Do You Need a COVID-19 Test to Fly? Many U.S. Airlines Start to Offer Tests for Passengers

Do You Need a COVID-19 Test to Fly? Many U.S. Airlines Start to Offer Tests for Passengers

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From HEPA filters to blocking middle seats, airlines have implemented dozens of measures to enhance the cleanliness and safety of their planes. To instill confidence in travelers, airlines have partnered with testing providers to offer various coronavirus testing methods. Starting Jan. 26, 2021, all international travelers returning to the U.S. will need to present a negative test result before flying. This test must be taken no more than three days before the date of travel.

Five of the seven major domestic airlines have already introduced COVID-19 testing options for its passengers, particularly for flying to Hawaii and many international destinations. While most of these tests will cost you a pretty penny, the added convenience and quick turnaround times could make flying during the pandemic easier for travelers. While you can still book your own test before traveling, scheduling a test through your airline can save you lots of time and effort.

Alaska Airlines coronavirus testing

Alaska Airlines has partnered with several testing providers, offering at-home, in-person and drive-through options. All of these testing partners are approved by the State of Hawaii's pre-travel testing program.

At-home testing. Alaska Airlines has partnered with Costco Wholesale to offer saliva-based at-home testing kits for travelers ages 5 and up. These tests cost $139.99 each and are delivered via UPS overnight delivery. Additionally, these tests are administered with a video observation appointment and must be dropped off at UPS before the overnight shipping cutoff time — with results in 24 to 48 hours. Alaska recommends that you purchase these tests at least one to two weeks before your trip to ensure that you can confirm a video appointment slot.

In-person testing. Alaska Airlines has partnered with Carbon Health and Bartell Drugs to offer in-person priority testing for Alaska flyers. Carbon Health tests cost anywhere from $135 to $170, and you will need to schedule your appointment in advance.

You'll receive same or next-day results at all their testing sites:

  • Seattle
  • Los Angeles
  • Portland
  • San Diego
  • San Jose

Bartell Drugs offers priority testing for Alaska flyers at five different locations in the greater Seattle metro area: Bellevue, Des Moines, Greenlake, Lynwood and Renton. These tests cost $125, with results arriving via email within 72 hours of the appointment.

American Airlines coronavirus testing

American Airlines was among the first airlines to introduce testing as part of the preflight process, and currently offers at-home and in-person testing for its passengers. You will upload your test results to VeriFLY, a secure mobile app which helps streamline this and other AA preflight travel requirements. American Airlines does not require COVID-19 testing for domestic flights, although the CDC recommends unvaccinated travelers get tested one to three days before traveling. Check local government regulations before domestic travel to determine if a test is required.

At-home testing. Initially starting on routes to Hawaii, American has partnered with LetsGetChecked to administer at-home PCR tests. Now, passengers flying to Belize (BZE), Grenada (GND), St. Lucia (UVF) and Chile (SCL) will have the opportunity to receive these at-home testing kits prior to departure. These tests have a 48-hour turnaround time and will be followed up with a virtual visit by a medical professional.

You can purchase an at-home test kit for $129. It's recommended that you purchase your test at least five days before departure.

Testing requirements vary depending on the location, so you'll want to make sure you check American Airlines' website and your destination's tourism board prior to your trip. Some places require a negative test result within 72 hours of departure, while others have a seven-day window.

In-person testing. AA passengers flying out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on select routes have a couple of preflight testing options. At select CareNow urgent care locations near the airport, you can find a rapid COVID-19 test prior to travel for $150.

If you'd rather wait until the day of your flight, CareNow also administers rapid on-site tests at DFW International Airport near Gate D40 for $249. For either test, your results will be available within 15 minutes.

Flights to London. Starting Jan. 18, 2021, you must present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before boarding your flight to London. You can order a LetsGetChecked test through American Airlines if you wish.

Hawaiian Airlines coronavirus testing

As Hawaii is one of the only states requiring mandatory negative COVID-19 results to bypass a 14-day quarantine, Hawaiian Airlines has many partners to ensure test availability, all of which are approved by the State of Hawaii's "Safe Travels" program.

