COVID-19 Travel Insurance and Refunds: What You Need to Know

Lissa PoirotMay 1, 2020

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Note: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted existing and future travel plans, and turned greater attention to trip insurance. Read our take on specific information concerning travel insurance and COVID-19, or see our comprehensive guide to managing your finances during COVID-19.


In the wake of a pandemic that has halted life as we know it, it seems the only thing we can expect in 2020 is the unexpected. Will you still be able to take a summer vacation with the kids? What about that dream trip you wanted to take later in the year? Will the travel holiday season even be a thing in 2020?

This is definitely a time to look to travel insurance options that can help support you through travel interruptions.

Is it too late to insure travel scheduled for later in the year?

The bottom line is that it not too late to add standard travel insurance for an upcoming trip you may have later in the year. Standard insurance provides a list of coverage, which often includes (but is not limited to) sickness, injury, untimely death of travel partners and weather.

That said, if you wanted to add travel insurance to a trip following the outbreak of COVID-19, standard insurance carriers consider it a known risk and exclude cancelations or travel interruptions due to future virus-related issues. This means standard travel policies will not protect your trip from COVID-19. For that, you need to purchase "Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR)" coverage.

CFAR is coverage that will reimburse you for any reason that is not specified in standard coverage, up to 75% of your trip’s cost. However, CFAR usually must be purchased within 10 to 21 days of initial trip booking, which means it may be too late to add it to previously booked travel.

Should I book a trip for later in the year?

There are definitely great deals being offered by the airlines attempting to keep people interested in traveling. For example, flights to Europe from the New York area have been seen under $300 round-trip in the fall, and United has advertised flights from Newark to Barcelona at $293. For MileagePlus members, you can take that same flight with 30,000 miles and $5.60 in cash for the taxes.

The decision to take the chance and plan a trip can be made easier if you know you may be refunded should the travel restrictions be extended, or for any other hiccup that could mess with your plans.

When trying to plan travel in light of COVID-19, purchasing CFAR coverage is your only move from a travel insurance standpoint. Although many companies have halted the sales of CFAR due to coronavirus, there are still several companies offering it.

In addition to purchasing CFAR within 10 to 21 days of your initial booking and/or deposit, you'll also need to insure the total cost of your prepaid nonrefundable costs.

Although it can cost 40%-50% more than standard travel insurance, CFAR allows you to cancel for any reason at least 48 hours prior to departure.

I don’t have insurance, can I get a refund?

If COVID-19 has affected your travel and you did not have insurance, it is not too late to get a refund, even for nonrefundable travel.

Airlines: U.S. and foreign airlines are obligated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide a “prompt refund” if the airline cancels or significantly changes a flight.

Hotels: If you booked a hotel through an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity or Orbitz, you are entitled to full refunds, even on nonrefundable stays. There are certain timeframes and some select countries that affect these refunds which are constantly being updated. Your best bet is to check with your booking site directly.

Many hotels are waiving cancellation fees for nonrefundable bookings, as well. Marriott, for example, is not charging for cancellations or changes made 24 hours before arrival up to June 30, 2020. Hyatt is doing the same for bookings made before April 1 for travel through June 30, 2020. If your stay is outside the current timeframe for a property, sit tight as they continue to update these policies.

Cruises: Cruise ships have canceled trips during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many offering future credit for rebooking or full refunds. MSC Cruises, for example, is offering 125% in future credit good through Dec. 31, 2021 or the option of a refund.

The bottom line

While it is too late to purchase standard travel insurance to protect your travels from COVID-19, you may be able to purchase a CFAR policy if you want security against coronavirus-related issues. In addition, you can still add travel insurance to a future trip to prevent loss due to other unforeseeable mishaps. Your cost will vary based on the type of plan, when you purchase and the insurer.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

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