Coronavirus fears: What you need to know about canceling your vacation

Will you get a refund if you cancel your vacation over coronavirus fears?

Are coronavirus fears driving you to cancel your upcoming vacation? If you’re considering canceling, you aren’t alone. In recent weeks, pleas for help from travelers who want to cancel cruises, flights, and hotels have inundated our helpline.

These consumers all hope to override the written contract they have with these providers and get a full refund.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

But if you decide to cancel your vacation, can you get your money back?

Coronavirus fears are hitting the travel industry hard

Coronavirus has sparked fear in an increasing number of travelers worldwide. This pandemic has walloped the travel industry. If the cruise lines, airlines, and hotel groups granted all the refund requests, the industry would inevitably collapse.

So what’s the answer?

Taking into consideration the health threat that the coronavirus currently poses, travel providers have implemented various waivers and credit offers.

If fears of the coronavirus weigh heavily on your mind, this guide can help you navigate your decision to cancel your vacation.

Cruises: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Without question, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the cruise line industry the hardest. In fact, just this week, the Department of State issued a warning that passengers with underlying health conditions should not cruise. This advisory has caused cruise lines to scramble to develop some temporary cancellation policies. These cancellation terms deviate significantly from their normal, rather restrictive, contracts.

Here are the most up to date coronavirus cancellation policies for the major cruise lines. (March 14: As of today, all major cruise lines have suspended operations.)

*Note: Although the cruise line doesn’t owe you a refund if it changes your itinerary if your cruise is canceled, it does. 

  • Carnival
    The cruise line is currently offering a variety of onboard credits as incentives for passengers who decide to sail as planned. Guests who have a scheduled Carnival cruise through Sept. 30 can cancel and receive a future cruise credit to be used by one year from the date of the originally scheduled cruise. There are also a variety of onboard cruise credits that the passenger can apply to the new sailing.  *April 4 update: Carnival suspended all cruises until May 11. 
  • Celebrity 
    In response to coronavirus concerns, Celebrity has developed a new Cruise with Confidence cancellation program. This policy allows passengers to cancel any time up to 48 hours before the sailing on any voyage until July 31 and receive a full future cruise credit, to be used by Dec. 31, 2021. *Update: On March 25, Celebrity extended its suspension on all cruises until May 11.
  • Disney 
    Disney Cruises is making temporary adjustments to its cancellation policy for passengers who are fearful of coronavirus. Travelers who wish to postpone their cruises may cancel without penalty up to one day before sailing. They will receive a 100% future cruise credit for use within 15 months from their original embarkation date. *Update: Disney has canceled all cruises through April 28.
  • MSC
    MSC has canceled all sailings from March 14 through May 29. Passengers scheduled on a canceled cruise can request a refund or a 125 percent future cruise credit (good through Dec. 31, 2021) directly through the MSC website. Travelers scheduled on cruises through July 30, 2020, may cancel up to 48-hours before the sailing and receive a full future cruise credit good until Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Norwegian
    NCL has implemented a policy that allows its passengers to cancel up to 48 hours before any cruise from now to Sept. 30 and receive a full future cruise credit.  Cruisers must use their credit by Dec. 31, 2022. *Update: NCL will not be sailing again until May 11.
  • Princess 
    The temporary coronavirus-inspired cancellation policy of Princess Cruises is a bit more complicated. Passengers who have a cruise scheduled before April 3 may cancel up to 72 hours before the sailing. They will receive a 100% future cruise credit for use before Dec. 31, 2021. Cruisers sailing between April 4 and May 31, must cancel by March 31 to qualify for the benefit. Additionally, Princess is offering a variety of onboard credit incentives for passengers who decide to proceed with their cruise. *Update: Princess has announced a 60-day pause on all its cruises from March 12 to May 10. Passengers will be offered a full refund which they should request through the Princess website. Alternatively, travelers can receive a future cruise credit and an additional “generous credit.” Princess has also indicated that passengers who canceled their cruise on or after Feb. 4, 2020 are also eligible for this offer. The future cruise credit must be used on a cruise through May 1, 2022. You can read more details on the Princess site. 
  • Royal Caribbean
    RCCL is currently offering penalty-free cruise cancellations to passengers who cancel any time up to 48 hours before the start date of any voyage leaving on or before July 31. The cruiser must use their credit by Dec. 31, 2021. *Update: On March 25, RCCL has extended its suspension on all cruises to May 11. 
  • Viking
    The Temporary Risk Viking Risk-Free Policy was created in response to coronavirus fears. It covers all passengers who have made or will make a cruise reservation by April 30, 2020. This temporary policy allows cruisers to cancel up to 24 hours before their scheduled voyage and receive a 100% future cruise credit, to be used within 24 months from the date of issue. *Update: Viking has suspended all river and ocean cruises scheduled through June 30. Guests can choose to receive a full refund or a future cruise credit equal to 125 percent of their original cruise fare, to be used within two years.

