Tennis Paradise: USA VTL Trip Planning

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Travel to the USA is relatively straightforward compared to some of Singapore's other VTLs, but here's what you need to know anyway.

This week, I’ll be heading to Los Angeles with my dad to catch the Indian Wells Masters tennis championships. 

While it’s “only” an ATP 1000 event (those who don’t watch tennis may want to skip this paragraph), Indian Wells is sometimes called the “fifth Grand Slam” given its idyllic setting, big prize money and large crowds. The mild weather, fine dining (Nobu and Momofuku are in attendance) and extensive shopping and entertainment options have led organisers to dub it “Tennis Paradise”.

Indian Wells

It’s of course a great opportunity to spend time with my dad, who got me interested in the game (both tennis and miles collecting) as a boy, but it’s also a chance to visit a post-COVID USA.

Here’s the thing though:

  • Logistically speaking, a USA VTL trip is rather straightforward
  • I’m flying on a Singapore Airlines B77W and A350-900, both of which I’ve reviewed several times already
  • I’ll be staying at a Homewood Suites and a mix of Airbnbs- not exactly great review material

There’ll be some new lounges to explore, but apart from that I’m at a loss as to what exactly to cover.

So how about this: I’ll tell you what I have so far, and you tell me what else you’d like to know about (keeping in mind I’m not much of a restaurant/attraction reviewer).

🎾 Tennis Paradise

Travel to USA: Pre-departure logistics

✈️ Requirements for travel to USA

There’s a handful of logistical issues that Singaporeans need to settle before travelling to the USA. 

Vaccination

Non-US residents entering by air must be fully vaccinated. A booster dose is not required, and the vaccination requirement is waived for those under 18 years of age.

The USA recognises all vaccines on the WHO EUL, so the Sinovac and Sinopharm crowd don’t need to worry. 

ESTA

ESTA

Singaporeans must apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). Successful ESTA applicants can travel to the USA for 90 days or less, for business or pleasure (but not to work; business= attend business meetings relating to employment outside the USA, work= set up lemonade stand).

The application fee is US$14, and make sure to apply via the official website. There are many lookalikes out there which charge a lot more.

Most of the ESTA application is routine stuff; the only part likely to cause consternation is the Social Media section. It’s optional, and everyone’s going to have to decide for themselves if they’re comfortable filling it up.

I personally didn’t, and still got approved in less than 20 minutes. I think one of the perks of Singapore citizenship is that you’re automatically considered lower risk, so leaving it blank is unlikely to be a deal-breaker (though obviously I can’t speak to every situation). 

Pre-departure test

The USA requires a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than one day before departure. Supervised ARTs like DA Tele-ART are acceptable for pre-departure testing (FYI: ARTs are referred to as “rapid tests” in the USA). 

For example, if you’re flying on 18 March at 10 p.m, you can take the test anytime from 17 March 12.01 a.m onwards. This means that you could potentially have up to 48 hours to do the test, depending on your flight time. 

Children below the age of 2 are excused from the test requirement. 

❓ Unvaccinated child aged 2-17
Do note that if you’re travelling with an unvaccinated child aged 2-17, he/she will be required to take a COVID-19 test 3-5 days after arriving in the USA, unless he/she has recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days. This can be a self-administered ART, and there is no need to report the result.

A pre-departure test is not required if you recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days and can present both of the following:

  1. A positive viral test result, with the test taken between 10 days* and not more than 90 days before departure; and
  2. A signed from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that they have been cleared for travel. The letterhead must have personal identifiers (e.g. name and date of birth) that match the traveller’s travel documents. The letter must be signed and dated on official letterhead that contains the name, address, and phone number of the healthcare provider or a public health official who signed the letter.

*Note: the CDC’s website does not mention the 10 days requirement, this comes from SIA’s travel advisory page

Attestation Form

Travellers must fill out this Attestation Form, which basically declares:

  • On Page 2: You have a negative pre-departure test or recovered from COVID in the last 90 days
  • On Page 3: You’re fully vaccinated, or have a valid exemption (e.g. aged 17 and below)

Print the completed form and bring it with you to the airport. 

This form must be completed by all travellers aged two and older. 

(Los Angeles only) Traveller Form

Travellers to Los Angeles need to fill out a simple Traveller Form with your email address and phone number. It’ll take less than a minute, and there’s nothing to print upon completion (take a screenshot if you want, but even the screenshot won’t have a unique confirmation number). 

This form must be completed by all travellers over the age of 16. 

Flights

Tennis Paradise: Flights
To Los AngelesFrom San Francisco
SQ12
Depart
: 0920

Arrive: 1130
SQ31
Depart:
1030
Arrive:
1905 (+1)
Cost: 190,000 miles + S$107

For this trip, I’ll be flying into Los Angeles and out of San Francisco. It’s primarily an award space issue; VTL redemptions out of LAX are near impossible to find. 

