Do I need a vaccine passport to book a flight?

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Dear Cashing In: I really want to use my rewards points to travel internationally soon. Is it true that I’ll need to have a vaccine passport in order to book my flights?—Kellee

Dear Kellee,

It’s great that you’re planning to use your credit card rewards points to book international travel soon—and your question about vaccination passports is very timely.

It’s true that vaccine passports will likely play a critical role in the future of international travel—but you don’t need to have a vaccine passport right now in order to book a flight for future international travel.

As more and more people are getting vaccinated around the world every day, we’re once again starting to see COVID travel restrictions shift. While some airlines may require a specific vaccine passport in the near future, right now proof of vaccine is growing in popularity as an alternative to lengthy and expensive quarantines and even some testing requirements.

For reward travelers like us, this proof of vaccine option translates into more destinations where we could possibly use our points for visiting—without quarantine—sooner rather than later. Isn’t that good news!

What is a vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport is essentially a digital document that verifies you have been inoculated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Just like you need to carry your actual passport to prove your identity when you travel internationally, a vaccine passport proves your COVID status and history.

While COVID vaccine travel passports and mobile apps for tracking vaccination data are new—particularly in the west—the idea of international proof of vaccination for travel has been around a long time, since 1933 in fact. If you’ve ever traveled to Africa, for example, you’ve likely had to be vaccinated against yellow fever and carried a “yellow card” to show with your passport upon arrival.

Vaccine passports for COVID take this same concept to a new level in mobile apps and will likely be required for entry into different countries and for flights on some international airlines.

What do vaccine passports mean for rewards travelers?

The biggest positive implication of vaccine passports on reward travelers is simple: more places where you’ll be able to use your points to travel again soon!

The negative implication: Vaccine passports are another new system you’ll have to navigate for both the airline with which you’re flying and for the destination you’re visiting. But more on that in a bit—good news first.

Where can I use my reward points to travel now?

The best news about vaccine passports is that we can actually use the points we’ve been saving from our favorite travel credit cards through a whole year of COVID to go to amazing places once again (or as soon as two weeks after you received a vaccine, of course).

Proof of vaccine has already made it possible for borders to open once again for Americans to Belize, Ecuador, Georgia (the country), Ireland, Lebanon, the Seychelles and Thailand (to name a few). And it’s likely that more and more countries will be joining this list soon—or may have already re-opened by the time you read this.

Of course, each of these countries will still have its own entrance requirements. Some countries will still require negative COVID-19 tests upon entry or special visa requirements, so you’ll have to thoroughly check out the destination details—even if you’ve already been vaccinated.

Want to travel to Thailand now? If you have proof of vaccine and have applied for a visa in advance, you’ll be able to skip the 16-day mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers. And since there isn’t a lot of traffic to Bangkok these days, you’ll likely have a better chance of scoring an award ticket with your credit card points. A quick search on AA.com right now shows lots of award availability in the next months in all three classes of service starting at 37,500 AAdvantage miles for main cabin, 70,000 for business class and 110,000 miles for first.

For domestic travel, vaccination passports will likely not be mandatory, but they could be helpful for travel to cities and states that are imposing quarantine restrictions. For example, it’s rumored that Hawaii will begin to allow travelers to and between the islands to bypass quarantine requirements with proof of vaccine in May.

How to do your homework

While proof of vaccination is helping more destinations open up, the evolving nature of vaccination passports leaves a lot of ambiguity for travelers trying to navigate the space. If you’re already planning international travel you’ll need to be doing the research on vaccine requirements for both the destination(s) you’ve visiting and transiting through, as well as the requirements of the airline(s) you’re flying. From what we know now, different airlines and different countries are trying different digital vaccine passport programs—you might need more than one app.

As a rewards points traveler you’ll want to pay special attention if you’re booking international travel with miles on one airline that includes codeshare flights on a partner airline. For example, if I use American Airlines AAdvantage miles earned on my AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® to book that flight to Thailand on a Japan Airlines operated aircraft, I’ll need to check out the requirements for both airlines and any airports I need to transit in route to be safe.

Requirements affect vaccinated and non-vaccinated travelers

If you are unable to get a vaccine or not planning to yet, but you’re still thinking about booking travel, you’ll need to do your homework and take vaccine passport requirements into consideration before you book any flights.

The bottom line

Though we don’t know everything about vaccine passports because they are still in their early stages of development, we do know one thing for sure. Vaccine passports have the potential to open borders and play a critical role in our return to the world of international reward travel.

All information about the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.