the air for several hours, which is why being outdoors amongst other people is much safer.” If you are dining in an outdoor structure (like an igloo), keep it to just your household, and make sure that the space is adequately aired out in between parties.
Or, look for restaurants with heat lamps or firepits in the open air to continue your outdoor dining experience this winter while staying safe.
Q. “Is there one mileage/rewards program that is better than the rest?” – TD
A. Mileage and rewards programs can be really confusing if you’re just starting out, so I checked in with Clint Henderson, Senior News Editor at The Points Guy, for his advice.
According to Henderson, “This answer is really subjective. You’ll probably get ten different answers depending on who you ask at The Points Guy. If I were a beginner, I’d start with a Chase Sapphire card and their “Ultimate Rewards” program. You can transfer their points to tons of different airline or hotel programs.”
Henderson recommends the Chase Sapphire card as a “simple way to get started in the loyalty in points space.” His favorite way to redeem his Chase Sapphire points? By transferring them to Hyatt for use on stays at Park Hyatt hotels anywhere in the world.
Q. “Should I give travel as a gift this year?” – KM
A. 2020 is probably not the best year to give a surprise trip, but a travel gift card is always appreciated, plus gives your recipient something to look forward to without having to stress over making certain dates work. An Airbnb gift card is a great choice, since it can be booked for a local vacation if needed (or spent on an online experience). You could even go so far as to pick out a cool Airbnb you want to book for a future trip, and include a little printout of it with the gift card.
If Airbnb isn’t your thing, Amazon has a ton of travel gift cards to choose from, including Hotels.com, Southwest, and Carnival.
Q. “Where can I safely go to be warm this winter?” – RS
A. To find a warm-weather destination that you’ll be allowed to travel to this winter, check our weekly-updated listing of countries that Americans can travel to here. Even if you’re considering driving down to a warmer state than your own, you may need to quarantine first or get tested, so be sure to check the government website for your destination.
To decide if a destination is safe, you’ll want to check COVID-19 rates before traveling, as well as see what measures are in place (like mask laws) to see if it meets your personal requirements. Also, consider if you will be safe for the destination—are you coming from a high-risk area? Can your vacation spot’s healthcare infrastructure handle taking care of sick tourists in addition to their own people?
Q. “What are ski resorts doing for COVID?” – KM
A. Most ski resorts in the U.S. are planning to open this season (which is not the case in most of Europe.) Policies vary by resort, but the vast majority will be reducing the number of lift tickets available each day, requiring face masks, reducing/eliminating indoor amenities, spacing out lift lines to allow for social distancing, and only allowing one party on a chairlift at a time. Some resorts are requiring season pass holders to make reservations for skiing in advance, and others are requiring parking reservations.
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