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Is there any risk in / disadvantage to applying for an ESTA, but then not travelling with it after all? Would not using it be considered "suspicious" or cause any problems later? My travel plans are not quite certain yet, and I would like to get the ESTA out of the way before proceeding with detailed planning. One of the reasons is that in case the ESTA would not be granted, I am not willing to go through the visa application process at this time.

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It is common not to use ESTA. In fact it is not mandatory to give travel dates or destination address.

Note: ESTA is not an authorization to entry in US, it is just a screening process: it simplify travel from countries which have few unauthorized immigrants, but also providing information to such citizens if they need to require a visa (so reducing problems/costs on entry). In addition, the data is used like an API (Advanced Passenger Information), so authorities can check on different databases if you are not welcome.

In any case, it is recommended not to book flights before getting ESTA or the visa, and in COVID times, I think it is normal to change plans. It was already so before COVID: business travel were often cancelled or moved, visits often changes, various sport or travel activities requires some conditions (weather, snow, etc. US is famous for its parks)., etc.

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  • Snow might not be a very good example; places where snow is necessary (ski resorts and the like) generally have the ability to make it themselves if the weather fails to cooperate.
    – Vikki
    Feb 15, 2022 at 9:27
  • But you might not e.g. go visit a national park if it's forecast to pour for 3 weeks around your planned travel dates. Feb 15, 2022 at 12:58

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