As of March 16, 2020, you can’t step inside a single Disney theme park anywhere in the world. In many communities across the U.S., events have been canceled, “non-essential businesses” have closed, and curfews are being enforced. These historic changes, part of precautionary closures due to COVID-19, have slammed up against one of the busiest seasons in the travel industry: spring break.
If you find yourself scrambling to cancel your travel plans in light of the novel Coronavirus, there are some things you can do to get your money back (or at least some of your money back). We’ve rounded up the best tips and resources for all elements of travel impacted by novel Coronavirus closures, from flights and hotels to cars and cruises, and what you really need to know about travelers insurance.
COVID-19 aside, it’s always good to know these policies should you need to change travel plans in the future.
Flights are one of the most expensive parts of travel––especially when you’re traveling with a family. And cancelling or rescheduling flights can be a pain, especially now. With hours-long wait times for assistance via phone, many major airlines are asking customers not to call unless their trip is scheduled to take place within 72 hours (and even then, it’s not guaranteed you’ll get through to someone who can help). Luckily, most flight changes can be made online, and in some cases, changes can be made even if your travel dates have passed (under the assumption the airline may not be able to help you prior to your scheduled trip).
Flight Waivers: In response to COVID-19 travel concerns, most major airlines––including American Airlines, Delta and United––are waiving change fees on flights. This means you won’t have to pay the usual $200 rate to switch your flight. Most airlines will waive this fee once.
Flight Cancellations: If you decide to cancel a flight, you won’t necessarily be refunded in cash, but you may be able to use the cost of your original flight toward a future trip. If making changes online, be sure to keep any emails you receive so the airline can easily assist you when you’re ready to rebook your trip.
Airline Cancellation Policies: For a complete list of cancellation policies by airline, visit COVID-19 Flight Waivers and Refund Policies by Airline.
For future travel, consider signing up for a loyalty program, as it may allow you to benefit from select waived fees. Plus you’ll have a dedicated number to call for assistance so you’re not on hold forever.
In response to COVID-19, both Marriott and Hilton, two of the largest hotel chains in the world, have announced a 24-hour cancellation policy on any hotel stays scheduled through April 30, 2020. Even if you don’t see Marriott or Hilton in the name of your hotel, it’s likely that it’s owned by one of these chains, as the two companies own nearly 50 hotel brands worldwide. Typically, these brands offer free, 48-hour cancellation policies. Under normal circumstances, Marriott hotels charge one night’s stay if reservations are canceled within 48 hours.
Were you scheduled to go to Disney? Disney is offering full refunds on hotel reservations during the novel Coronavirus closures. Typically, Disney has a strict cancellation policy, charging $200 for any cancellations made within 29 days of your scheduled visit. (You can get around this by modifying your resort dates and moving your stay to a later time or even another Disney hotel).
If you booked hotels via an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia, policies will vary. For example, if you booked a non-refundable deal, you won’t get your money back. If the rate isn’t listed as non-refundable, you may still be subject to the hotel’s––not the third party site’s––cancellation fees.
Online Travel Agency Cancellation Policies: For a complete list of policies by online travel agency, see 14 Booking Sites’ COVID-19 Cancellation Responses.
Wondering if you cancel your vacation rental for a full refund?
Airbnb isn’t known for the easiest cancellation policies. However, in light of COVID-19, the home rental company has extended their “extenuating circumstances” policy to cover Italy, Mainland China, South Korea and the United States. For any stays expected to take place in the U.S. through April 1, guests can cancel their booking for a full refund.
HomeAway and Vrbo (both owned by Expedia) have not issued a special COVID-19 response and are still defaulting to the homeowner’s cancellation policy. Like Airbnb, these policies vary depending on owner and property. But if your reservation isn’t offering a free cancellation, you can still cancel a booking and file a claim for reimbursement. It’s not guaranteed, but always worth an ask.
Vacation Rental Cancellation Policies: For a complete list of policies by vacation rental website, visit COVID-19 Refund Policies by Vacation Rental Website.
