To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected just about every aspect of our lives would be the understatement of the year. While not as horrific as its effect on people's health and finances, the impact on travel and the travel industry has been unprecedented. If you’ve booked travel that you need to change or cancel, or if you are looking to travel in the months ahead, here’s some advice on travel in the time of COVID-19.
- Many hotels and airlines have updated their change and cancellation policies to be more flexible. Even if your booking was originally nonrefundable, you may be able to get a full refund.
- Using miles and points can be a good hedge if you’re not sure you'll be able to take your trip.
- Most travel insurance policies do not cover fear of traveling due to COVID-19, but they may cover you if you contract it.
How to Get a Refund Due to COVID-19
By now, most travel arrangements that were upended in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been canceled or refunded. Still, if you have upcoming travel that you need to cancel, you may still be able to get a refund, even if your tickets or other bookings were originally nonrefundable.
If you have tickets for a flight that was canceled or significantly changed, you are entitled to a refund, even if your ticket was originally not refundable. In addition, many airlines, hotels, and travel agencies have eliminated change or cancellation fees due to the pandemic. Here, for example, are links to the updated change or cancellation policies for several companies:
- American Airlines - elimination of change fees as of Aug. 31, 2020
- Delta Air Lines - change and cancellation policy as of Dec. 9, 2020
- Southwest Airlines - already had no change or cancellation fees on all tickets
- Marriott - updated cancellation policy as of Dec. 9, 2020
- Hilton - ended its flexible cancellation policy as of Sept. 30, 2020, though many rates booked at hilton.com are fully refundable
If you have travel plans with another company, its website should have the most up-to-date information.
Getting a Refund if You Booked With Miles or Points
One of the biggest advantages of using miles and points is their increased flexibility compared with cash bookings in many instances. Again, cancellation policies vary by airline or hotel program, but it’s generally true that it is easier to get a refund if you’ve booked with miles and points.
One scenario where it can be slightly more complicated to get a refund of your miles is if you used them to book with a partner airline. Say you used Turkish Miles&Smiles miles to book a flight on that airline's Star Alliance partner United. If you want to change your United flight (or if United cancels it), you would still have to deal with Turkish Airlines for any changes, cancellations, or refunds.
Does Travel Insurance Cover COVID-19?
In most cases, travel insurance does not cover changes to travel plans caused by fear of flying due to COVID-19. This is something that many people learned back in March and April of 2020 when the pandemic started to spread. Especially at this point, COVID-19 is considered a “known event,” so many travel insurance companies will not cover changes or cancellations resulting from it.
But the rules for what's covered can vary by insurance company and even by policy. So if you have a travel insurance policy, it's worth inquiring to find out. Two areas that may be covered by some policies are cancellations due to your catching COVID-19 or medical costs if you catch it while traveling. You can also buy a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy. CFAR policies are typically more expensive than traditional travel insurance but, as the name indicates, allow you to cancel for any reason.
How to Book Travel Now
Because no one knows how soon the pandemic will end or what travel will look like after that, it could be a good idea to make only refundable reservations for any upcoming travel. That will give you flexibility in case you need to change or cancel your trip, whether due to health concerns, quarantine orders, or other factors. Since most award reservations are refundable, miles and points can also be very useful here.
The Bottom Line
Most airlines, hotels, and travel agencies have adjusted their cancellation and change policies to make it easier to alter your travel plans when you need to. Even so, if you're planning to go somewhere in the near future, it could be wise to look for refundable tickets, hotels, and other arrangements. If you book with airline miles or hotel points, they can make it easier to change your travel plans.
Travel insurance is not likely to be super helpful if you want to change or cancel a trip due to fear of travel because of COVID-19. Most policies would only cover medical situations like catching COVID-19 while traveling or missing a trip due to having contracted it.