The outbound flight will be on SQ12 which transits in Narita, so I’ll be the first Singaporean to set foot in Tokyo for a long time (hey, the transit area counts too)! This adds Japan (a non-VTL country) to my travel history, but I’ll be in the USA for more than seven days so it doesn’t matter. 

The return flight will be SQ31 from San Francisco. This 17-hour marathon will be my first non-stop flight to/from the USA since 2018, when I flew on the inaugural SQ22 to Newark, aka the longest flight in the world.

I was able to find Business Saver space, so I’m paying a relatively modest 190,000 miles + S$107 per person. It’d be even cheaper if I were able to find award space on the non-stop service to LAX (since it eliminates the Tokyo airport taxes), but there’s no point getting greedy…

Unfortunately, there won’t be much to talk about in terms of cabin products, because I’ve reviewed Singapore Airlines’ 2013 Business Class seat several times in recent memory:

Singapore Airlines long-haul A350-900 Business Class

So at most I’ll be looking out for Singapore Airlines’ new Golden Door wellness partnership (which replaced Canyon Ranch– remember them?), and whether there’s anything interesting to talk about.

Hotels

🏨 Tennis Paradise: Hotels
NightHotelCost (Nett)
1-5Homewood Suites La Quinta200,000 Hilton points
OthersAirBnBVaries

While my hotels list isn’t anything exciting, it’s a good example of how buying points can really pay off, even if you’re not looking to book an ultra high-end property.

Most of the hotels in Indian Wells and nearby Palm Springs had been booked up for the tournament, and what few remained were charging ridiculous rates. Even the humble 3-Star Homewood Suites La Quinta was asking for US$624 per night, before taxes!

But the same room was available for 50,000 points per night, and Hilton was running one of their regular 100% bonus sales, which brought the price per point down to 0.5 US cents. By buying and redeeming points, I paid just US$200 nett per night (factoring in the 5th night free on redemptions). 

That’s none too shabby in my opinion, even if a Homewood Suites is hardly the stuff of dreams.

Lounges

ANA Lounge, Satellite No. 5

SQ12 has a 90-minute layover in Narita, which will be an opportunity to explore the airport (a pity that Sushi Kyotatsu is closed) and visit the ANA Lounge- only the one at Satellite No. 5 is open at the moment. I must have visited this a few times before, but it’s always good to get a post-COVID data point.

In San Francisco, I’ll have a choice of the Centurion Lounge (for AMEX Platinum Charge cardholders) and United Polaris Lounge. 

Centurion Lounge | Photo: TPG
United Polaris Lounge SFO | Photo: Points Hacks

I can’t promise to review both as there might not be time (and the Centurion Lounge is notoriously overcrowded), but I’ll do my best.

Car rental

Hertz President’s Circle selection at LAX | Photo: Calltalian on Flyertalk

While I normally default to Turo for car rentals in the US, my one-way trip means I’ll need to use a traditional agency.

I happen to have Hertz President’s Circle status, and Hertz was also one of the cheaper agencies for my dates and routing. I’m paying US$760 for a one-way, 10-day rental from LAX to SFO, which strikes me as pretty decent.

My booking is for a full-size vehicle, but because of my status I can select any car from the President’s Circle aisle, which usually has SUVs and the odd luxury car.

As an aside, your Singapore driver’s license is accepted in the USA, with no need for an IDP.

COVID-19 Testing

⚕️  Testing Regime for Travel to USA
LocationRemarksPrice
🇸🇬 Singapore1 day before departure (ART)S$17.84
🇺🇸 USA2 days before departure (ART)Free
🇸🇬 SingaporeWithin 24 hours of arrival (ART)S$17.84
  Total CostS$36

Since supervised ARTs are acceptable for pre-departure testing to the USA, I’ll finally have an opportunity to try DoctorAnywhere’s Tele-ART service (S$12.84 plus the cost of an ART kit).

With regards to the pre-departure test when travelling to Singapore, I’ve learned from the US VTL group that it’s possible to get a free COVID-19 test from providers like Curative and Total Testing Solutions. These provide certificates with the information required by ICA, namely: 

  • Full name
  • Date of birth or passport number
  • Negative COVID-19 test result
  • Date and time the test was taken
  • Name of testing institution 

On return to Singapore, I’ll  need to take a supervised ART within 24 hours of arrival. I could go to a QTC/CTC and do this for S$15, but I’d rather use DA Tele-ART again to save time. For avoidance of doubt, DA Tele-ART can be used for on-arrival testing as well. 

This means my total testing costs will be around S$36. I’m sure the USA will do away with pre-departure testing for vaccinated individuals soon, but in the meantime it’s not particularly burdensome either. 

