I Had the Perfect Trip Planned. Then, I Got Covid. And It Cost Me

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  • Because of COVID-19, I had to pay for a place to quarantine and a new flight.
  • It ended up costing me $2,538.
  • If I had purchased travel insurance, it could have covered at least some of those costs.

COVID-19 added over $2,500 to my travel costs, and it could've been a lot worse.

Last month, I had a pair of exciting trips planned. My wife and I would spend 10 days in New York City sightseeing. After that, we'd be off to France for two months. For our trip across the Atlantic, I was even able to snag business-class seats with Lufthansa on the plane's upper deck. Best of all, I saved a lot of money by paying for those tickets with credit card miles.

As we were planning this, COVID-19 never came up. We had been traveling and going out for about a year, we were fully vaccinated, and we hadn't gotten it so far. But about halfway into our time in New York, our luck ran out.

Signs of trouble

The trip to New York started out perfectly. We managed to fit a lot into the first few days, including seeing some amazing museums, hanging out with my family, and going to a concert. It's a city that I highly recommend traveling to, and I would love to visit again.

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On our sixth day of vacation, my wife started feeling tired and had a very sore neck. Since we had just been out at a concert the night before, we chalked it up to vigorous headbanging and assumed it would go away with rest. But over the next couple of days, she felt tired and got frequent headaches. She figured it was just an ordinary cold based on her symptoms, but we decided to get COVID-19 tests to be safe.

That precautionary measure turned out to be a good idea. Her test immediately came back positive. Mine, to our surprise, was negative. I also had no symptoms, even though we had been together 24/7.

Even though I apparently didn't have it yet, I knew that there was a strong possibility I'd be infected soon. Sure enough, a day and a half later, I noticed a pesky sore throat before I went to bed. That night, I woke up with a slight fever. I took a test the next day and got a positive result of my own.

Last-minute changes

COVID-19 had put us in a pretty stressful situation. Here's an idea of what we were dealing with by the time I tested positive:

  • We had an international flight scheduled for the next day.
  • We had one night left at the Manhattan hotel where we were staying.
  • Extending our hotel stay would cost over $400 per night, and the room was tiny.
  • Neither of us were feeling well, for obvious reasons.

There was at least one silver lining: I hadn't had any luck with Airbnb bookings in France, so we weren't committed to a place there yet and wouldn't need to pay any cancellation fees.

We knew we'd have to either change our flight or cancel it and book something new. Flying was out of the question. We were contagious, for one. Also, there was no way I was flying business class on Lufthansa without being able to enjoy the wine.

I called the LifeMiles frequent flyer program where I'd booked the tickets and got some good news. It would normally cost $150 per passenger to change our tickets or $200 per passenger to cancel them. If we sent proof we'd tested positive for COVID-19, we could get those airline fees waived.

After some deliberation, we ended up canceling our tickets, because we couldn't find any convenient changes available. We then booked new airfare, but decided to head back to our home base in Colombia instead of France.

The other pressing issue was finding a place to quarantine and rest. We had no desire to extend our hotel considering the cost and how miniscule the room was. I started looking at rentals, and fortunately, I found one available on short notice in New Jersey.

Extra travel costs, courtesy of COVID-19

Here's what we ended up paying because of COVID:

  • $1,208 for a place to quarantine
  • $100 for COVID-19 tests at a pharmacy (we had to pay out of pocket since we don't have U.S. health insurance)
  • $1,230 for new airfare

In total, it cost us $2,538. We probably could have avoided at least a portion of these costs if we had purchased travel insurance, an important financial safety net. Although coverage depends on what plan you get, many travel insurance companies offer COVID coverage. Some policies cover the cost of quarantining, getting tested, and changing flights.

I can't be too upset about how things turned out, though. Since I hadn't found a place in France, we didn't eat any cancellation fees there. LifeMiles reimbursed my award ticket fees and my miles at no cost once I sent in our positive tests.

Most importantly, our symptoms were mild (shoutout to Pfizer's vaccines). It was about as bad as a cold. We never had to go to the hospital, which would have been scary and made this whole experience a lot more expensive.

As frustrating as it is, you never know when you're going to get COVID-19. If it happens when you have a trip coming up, or while you're on one, it can be especially difficult to manage. The best way to prepare yourself financially is by purchasing travel insurance that covers everything COVID-related, like changing flights, paying for a place to quarantine, and medical treatment.

Although many credit cards include complimentary travel insurance, make sure to check what their policies offer. They may not cover every type of expense like a COVID-specific travel insurance plan would.

I'd also advise having a robust emergency fund. This can help with any miscellaneous expenses you have. In my case, my emergency fund covered my costs, since I hadn't purchased travel insurance.

Last but not least, have a plan for what you'll do if you contract COVID-19 before or during a trip. My wife and I managed to scramble and make plans at the last minute, but it's definitely not an approach I'd recommend.

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