Most rental car companies and third party booking sites tout “free cancellation” at the time of booking, but that often comes with a big asterisk. It’s usually free to cancel up until a specific window of time from the reservation date. Companies such as Alamo and Enterprise offer free cancellation on cars more than a day before a reservation is to begin; if the reservation window is within 24 hours, you can still cancel for a flat $50 fee.
But that common policy doesn’t apply to prepaid bookings. And too often, those are the rates that are significantly cheaper so people book those. Prepaid rates do not have the same cancellation policies. If you cancel a prepaid car more than a day before a reservation, you’ll incur a $50 fee at most companies. And cancellations made within 24 hours incur $100. When booking a rental car, always compare the cancellation fees to the actual cost of the car. Otherwise, you may end up paying more money to cancel than what you would have paid to drive the car!
Despite COVID-19 precautions and closures, many of these cancellation policies haven’t changed. Some companies such as Hertz are offering better flexibility, but not an outright refund. Customers with prepaid bookings made prior to March 13 can cancel without a fee, but instead of a refund, the balance will be issued as a credit that can be used on a rental car in the next 24 months.
With virtually every major theme park around the world closed, many families are now forced to change their spring break plans. Walt Disney World announced that if you have valid tickets during the March 16 to 31 closure, you will automatically be able to use them on any date through December 15, 2020. And Universal Orlando announced that park tickets purchased from March 4 through April 15 will be fully refundable.
If you were scheduled to visit museums and landmarks on your next family vacation, you may be reduced to calling each attraction one-by-one to see how they’re handling refunds. For future trips that involve visiting lots of tourist spots, consider booking CITYPass. This bundle service not only saves you money on admission to popular attractions in 14 major U.S. cities, but its cancellation policy is also very generous. You can return unused ticket booklets for a full refund up to one year after purchasing. This policy makes it easy if you need to move trip dates. And, in the event of something like COVID-19, it gives you the flexibility to wait and see what your plans might look like from month-to-month.
Flights and hotels are the first things people think about when changing trip plans. But don’t forget about the small stuff like dinner reservations, or you may pay for it. Many restaurants, including those at Disney World and Disneyland, require a credit card number at the time you make your reservation. If you forget about or skip your dining plans, you’ll then be charged. At Disney, if you don’t cancel reservations at least one day in advance, you’ll be charged $10… per person. In response to COVID-19, Disney has modified their policy and any reservations made at locations impacted by closures will not be charged a cancellation fee.
Of course, rules vary by restaurant across the U.S. so be sure to inquire about cancellation policies at any restaurants you’re scheduled to visit.
Like airlines, cruise line policies vary from company to company. But most lines have suspended sailings, offering customers some kind of compensation. Disney is offering affected guests a full refund or a future cruise credit, while Norwegian and Viking are offering customers a 125 percent refund on cancelled cruises, which means a full refund plus a credit to use on a future cruise.
But those refunds may only be available if you booked directly with the cruise line. If you booked your cruise through a travel agent or third-party cruise booking site, you’re bound to those booking policies and cruises may not be refundable.
Cruise Cancellation Policies: For a list of updated policies by cruise line, visit Coronavirus: Cruise Ship Policies and Cancellations.
Travelers insurance is a tricky, tricky beast (and it probably doesn’t cover what you’d like it to cover). Typically, it’s meant to protect you in an unexpected event, which might include losing luggage or needing to make last-minute flight changes due to a death in the family. But the phrase “unexpected event” is key, as things such as an epidemic or pandemic don’t qualify because they’re considered a known, named event. For example, InsureMyTrip considered COVID-19 cancellations an unexpected event prior to January 21, 2020. Now, cancellations may not be covered as the disease was officially recognized worldwide.
Just like your car or homeowner’s insurance, it’s important to read the entire policy and understand what events are covered before signing. Aside from COVID-19, other unexpected, grey-area events that might not be covered with travelers insurance include riots in foreign countries, government shutdowns and even union strikes.
Deanne Revel is a travel journalist and host covering the world of theme parks and family entertainment. She loves all things roller coasters, character breakfasts and parades. Deanne is a packing pro (carry-on always!) and is passionate about LGBTQ travel. When not on assignment, you can find her exploring national parks or theme parks with her wife. Follow her adventures on Instagram @revelandroam.