At-home testing. For $119 a person, Hawaiian has partnered with Vault Health to provide FDA-authorized saliva-based tests. Vault provides expedited processing exclusively for Hawaiian flyers, with a 24-hour turnaround for results.

Drive-through testing. Hawaiian Airlines has partnered with Worksite Labs to provide drive-through nasal swab appointments in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. These testing facilities are all located near the airports. Each test costs $90, with results within 36 hours.

In-person testing. Travelers originating from Seattle and Portland, Ore., can schedule an appointment with US BioTek Laboratories. Tests with results within 36 hours cost $90 to $105 per person, while tests with results within 24 hours cost $150 to $165 per person. Both nasal swab and saliva collection tests are available.

For travelers originating from Las Vegas, you can receive a nasal or throat swab test at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. Tests cost $130 per person for results within 36 hours.

For a full list of Hawaiian Airlines' testing partners in various cities, click here.

JetBlue Airways coronavirus testing

JetBlue has partnered with Vault Health to provide at-home, saliva-based test kits for travelers to Aruba. Each kit costs $119 and will deliver results within 72 hours. Vault encourages you to order your test as soon as possible and wait no longer than a week before departure to take your test.

At JetBlue's terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, you can also walk in and get a free COVID-19 test. The hours of operation are from 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. daily.

United Airlines coronavirus testing

United Airlines flies to Hawaii and many international destinations requiring a negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival. In fact, United is the only airline that is currently piloting its required rapid test before boarding — completely free-of-charge for all passengers.

Flights to Latin America and the Caribbean. United has partnered with ADL Health to provide at-home PCR test kits for certain flyers. Starting Dec. 7, 2020, United travelers from Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH) can order this kit if they're flying to the following destinations:

  • Aruba (AUA)
  • Belize City, Belize (BZE)
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala (GUA)
  • Lima, Peru (LIM)
  • Nassau, Bahamas (NAS)
  • Panama City, Panama (PTY)
  • Roatan, Honduras (RTB)
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras (SAP)
  • San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL)
  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras (TGU)

Eligible customers will receive information about the test and a purchase link via email 14 days before departure. Travelers must mail their test back 72 hours before travel and will receive their results via email within 24 to 48 hours before their flight. Each test costs $119.

Flights from San Francisco to Hawaii. United has partnered with two companies, Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care and Color, to offer both day-of and drive-through testing for travelers flying from San Francisco (SFO) to Hawaii. United recommends scheduling your appointment as soon as you receive an email.

For drive-through testing, eligible passengers will receive information and a sign-up link via email one week before departure. These tests cost $105 and are conducted by Color at the United technical operations parking lot at San Francisco International Airport. You must make an appointment for approximately 72 hours before travel, with most results coming out within 48 hours.

For day-of testing, you can visit the international terminal at Courtyard A. You must pre-register to reserve a timeslot. These tests cost $250 each, and results will come out within 15 minutes.

Flights from Denver to Hawaii. Located at Concourse B at Denver International Airport, you can get tested at XpresCheck. Testing is available between Monday through Friday. Eligible United customers will receive more information about signing up about one week before their trip. There are no walk-in appointments — you must pre-register to reserve a timeslot with results delivered in 15-30 minutes. Each test will cost $200.

Flights from London. All travelers on flights originating from the U.K. to the U.S. must present a negative test result taken within 72 hours before departure.

Mail-in testing. Alternatively, you can order a mail-in test that's administered by ADL Health. It must be mailed back at least 72 hours before travel. You'll receive your results within 24-48 hours of your trip. This mail-in test costs $119 (including shipping).

What to know about international travel testing requirements

With discussions of a new COVID-19 strain and climbing cases, the CDC issued a new order that took effect Jan. 26, 2021. All international travelers — including U.S. citizens — must present proof of a negative test result before boarding. You must take the test no more than three days before the flight departure.

