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Need to Change Your Travel Plans Due to Coronavirus? These Are Your Options

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Travelers the world over are working to cancel or rebook upcoming trips due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Photo by Sanga Park/Shutterstock

Travelers the world over are working to cancel or rebook upcoming trips due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has many travelers scrambling to cancel or alter upcoming trips. In light of the crisis, numerous airlines, hotels, and tour providers have rolled out more lenient change and cancellation policies—for now.

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This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

For travelers who are having to rearrange upcoming trips due to the global coronavirus  pandemic (and given the unprecedented scope of this international health crisis, we know there are a lot of you), airlines, hotels, and tour operators are offering generous rebooking options—for the time being.

Numerous travel companies have considerably relaxed their change and cancellation policies at least through the end of April. They appear to be keen on doing right by travelers who were unknowingly affected by this situation before anyone fully understood its scope and scale. But it’s not clear for how long they are going to be willing and able to be that hospitable.

If it’s a full refund you’re hoping for, unless the airline, tour operator, or cruise line canceled your trip (and even then it’s not a guarantee), you’re not likely going to get one. Your best bet at this point is a future travel credit—the ability to bank the money and use it for a later flight or trip.

Travelers with existing reservations for trips that were scheduled to take place in last spring and summer are going to be in limbo for a little while. While those travelers are likely anxious to make a decision one way or another, to just go ahead and cancel or  reschedule, there could be some benefits in waiting at bit to see whether these policies do in fact end up getting extended.

As for what’s on the table right now, here is a roundup of coronavirus-related change and cancellation policies.

Will airlines refund tickets due to coronavirus?

What many airlines are doing is allowing travelers to cancel their flights and basically set aside that money to be used on a flight at a later date—and thankfully, you don’t have to book that flight now (which is good because it’s hard to know exactly how this pandemic is going to play out at this point). The main U.S. carriers (United, American, and Delta) are currently offering that flexibility for flights that were scheduled to depart through the end May.

When it comes to actual refunds, the policies vary by airline.

American Airlines: Flights booked on American prior to March 1, 2020, for travel through May 31, 2020, can be rebooked without change fees; flights booked during the month of March for travel through January 30, 2021, can also be canceled and changed without a change fee.

The airline is encouraging those who don’t plan to travel anytime soon to simply cancel their flight online, and then rebook at a later date as it is currently swamped with requests. When you’re ready to rebook, call the reservations department and be prepared to give them your 13-digit ticket number and 6-character confirmation number.

If a flight was canceled by American Airlines (either due to new travel restrictions or capacity reductions), American said it will send affected passengers an email and they can either rebook the trip or request a refund for the remaining ticket value and any optional fees.

United Airlines: If you booked a flight with United between March 3 and March 31, 2020, you can change it for free—one time—for travel that takes place within the next year. Any flights booked prior to March 3 (regardless of whether they are domestic or international) with original travel dates through May 31, 2020, can be canceled and rebooked later with no change fees.

With regards to flight cancellations that have resulted from the numerous travel bans and restrictions that have been put in place due to coronavirus, United said that any customers (including residents from other countries), whose international travel has been disrupted by more than six hours, or if the flight was canceled due to government restrictions, will get a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket that is good for up to 12 months from the time of purchase (not from the time the flight was canceled). If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12-month period.

Delta Air Lines: Any Delta ticket for domestic or international travel in March, April or May can be canceled and rebooked without a fee for travel that takes place up until December 31, 2020. For flights canceled by Delta, the airline has said it will contact passengers with additional information. We haven’t been able to find out much beyond that.

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JetBlue: Customers who were due to travel with JetBlue through April 30, 2020, can cancel and bank the funds for a future flight up to one year from the date the future flight credit was issued.

Southwest Airlines: Southwest hasn’t changed its policy and that’s because its policy was already pretty lenient. The carrier has tier fares that include refunds (Business Select and Anytime) and a tier fare (Wanna Get Away) that doesn’t include refunds. Those remain the same. But regardless of the type of ticket purchased, it can be canceled sans fee for a future travel credit for up to a year from the original date of purchase.

Alaska Airlines: Similar to other U.S. carriers, Alaska flights purchased on or before February 26, 2020, for travel that was originally scheduled to take place through the end of May can be canceled, the money set aside in an Alaska account and the flight rescheduled for anytime until February 28, 2021. Any tickets purchased between February 27 and March 30, 2020, for travel anytime through February 28, 2020, can also be changed with no fee.

British Airways: The U.K. carrier is allowing customers who have booked or who book new flights between March 3 and May 31, 2020, to change those flights for free—and any existing bookings for departures through May 31, 2020, can be changed without a fee as well.

Air France: The French airline is offering a travel voucher for flights that were scheduled to depart through May 31, 2020, which will be valid for one year on any Air France, KLM, Delta Air Lines, and Virgin Atlantic flights.

How are Expedia, Priceline, and other online agencies handling coronavirus refunds?

Online travel agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline serve as “middlemen” between travelers and travel suppliers. They have different working relationships with all the suppliers on their sites, which can complicate things a bit.

For instance, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity can help change or cancel reservations for some of the air carriers they sell tickets for, but not all of them. For the ones with which they lack that ability, customers will have to work directly with the airline. But the bottom line is: The airline’s policy will be the policy that customers of Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity will have to work with.

Priceline advises its customers that “if your airline does not allow you to cancel or change your flight, we are not able to help you at this time.” The travel booking site offers a very comprehensive contact list, including websites and phone numbers, for all its partner airlines.

