A recent “luxury travel” come-on (I get tons of up-market travel emails) touted their top ten “winter sun” vacation spots. What made me take note of this particular message was its list of places allowing tourists during the Covid crisis, with helpful details of travel restrictions for each destination. But it didn’t say how travelers might be able to get there, which got me wondering which airlines and routings are actually available.
A bit of sleuthing among several reservation systems, including Google Flight Search, revealed that travel from my home airport of Raleigh/Durham (RDU) to every place in the list is indeed possible. (I assumed two weeks leaving late January and returning early February, 2021.) Here’s what I learned from #10 (Tahiti) to #1 (The Maldives):
French Polynesia (Pape’ete, Tahiti)
United claims it’ll get me to Tahiti (PPT, not Bora Bora) for $1288 round trip Economy and $4950 in Business via EWR and then SFO, but owing, I surmise, to the dearth of flights these days, it’s a 52-hour torment from Raleigh. It would be a direct flight if I lived in the Bay Area. I couldn’t find any other airline making the journey in January-February from RDU. I’ve been to Moorea, and it was idyllic, but The Maldives are dazzling and surpass the beauty and charm of Tahiti, in my opinion.
Lots of options here. Cairo is reached quickest (19+ hours) via Air Canada/Turkish, Jet Blue/Turkish, and United/Austrian for $848 in coach, $1550 in Premium Economy, or around $3300 round trip in Business. Other major carriers and alliances also say they are flying then, with the Delta/AF Business fare just $2600. I’ve traveled in Egypt from Cairo to Aswan and marveled at its ancient wonders. I’d happily return for a longer linger. In fact the most spectacular hotel I’ve ever spent nights in was the Oberoi on an island in the Nile at Aswan.
Many options from RDU with durations of 5-8 hours for as little as $376 (Spirit—ugh!) to $551 in coach on all major carriers, and a reasonable $729-900 in Business. Tempts me to go; I would enjoy sampling their cigars, superior rum, and pristine beaches.
Again, every major airline lists flights to San Jose and will take me there in 8-9 hours for $271 (the dreaded Spirit again) to $450 in Economy and $750-990 in Business. Been there, done that on both coasts, through mangrove swamps and dense rain forests. The worst potholes on earth are on a main Pacific highway there, large enough to swallow a bus—beating out even rural Venezuelan roads in my adventures.
Well, of course Emirates flies to Dubai, their home base, I thought. Not at the present, apparently, or else they aren’t listed on the systems I queried. But I did find flights on Air Canada, UA, DL/KLM, and Turkish for $880-1200 in the back and $3006-4700 up front. However, travel times are long, with most 21 hours or more. Great airport, which I love connecting through, but I’ve never considered making a vacation stop in Dubai, though I once almost had a consulting gig there.
It’s a big country with two coasts, so I checked both Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific (Baja California peninsula) and Cancun on the Caribbean (Yucatan peninsula). Cabo appears to be served by DL, UA and AA for $450-480 round trip Economy and $1012 in First (AA). It’s about a 7-hour trip. From RDU, Cancun is well-served mainly by Delta (many flight options), less so by UA, AA or Spirit. It’s a 5-6 hours journey, with coach just $350-380 and First/Business $630 (UA) to $720. South of the border has never grabbed me like some places, though I once had a relaxing week on Isla Mujeras. And I always yearned to see Chicken Pizza, er, I mean, Chichén Itzá.
American promises to get me cheapest to UVF Airport ($392 in coach versus $584 on Delta) and in under 7 hours. Business/First on AA runs $1053, while Delta thinks their front cabin is worth $1929. This place sounds exotic and gorgeous, but with few bargains once on the ground, it seems.
Like Cairo, ZNZ is cheapest and fastest via Air Canada/Turkish at around $1300 in coach or a steep $7000 in Business, but it’s a 26-27 hour ordeal. UA/Austrian/Ethiopian has a lower coach price ($830), but takes an agonizing 41 hours to get there. Other airline alliances will get me to Zanzibar, but the fares are higher and flying time over 30 hours. I’ve flown through the airport a couple of times en route to Arusha (Tanzania) and the Serengeti. Thought the seaside resorts appeared beautiful on approach, but I was told local fishermen have dynamited the once-pristine reefs into oblivion, with no marine life left to see.
Turks & Caicos
Having heard about the islands’ elegant digs, I thought T&C would be pricey to fly to, but it’s just $420-450 (coach) and $800 (First) from RDU, and I can get there in a mere 5 hours on Delta, United, or American. Who knew it was so quick and cheap? Another place I’d love to visit.
Unlike Turks & Caicos, I have been to The Maldives and fell in love with the archipelago. Pre-Covid, Emirates flew to Malé (MLE Airport) with lots of capacity, but as with Dubai, I could not find flights on Emirates listed connecting from Raleigh. However, it appears that the Air Canada/Turkish, AA/Qatar, and JetBlue/Turkish partnerships will get me there for $1200-1300 in coach or around $7000 in Business. The kicker is that takes 25-30 hours of flying at a minimum. Air Canada/Lufthansa connections show an unendurable 52-hour itinerary. My one visit to The Maldives left an indelible positive mark in my memory. My wife and I plan to return. Maybe this winter is the right time.
I imagined that this frivolous exercise would do little more than validate my ennui and deep longing to travel again. After all, it began as a lark to satisfy my curiosity after reading the “top ten” list and wondering how I’d get to those places during the pandemic. My expectations were low.
Therefore, I was genuinely surprised to find the usual rez systems displaying flights in January-February to every destination. Now I wonder if the many flights I found are real or phantoms.
Assuming the flights are there, however, I worry that the mandatory testing is harder than finding itineraries that work. And that being allowed to enter the countries is even harder. I recently fretted about this in the context of my planned 2021 trip to South Africa. The current chaos of nonstandard testing and entry requirements, exacerbated by the uncertain fluidity of the plague’s peaks and valleys, makes it impossible to know if I can comply and be allowed to fly and enter any of the nations listed.