Published in: Credit Cards | March 19, 2020

Coronavirus and Booked Travel

By:  Lyle Daly

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Here's everything you need to know about changing your travel plans due to COVID-19.

The entire world is affected by COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, and those who have travel booked are being told to either postpone or cancel those plans. But how can you do that without waiting for hours on hold? And what are travel providers doing about their typical cancellation and change fees in this extraordinary situation? 

We've got the answers to those questions and any others you might have about COVID-19 and travel bookings.

Girl In Mask At Airport

Image source: Getty Images

How to postpone or cancel your travel

If you have any sort of trip booked in the near future, start by visiting the website of the travel provider you used to book the trip. Note that for bookings made with an online travel agent (OTA), such as Expedia or Priceline, you should go to the OTA's website.

Virtually every travel provider has a detailed help page dedicated to COVID-19. This help page will have information about any change and/or cancellation fee waivers the provider is offering and how you can modify a booking. There may be a link to this help page on the provider's homepage. If not, you can find it by going to the Help section. We've also included information on fee waivers for the major airlines in the section below.

You may be able to change or cancel your booking online. If that's not an option, then you'll likely need to call. However, most providers are requesting that you only call if your travel booking is coming up shortly (within 72 hours seems to be the most common timeframe). If your booking is further out than that and you need to call for service, it's better to wait so that phone agents can assist callers who need immediate attention.

What are the change/cancellation policies if COVID-19 affects my travels?

Every travel provider has set up its own policies, but most are offering fee waivers for changes, cancellations, or both. These waivers can be subject to quite a few terms and conditions. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Fee waivers may only apply to travel occurring or purchased through a specific date range.
  • If you change your dates, there is usually a limit on how far into the future you can book your new travel, such as six months or one year.
  • You may only be able to change your travel dates once without paying a fee.
  • Most airlines are offering no change and/or cancellation fees for travel booked in March so consumers can still book trips for later in the year or 2021 and have the flexibility to change those plans if necessary.

Airline change/cancellation policies for travel affected by COVID-19

We've summarized the change/cancellation policies for the major U.S. airlines below. For more information, click an airline's link to visit its COVID-19 page.

Alaska Airlines:

  • No change/cancellation fees for travel through April 30, 2020.
  • No change/cancellation fees for travel through Feb. 28, 2021 if tickets were purchased between Feb. 27 and March 31, 2020.

American Airlines:

  • No change fees for travel through April 30, 2020 if tickets were purchased before March 1, 2020.
  • No change fees for travel through Jan. 31, 2021 if tickets were purchased between March 1 and March 31, 2020.

Delta Air Lines:

  • No change fees for all travel departing in March or April 2020. 
  • No change fees for all tickets purchased in March 2020.

JetBlue:

  • No change/cancellation fees for travel from March 10 to April 30, 2020 if tickets were purchased on or before March 10, 2020.
  • No change/cancellation fees for travel through Sept. 8, 2020 if tickets were purchased between March 6 and March 31, 2020.

Southwest Airlines:

  • Southwest Airlines never charges change or cancellation fees on any tickets.

Spirit Airlines:

  • Travelers who need to change their reservation due to COVID-19 can receive a six-month reservation credit by filling out this form.

United Airlines:

  • No change fees for travel from March 9 to April 30, 2020 if tickets were issued before March 2, 2020.
  • No change fees for tickets purchased between March 3 and March 31, 2020.

What if I booked my travel using credit card points?

If you used credit card points to book award travel through an airline or hotel's loyalty program, then you'll need to check their policy on COVID-19 changes and cancellations. Options are generally similar to what the airline/hotel offers on cash bookings.

On bookings made with points through credit card travel portals, your booking is subject to the policy of the travel provider. For example, if you booked a flight with JetBlue through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, JetBlue's policy regarding changes and cancellations would apply. If you're eligible to cancel your trip at no cost, then you could do that and receive a refund of your points.

In most cases, you'll need to modify bookings through the travel portal you used, either online or over the phone. There have been exceptions, though, including cases where consumers were able to change airfare they booked through a travel portal on the airline's website.

For more information on changes and cancellations to travel booked through a credit card travel portal, here are the COVID-19 pages for:

Will my travel insurance reimburse cancellation or other travel costs related to COVID-19?

You'll need to check with your travel insurance provider to see whether it covers costs related to COVID-19. Most will have a dedicated COVID-19 page for this.

Unfortunately, most travel insurance policies won't cover the costs of canceling a trip due to COVID-19. Fear of contracting an illness generally isn't considered a valid reason for reimbursement. If you buy travel insurance for any trips going forward, the policy is likely to exclude COVID-19. Some providers are being more flexible with their terms and conditions, though, which is why it's best to check with yours to see what it says.

There is a type of travel insurance called Cancel for Any Reason coverage. As the name suggests, this travel insurance would cover you if you need to cancel your trip for COVID-1 concerns.

Summing it up

As travel providers update their policies seemingly by the day, it can be hard to know what your options are for booked travel. Here's a quick breakdown of what you should do if you have travel to push back or cancel:

  • Check the travel provider's website to find out what its policies are.
  • If possible, modify your trip online.
  • If you can't make the changes you want online, call when you're within the travel provider's designated window of time. That may be within 72 hours, five days, or a week of your trip.

Besides handling your travel bookings, you also want to make sure that your finances are in good shape during this pandemic. Be sure to follow these important financial steps so that you can weather the COVID-19 storm as best as possible. 

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