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Governments, airlines, cruise ships and travelers themselves are grappling with strategies to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has already infected more than 81,000 people in at least 47 countries (as of the time of this writing).
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory against visiting China. Airlines have reduced flights to Asia, and Venice, Italy, had to cancel its famous Carnival celebration due to illness caused by the virus. With coronavirus cases on almost every continent and more cropping up daily, travelers might find it difficult to plan a trip to almost anywhere in the coming months.
» Learn more: Should I cancel my trip due to coronavirus concerns?
One airline is giving passengers a little more peace of mind. JetBlue announced this week that trips booked between Feb. 27 and March 11, 2020, will not be subject to any change or cancellation fees. This policy applies to all JetBlue travel booked between those dates and completed on or before June 1, 2020. It does not apply to travel booked before Feb. 27.
Here’s why this move matters.
1. Fees are waived for all flights
This broad-reaching fee waiver is almost unheard of because it is not restricted by destination or fare type. The policy includes the typically nonrefundable Blue Basic fare, meaning everyone from the last row by the bathroom to the first-class Mint flyers with elite status can use it.
Travelers who book flights through JetBlue Vacations will also not be subject to cancellation or change fees. Change fees on JetBlue usually range from $75 to $200, in addition to the difference in fare price.
2. It’s preemptive
Basic economy fares across the industry have sucked the flexibility out of travel. Budget travelers often get stuck with use-it-or-lose-it fares, and that makes for tough financial decisions when travelers have to consider canceling or rescheduling a trip.
JetBlue’s policy has melted some of that worry away, giving travelers more confidence to book during the uncertainty of the global health situation. It’s a move that could pay off for customers and the business, considering the International Air Transport Association estimates airlines could lose almost $30 billion in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
3. It’s not destination-specific
JetBlue doesn’t currently fly to Asia, where the majority of the coronavirus cases are. Its route map is concentrated on domestic flights, as well as flights to South America and the Caribbean.
While there are currently fewer cases in these regions, the waiver of change and cancellation fees takes into account the reality of the rapidly spreading virus.
What about the other airlines?
Some other major airlines in the U.S. have issued similar (more specific) waivers that allow travelers to change or cancel their flights without fees — but only if they are flying to certain destinations and between certain dates.
For example, as of the time of this writing, Delta has waivers only for flights to Beijing, Shanghai or Seoul, South Korea, through April 30, while United is offering waivers for those cities as well as Wuhan, Chengdu and Hong Kong.
And American Airlines is offering to change certain flights without a fee for a few different scenarios, including if you update your destination to Tokyo. Check with your airline to see if your flight is eligible for a change or refund.
What about trip cancellation coverage through credit card rewards?
Unfortunately, forgoing your vacation because you’re afraid of getting sick isn’t usually part of covered events that could get you some reimbursement from your credit card issuer.
NerdWallet has seen multiple reports from consumers of Chase representatives informing them that the trip insurance benefit on travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® does not cover cancellations due to coronavirus travel restrictions. When we reached out to Chase, we were told to check with the airline, hotel or travel provider first to see if they could make accommodations.
The bottom line
JetBlue has issued one of the most sweeping waivers of flight cancellation and change fees in light of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. The policy might be able to help all passengers continue to book travel amid the uncertainty, knowing they can change their plans without the financial penalties.
If you’re not traveling on JetBlue, check with your airline for updated flight waivers to see if your change/cancellation fees could be waived. And don’t count on your credit card travel insurance to bail you out, unless you or a family member are already ill.
» Learn more: What to do if you get sick while traveling overseas
Some travel insurance that you purchase from a third party may be able to help in specific situations, though we recommend calling the benefits administrator to check on details.