Coronavirus and Travel: What You Need to Know

|
Travel refunds during the coronavirus pandemic
Image Credit: Clark.com

Many of us have hundreds (and possibly thousands) of dollars worth of air travel, accommodations and tours booked for future travel that we now know won’t happen anytime soon.

In fact, nearly 94 million Americans have canceled or plan to cancel travel plans due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey by personal finance site WalletHub.

Coronavirus Pandemic and Travel Refunds

However, there are still inconsistencies across the travel industry regarding refunds and changes. You may even get different answers from the same company, depending on the representative you speak to. Use the following links to learn about your official refund rights according to various providers.

Airlines

Airlines have received an unprecedented number of requests for cancellations and refunds. The wait times to contact an airline regarding an upcoming travel reservation have been unusually long. Some customers have been told it would be hours before they would be connected to a customer service agent.

Still, airlines eventually told us that even though we couldn’t reach them in a timely manner to cancel, the money we paid would automatically be applied to future travel. That was a relief for many, but requests for a 100% refund have mostly been denied in the cases of non-refundable purchases. Instead, those funds are rolled into a personal bank to be applied to future travel.

This option isn’t great for many because some trips cannot be repeated (weddings, reunions, graduations, etc.) while other travelers won’t be ready to re-book a trip anytime soon.

If your airline is one refusing a full refund, we suggest reaching out directly to the carrier by phone or social media. In fact, you may have luck by calling into one of the airline’s English-speaking overseas call centers found in the Contact Us section of each airline’s website. And remember, an airline is more likely to be flexible with refunds the closer the date of travel approaches.

If your flight is canceled by the airline, that’s when you’re entitled to a full refund according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) rules.

Here are some steps to take in pursuing a full refund when an airline cancels your upcoming scheduled flight:

  • Be persistent (and polite!) while pressing your case by phone or social media, and cite the DOT policies.
  • Document all reservation or confirmation numbers, along with the name and employee ID of each person you’ve communicated with and when you communicated with them.
  • File a complaint with the airline and the DOT (consumer complaint form) and copy the Department of Transportation (or European Union if applicable).
  • Contact your credit card company for potential help in reversing the charge for your flight.

If you must take a travel credit, request that the credit will be eligible to transfer to a different destination, rather than your original city pairs. Of course, you would be responsible for any difference in the airfare.

Advertisement

Additionally, you should request that the travel credit amount be valid for longer than 12 months from the original ticket date (Delta Air Lines has extended the use of travel eCredits for up to two years).

Here Are Links the Individual Airline Cancel/Change Policies:

U.S Airlines

International Airlines

Airfarewatchdog.com offers a continually updated and comprehensive list of COVID-19 flight waivers and refund policies of all major domestic and international airlines.

Here’s an April 11 snapshot of which airline routes are still in operation amid COVID-19.

Hotels, Resorts & Private Rentals

Most hotel brands permit refunds — even on prepaid, non-refundable bookings. Still, there are some that instead award guests with loyalty points to apply for future travel, while others are only permitting refundable cancellations on stays through April, May or June. It varies by brand.

Private rentals like Airbnb and VRBO have widely varying policies. The best way to settle a cancellation is by contacting the property owner directly. Many of the “refunds” being offered are a combination of a 50% refund and 50% applied as a credit on a future stay.

We suggest calling the property directly to pursue your cancellation and refund. If you’re not satisfied with the results, wait it out a bit — as policies are continually tweaked — and try closer to your arrival date.

Travel Weekly offers a comprehensive list of the latest cancel/change policies for multiple brands of hotels, tour operators, and more.

Here Are Links to Individual Hotel/Resort/Private Rental Cancel/Change Policies:

Online Booking Sites

Did you book your trip with an Online Travel Agent (OTA) like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire or Priceline? Online tools are rolling out to easily cancel trips at some of them. Check the website before phoning them directly.

Advertisement

In addition, many airlines will now permit direct cancellations even if you booked via an OTA.

Keep in mind that OTAs cannot preemptively issue a refund to travelers without both the hotel or airline signing off on that refund (when you book with a third-party site, your payment is parceled out to the suppliers). But as rules evolve, keep trying up through the day of departure for a complete cancel and full refund.

Here Are Link to Individual Online Booking Site Cancel/Change Policies:

Cruises

Your cruise line may offer a choice of two options: a full refund or a credit for a future cruise — with some offering as much as a 125% credit, along with future onboard ship credits depending on the length of cruise.

But remember that if you choose credit, you forfeit your rights to a refund.

Note that some cruise lines will only permit money paid to be applied on a future cruise. These more restrictive policies may be relaxed to match other lines, or as the global health situation evolves.

NEWS! The CDC has announced that a No Sail Order on cruise ships will remain in effect until one of three situations occurs:
– Federal health officials determine the end of the public health emergency
– The CDC director rescinds or modifies the order
– 100 days pass after the date of the order’s publication in the Federal Register, or no sooner than July 24.

Here Are Links to Individual Cruise Line Cancel/Change Policies:

Are you waiting for a refund for your canceled cruise? You’re not alone! Cruise giant Carnival alone says it has been working on getting money back to more than 1 million people. Most major cruise operators are processing refunds in just a few weeks whereas others are taking up to three months to get money back to customers.

Booking Future Travel

We must all realize that any component of the travel industry (airline, hotels, cruises, tours, etc.) is finding it nearly impossible to refund every dollar paid to them for future travel. This has led to their best current offer to travelers: Book with confidence.

Airlines

In the case of future airline bookings, no one can predict just when we’ll be cleared to travel freely with lifted state and country restrictions. And it is impossible to say with certainty if the flight you book to take in a few months will eventually fly.

However, many carriers are offering the incentive to book soon and have the option to change or cancel a flight at no additional costs.

Advertisement

Delta Air Lines, for example, permits no change fees on purchases made through May 31. Remember that any non-refundable fares you choose to cancel may be rolled into credit for future travel — not a refund.

Hotels

In the case of hotels, many chains offer no-cost cancellations on new bookings made by a certain date — even in the case of advance purchase non-refundable rates. Many will permit the cancellation up to seven days prior to arrival and as late as 48 hours in advance. Policies vary widely, so check each property’s website for details.

If you’ve followed Clark’s advice to book hot hotel deals at Hotwire, incentives are in place to book future stays.

Cruises

Most cruise lines and online cruise booking sites are offering relaxed change or cancel policies for future cruises. Check with the individual lines for details.

Tours

If you have a tour booked, most companies offer “Book with Confidence” policies, which allow you to cancel or re-book tours up to a certain period before your planned departure date.

Each tour company policy varies, so be certain to check the fine print!

Final Thought

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a handy guide of things to consider before you travel within the United States. The government organization also offers a comprehensive Q & A travel section with common questions like “Should I cancel my trip?” and “Should I go on a cruise?”

When you’re ready to travel again, consider trip insurance for any future plans. But keep in mind that pandemics, fear of travel, travel advisories and destination being inaccessible due to this illness are not standard covered risks.

The best option during this pandemic is Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR), which typically costs nearly 50% more than a standard policy (standard policies cost an average of 4% to 8% of the cost of a trip, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association), but allows you to cancel a trip and receive a 75% refund of the insured trip cost if you decide you don’t want to risk it.

Remember that CFAR policies require a purchase of 21 or more days in advance of trip departure. Money expert Clark Howard likes InsureMyTrip.com to shop for travel insurance plans.

Advertisement

More Coronavirus Content From Clark.com:


3 Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards Right Now - The best travel rewards credit cards! Compare the latest sign-up bonus offers to start earning free flights, hotel stays and more.

  • Show Comments Hide Comments