On the hotels front, Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz have stated that for hotels booked in the following destinations by people who are not a resident of these countries, they are eligible for a full refund: China, Hong Kong, Macau; South Korea; Israel; Marshall Islands; El Salvador; Denmark and Slovakia; Czech Republic, Oman and India; Poland; Cyprus; Ukraine; and Italy. They advise customers to “check back often as destinations are continually [being] added based on changing restrictions.”

Coronavirus refunds for hotels and vacation rentals

Hotels have always been pretty flexible when it comes to changing and canceling reservations, but in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, they are being even more so.

Marriott International: Marriott is allowing all guests at all of its more than 7,300 properties around the world with existing reservations, for any upcoming stay regardless of the date and regardless of whether the original rate had some restrictions, to change or cancel without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival—here’s the important thing to note—as long as the change or cancellation is made by April 30, 2020. For those who make new reservations now through April 30, 2020, they will be allowed to change or cancel at no charge up to 24 hours before arrival, regardless of the date of stay.

Hilton: For guests who have booked stays that were scheduled to begin prior to April 30 at any of Hilton’s more than 6,100 global properties, the change fee is being waived and the company is offering full refunds for all existing reservations (including those described as “non-cancellable”) for stays scheduled to begin prior to April 30, 2020, up to 24 hours before arrival. New reservations booked between now and April 30, 2020 for any future arrival date, can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before arrival.

Accor: The 5,000-hotel Accor hasn’t offered too much detail on its coronavirus-related change and cancellation policies other than to say that it has advised all of its hotels to adopt flexible change and cancellation conditions for travelers with new or existing bookings through April 30, 2020.

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Intercontinental Hotel Group: IHG has waived cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at all of its hotels the world over for stays between March 9 and April 30, 2020. It is handling groups and meeting bookings on a case-by-case basis. For stays beyond April 30, the company reminds customers that there is flexibility already built into some of its rates—in other words, if ever there was a time to book the slightly higher rate with more options, now would be the time to do so.

Airbnb: Vacation rental powerhouse Airbnb recently issued an updated global change and cancellation policy. Reservations for stays and experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020 and April 14, 2020, can be canceled for a full refund by guests, and hosts can cancel without a charge or impact to their Superhost status (and Airbnb will refund all service fees). Reservations made on or before March 14 with a check-in date after April 14 as well as any reservations made after March 14, 2020, will not be covered unless the guest or host has contracted COVID-19. Otherwise, the host’s standard cancellation policy will apply.

Similar to the airlines, hotels are being gracious about bookings through the end of April. Beyond that it’s not clear how generous they will be.

What are tour operators’ policies for coronavirus changes and refunds?

Given the global health crisis that the coronavirus pandemic presents, most reputable tour operators have gone ahead and proactively canceled a good portion of their upcoming itineraries (similar to what the cruise lines did—see below). Here are some examples.

Tauck: Long-time tour provider Tauck has canceled its scheduled tours and cruises from March 17, 2020, through April 14, 2020—and for those tours it will refund the affected guests. For tours that were scheduled to take place between April 14, 2020 and June 30, 2020, guests can cancel and received a future travel credit for any tour in 2020 or 2021 (but airline change fees will not be covered).

Abercrombie & Kent: Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has temporarily suspended ground operations globally from March 17 to April 30, 2020 (with the exception of May trips to China, which remain canceled). A&K is offering guests on those journeys a future tour credit (that will include a 10 percent discount) for any trip to be used within 12 months of the original departure date.

Intrepid Travel: Global tour company Intrepid Travel has also suspended its tours from March 16 to April 30, 2020. For those tours, travelers will receive a 110 percent future tour credit that they can put towards any itinerary up until April 30, 2022. For tours departing May 1, 2020, and beyond, Intrepid said they are continuing as planned at this point, but that if customers choose to cancel they can do so and receive a credit for whatever they had paid to be used by April 30, 2022.

What about cruises?

On March 14, the majority of the world’s cruise lines agreed to suspend cruise ship operations from U.S. ports for 30 days in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Affected customers are being offered anywhere between a 100 percent and 200 percent future cruise credit.

How travel advisors can help

During a complicated and overwhelming global crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, a travel advisor can serve as a great ally. While travel advisors can’t force travel suppliers to refund their clients, they typically have stronger relationships with suppliers and thus more sway. They will be better able to help you navigate through the options for changing your trip plans. And as a travel professional (who likely has dealt with numerous crises in the past), they can offer their advice and the insights from their myriad of contacts in the industry and from their own personal experience.

Can travel insurance help you get a refund?

With regards to the current coronavirus crisis, travel insurance providers consider it to be a known event as of January 21, 2020 (or thereabouts, the date can change slightly depending on the provider, but usually falls sometime between January 21 and January 27, 2020). Travel insurance purchased before that date will cover disruptions resulting from the outbreak, but any travel insurance purchased after that date will not.

An exception to that is Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, an optional upgrade to a travel insurance policy that covers cancellations for reasons not otherwise covered by a standard travel insurance “such as fear of traveling due to coronavirus or simply not wanting to travel to a country that may be affected,” said Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer for travel insurance search and review site Squaremouth.

There are some limitations, however. The CFAR upgrade has to be purchased within 14 to 21 days of making the initial trip deposit and it will reimburse travelers for up to 75 percent of their trip cost—for a price. Cancel For Any Reason coverage typically costs between 5 and 10 percent of the total trip cost.

>> Next: How Cancel for Any Reason Travel Insurance Can (and Can’t) Help You

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