This testing requirement put a lot of pressure on countries, airlines and hotels to increase the number of testing options available. Rapid test results are valid — the testing has to be performed using a viral test (NAAT or antigen). In an update on May 7, 2021, the CDC announced that self tests, or at-home tests, will be sufficient tests for international travelers coming in to the U.S., easing the level of difficulty to get tested.

The only exception to this rule is for people who have tested positive in the last three months. If this is the case, you need to display proof of a previous positive test result along with a letter from a health care provider or public health official that clears you for travel. People who have already been vaccinated still need to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to their international flight back to the U.S.

Do I need a COVID-19 test to fly domestic?

The CDC has updated its recommendations, stating that vaccinated travelers flying domestically do not need to get tested prior to travel; unvaccinated travelers flying within the U.S. should get tested one to three days prior to travel.

  • Valuepenguin domestic travel tip: Check local government regulations for your destination to see if proof of a negative test is required upon arrival.

How to get a COVID-19 test for travel

If you need to take a COVID-19 test before flying, there are more testing options than ever before. Many airlines have made it easier to find a test before travel, as more destinations require proof of a negative result upon arrival — or even before you board.

You can also schedule a test outside of the options offered by your airline. Many drug stores, urgent care facilities and hospitals offer coronavirus testing, and in many cases, free-of-charge. You could save a lot of money by coordinating your own tests, especially if you're traveling in groups. However, keep these factors in mind when scheduling your COVID-19 test:

  • Check age requirements. If you're traveling with children, they may be exempted from taking a COVID-19 test for travel. You'll want to confirm the minimum age required to take a test.
  • Know when your results arrive. When you're taking a coronavirus test, time is of the essence. There will be a specific timeframe for taking your test and receiving results, so you'll want to make sure your results will come back on time.
  • Make sure that your destination approves the test. There are many types of tests out there, from nasal and throat swabs to saliva-based tests. You'll want to make sure your destination approves of the specific test you're taking — otherwise, you may have to take another test or even face a mandatory quarantine. For example, many destinations do not accept antibody testing as an official test.
  • Confirm travel restrictions. Many destinations still don't accept any international travelers without a formal quarantine. Ensure that proof of negative COVID-19 test results is sufficient for entry into the state or country you're visiting.
  • Schedule your appointment as early as possible. While testing options are certainly not as limited as before, slots will still be limited. You'll want to schedule your appointment as soon as you've booked your travel plans.

For the most accurate information, confirm with the tourism board and any official government resources from your destination to get a COVID-19 test for travel.

ValuePenguin's verdict

Much like booking your hotel reservations and excursions, you'll want to schedule your coronavirus test accordingly. With the new international travel testing requirement, you'll want to make sure you have access to a COVID-19 test before traveling. Many airlines are making it easier for travelers to find coronavirus tests — with some tests producing results in less than 15 minutes. We can expect testing before flying to become the new norm as airlines determine the efficacy of on-site and at-home coronavirus testing.

Does travel insurance cover pandemic-related travel costs?

Use a credit card with trip interruption insurance when paying for flights, hotels or other travel purchases; card travel insurance could reimburse you for unforeseen costs due to coronavirus.

Credit cards are beneficial in the event you need to change or cancel a trip due to COVID-19 — especially when you aren't able to cancel through your airline. Your card's insurance policy also may protect you and other travelers on your itinerary from unexpected costs incurred while traveling and falling sick, in case you need hospitalization, air transportation to a hospital or to extend your stay due to quarantine (be sure to read your card's benefits guide to understand what is and isn't covered by your policy.)

The following Chase, Amex, and Capital One credit cards offer travel insurance, including trip interruption and trip cancellation insurance, which can prove invaluable when coronavirus derails your travel. We recommend using the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card or The Platinum Card® from American Express for travel purchases so you're covered by the best trip interruption and trip cancellation insurance available, as seen below:

Card
Issuer
Trip Interruption/Trip Cancellation Insurance
Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve®ChaseUp to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip$550
Apply Now
  • On Chase's Secure Website
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressAmex$10,000 per covered trip and up to $20,000 per 12 months$695 ( )
Apply Now

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).