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”.
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.
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.
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).
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:
- A positive viral test result, with the test taken between 10 days* and not more than 90 days before departure; and
- 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.
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.
|✈ Tennis Paradise: Flights|
|To Los Angeles||From San Francisco|
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:
- Review: SIA A350-900 Business Class, SIN-MUC
- Review: SIA A350-900 Business Class, MUC-SIN
- Review: SIA B77W Business Class, SIN-FRA
|🏨 Tennis Paradise: Hotels|
|1-5||Homewood Suites La Quinta||200,000 Hilton points|
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.
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.
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.
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.
|⚕️ Testing Regime for Travel to USA|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||1 day before departure (ART)||S$17.84|
|🇺🇸 USA||2 days before departure (ART)||Free|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Within 24 hours of arrival (ART)||S$17.84|
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.
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!