Conclusion

All things considered, the USA is one of the more straightforward VTL arrangements out there. There’s no special scheme to apply for like with Thailand, no on-arrival testing like South Korea, and no mandatory travel insurance (though it goes without saying you’ll want to be covered- healthcare costs in the US are no joke).

Do let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to read about in a USA VTL trip report!

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Rwn

Hello! What a coincidence! I’ll be head to LA on 5th April so this post is super useful to me!

Can I check with you a quick question if you don’t mind.

I’ll be fly in to LA and transiting NRT too. I’ll be leaving LA on 11th Apr, 18:15 and will arrive back in SG on 13th Apr 05:45.

Will I be allowed back in to SG – is this considered having stayed in the USA for more than seven days?

Thank you so much for your help in advance!

Last edited 8 months ago by Rwn
Rwn

Thank you so much! Okay maybe I’ll check with SQ, or fly back later if needed!

Thanks and have a good trip! 😀

SQ Flyer

This gave me a bit of pause as well. Will be attending a T4G conference in Kentucky in April and was feeling pretty pleased at having snagged a JL F award for 75k AS miles on the outbound transiting HND on 16 Apr. Returning to SIN on the JFK-SIN nonstop VTL flight departing JFK on 22 Apr and arriving SIN on 24 Apr.

Looks like I’ll have just about made it within the current ICA wording…

SQ Flyer

i believe they use time of boarding, not time of arrival in sg. It’s based on the date of entry into Singapore. From https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/vtl/requirements-and-process: “Travellers may only have travelled to or transited via “Active VTL (Air) Countries/Regions”, Category I countries/regions, the European Economic Area (EEA)*, or Singapore within the past 7 days, for travellers entering Singapore based on their date of entry into Singapore. The effective dates for VTLs which have yet to commence are stated below. Travellers with travel history to non-VTL countries/regions in the European Economic Area (EEA)* within the last 7 days may only enter Singapore under… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by SQ Flyer
SQ Flyer

Yes was actually quoting what you said earlier, but the formatting only appears correctly after you click ‘Read more’.

Mike

I am travelling on sq12 on the 12 March, maybe I get to see you in the cabin. 🙂

Ris

Any advice on what travel insurance to get when flying to the US?

Enadiz

I transited in NRT in early February on SQ12 as well (which was 10% full – yay). There was nothing open in the transit area other than the duty free store and a Matusmoto Kiyoshi…

Stacy

I haven’t been to the Centurion lounge in SFO, but the Polaris lounge was lovely — at least pre-Covid. The a la carte food was outstanding and most unexpected for a UA lounge

Super

See if you can rent a Tesla model 3 with hertz. The gas prices are sky high now in the US with 1 gallon going for US$7.

Zaos

It’s not. Even if it is, that’s S$2.5 / liter.

Joseph

I am flying from Melbourne to Singapore on 27th May (arr. around 9.30pm) and flying from SG to LAX (via Narita) on 29th May. If I do the Doctor Anywhere Tele-Art service on 28th May morning, can this on-arrival testing serve also as pre-departure ART for USA? Many thanks!

Jeremy Tan

I am planning to do the same fly into LAX and then out from SFO since that the only possible award space. Maybe you could share on the US Covid-19 testing process? How are the regulations in both the states? I have never driven in US before as well , but I heard the jams are terrible. Maybe you could share your experience driving there too? Thanks

John

Be interested in the below how your experience is when you do the art on your return flight if you could share!

Thanks and have a good trip. With regards to the pre-departure test when travelling to Singapore, I’ve learned from the US VTL group that it’s possible to get a free COVID-19 test from providers like Curative and Total Testing Solutions.

kenzo

Hi Aaron, I intend to travel into LAX via NRT. do you know if USA has impose entrance restrictions or quarantine on those transiting through japan? Thanks

Ryan

You mentioned Curative free testing. It says “Results received within ~ 1-2 days*”. Is it worth the risk if the result is late and you cant board the flight?

Zaos

Rapid tests are really quick. A place like CVS has automated the results email.

sarah

To return to Singapore on the VTL, the PCR test has to be taken within 2 days of departure. My understanding is this means if the flight departs on 31 May, the PCR test can be taken on 29-31 May.

However, if a person flies say HNL-SFO-SIN (on a single booking) is the departure date going to be for the HNL-SFO or SFO-SIN flight – the dates are one day apart. Any idea? Thanks!

Last edited 8 months ago by sarah
sarah

Do you mean they will use the date of the sfo-sin flight then? The art or pcr test is allowed to be taken within 2 days of departure. Let’s say the hnl-sfo flight is may 30, and the vtl sfo-sin flight is may 31. So using the sfo-sin flight date, the test can be taken may 29-31?This should be regardless of the layover duration since hnl is still in the US? Thanks!!!!

Last edited 8 months ago by sarah

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