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As the COVID-19 outbreak has continued to grow worldwide, travel advisories are being issued on a regular basis. Companies have canceled employee travel and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed to 2021. Given the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, airlines, hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs) have been loosening change and cancellation policies to accommodate travelers.
If your travel plans have changed or you’re thinking about revising plans because of the outbreak, you’ll be relieved to know that many airlines, hotels and OTAs have been waiving change and cancellation fees during this period. The policies apply to existing bookings and new bookings.
There are even some extensions for earning elite status. If you’re considering canceling a flight and don’t want a travel voucher or you’ve already canceled a flight and have a voucher, you may have recourse with the airline. We’ve included guidance on what you can do, and if need be, how to dispute a credit card charge.
How to change or cancel your booking
We’ve compiled a list of airlines, hotels and OTAs that offer enhanced change and cancellation policies because of COVID-19. Use each website below to find the latest information.
If the policy listed on your travel provider’s website doesn't answer your question or your circumstance is outside the policy, call the provider or reach out on Twitter. Sometimes, explaining your situation to a customer service representative is all you need to do to receive a full refund or a waiver of change or cancellation fees.
If you have elite status with the hotel or airline, your loyalty may help, since airlines tend to have smaller change or cancellation fees for elites. Some hotels have also extended the time frame required for achieving elite status.
Nerd tip: If you find that the customer service agent isn’t able to accommodate your request, call back and try again with another representative. Certain agents have more authority than others or are simply more willing to bend the rules. If you’re still not getting the response you want, look into the trip cancellation and/or trip interruption policies provided by your credit card. Although you may need to supply some additional paperwork to receive compensation, credit card insurance policies are usually the next step in receiving a full refund.
» Learn more about travel insurance here:
Domestic and international airlines
Credit card travel portals
Should you dispute the charge on your credit card?
Flight cancellations and travel bans have had a financial impact on airlines, which are currently doing what they can to conserve cash, so it's no surprise that airlines would prefer to offer travel vouchers in lieu of refunds. Naturally, many customers aren’t happy about this and would prefer to get their money back. If you’ve asked the airline to provide a full refund but are being denied, you can try filing a dispute with your credit card issuer. Although a dispute seems like it could be an option in this instance, a dispute should be your last resort.
Generally, disputes work when:
Someone used your credit card without your permission.
You’ve been charged an incorrect amount by the merchant.
The merchant is unwilling to resolve the matter with you in good faith.
Unless the charge falls into one of the options above, it could be difficult to convince the card issuer that you're entitled to a full refund. If you’ve canceled your flight and the airline is offering a voucher for a future flight, the airline is making a good faith attempt to resolve the issue.
If you have an upcoming flight, wait for the airline to cancel it — in this case, you are entitled to a full refund if the flight is from, to or within the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. and foreign carriers are required to provide a full refund if the airline cancels your flight or makes significant scheduling changes that you’re not happy with. Flight schedules have been changing frequently due to evolving travel restrictions, so your future flight may be canceled anyway. If you cancel the flight yourself, you may get stuck with a voucher.
If the airline has canceled your flight or significantly changed the schedule of your itinerary and isn't willing to give you a full refund, this is counter to their obligations as detailed by the DOT. In this case, a dispute may be your best bet. To start the process, call the credit card company and make sure to have any supporting documentation ready.
» Learn more: When credit card disputes become ‘friendly fraud’
The bottom line
Countries are working to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many travelers have made the difficult decision to change or cancel vacation or work travel plans. Luckily, airlines, hotels, OTAs and credit card travel portals have been offering flexible change and cancellation policies for travel during this period. Changing or canceling a trip isn’t a decision that comes lightly, so it's a relief to know that travel operators are making that process a little bit easier by easing their policies.
Have your plans been affected by the coronavirus? Tell us below in the comments.
Check out our additional resources on navigating the coronavirus outbreak: COVID-19: NerdWallet answers questions about travel, finances 9 credit cards that provide travel insurance How to prepare your house, mind and bank account