Airlines: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Coronavirus cancellations and drops in sales have similarly pounded the airlines. Here are the current cancellation policies developed by the airlines to address coronavirus fears.

*Note: If the airline cancels your flight, the carrier always owes you a full refund.

  • American Airlines
    American Airlines is offering its passengers cancellation penalty waivers on any ticket purchased before March 1 for travel through May 31. The traveler must redeem the credit by December 31, 2020, OR by 12 months from the date of the original ticket purchase (whichever comes first). *The passenger must pay any fare differential on the new ticket.
  • Delta Air Lines
    Delta Air Lines is eliminating change fees through May 31, 2020. Additionally, to boost the sales slump, the airline is waiving change fees on all its tickets sold between now and March 31.
  • United Airlines
    United Airlines has also established a cancellation and incentive program for its customers. Passengers who hold a ticket for a flight on United Airlines through May 31 can change their flights without penalty. The passenger must book a replacement flight before December 31, 2020, or 12 months from the purchase of the original ticket (whichever comes first). For travelers who book travel now through March 31, the ticket will have a 12-month no change fee policy.
  • Southwest Airlines
    Southwest Airlines has some of the most customer-friendly cancellation policies available to passengers. The airline never charges its guests a cancellation fee as long as the traveler cancels at least 10 minutes before the flight. So should you decide to cancel your vacation because of coronavirus fears (or any other reason), make sure you cancel before that deadline and get a confirmation.
  • Spirit Airlines
    Spirit Airlines is offering its passengers penalty-free cancellations at this time. Passengers will receive flight credit that they must spend (not fly by) in the next 6 months. There is an online form that Spirit customers who wish to cancel over coronavirus fears can use to easily apply for the flight credit.

Hotels: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Undoubtedly, the hotel industry is right behind the airline and cruise line industry with coronavirus repercussions. The hotel chains that have a major presence in Asia have created temporary cancellation waivers for their guests.

  • Hilton Hotels & Resorts
    The Hilton group has developed a temporary coronavirus penalty-free cancellation policy for guests who are traveling to, through, or from China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Israel through March 31, 2020. Guests coming to or from Italy may cancel through April 30 without fees.  *Update: Today (March 12) Hilton sent an email to all its members announcing a temporary cancellation policy that applies to all reservations “even nonrefundable” ones. For any reservation through April 30 guests can cancel without penalties. Additionally, any reservations made now through April 30 for “any future travel date can be changed or canceled without charge up to 24 hours” before the scheduled arrival date. 
  • Intercontinental Hotel Group
    IHG guests who are fearful of the coronavirus can cancel their hotel stay through March 31 if they are traveling to, through or from China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy or South Korea. *Update: IHG is waiving cancellation fees on existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally through April 30.
  • Marriott International
    Marriott International is waiving all cancellation penalties for guests to and from the following destinations through March 31: Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, French Polynesia, Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa and Italy. *Update: We just received word that Marriott has updated its coronavirus cancellation policy to match Hilton and IHG. All guests with current reservations through April 30 can change or cancel without charge. 

Canceling your vacation rental or hotel when no waiver exists

Unfortunately, this is where it gets tricky. Many vacation homes are privately owned, so your rental contract is going to be the key factor should you decide to cancel your vacation over coronavirus fears. Some vacation rental owners will be more flexible than others. But if you’re asking for a goodwill gesture, it’s critical to keep that in mind. When formulating your request, remember, you want to make the owner want to be flexible and help you. So keep it cordial and don’t make demands for things to which you aren’t entitled.

The same holds true with nonrefundable hotel reservations if there is no waiver in place for your location. You’re going to need to be extra friendly and hope that your request lands on a sympathetic ear.

In both cases, consider asking for a future travel credit as an alternative to a refund. Many vacation rental owners and hotels will be more willing to overlook the official cancellation terms if you request a credit rather than a refund.

*March 30 update: Airbnb has announced a sweeping change in their extenuating circumstances cancellation policy in light of coronavirus fears. Through May 31, hosts can cancel without penalty and guests can cancel and receive a refund. You can read more about Airbnb’s CO VID19 temporary cancellation policy. The updated policy announced on March 30 also provides financial relief for hosts. 

*Vrbo has updated its coronavirus cancellation guidelines. The company has announced it will refund all the fees it has collected for stays that are canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic for reservations through April 30. It also has requested that its hosts offer guests who wish to cancel during this time an alternative stay date. Lastly, for guests who don’t want to book an alternative date, the hosts should offer “at least a partial refund. Although they [the host] are not obligated to provide a refund outside of the cancellation window, those who do not offer flexibility are subject to penalties in our marketplace.” 

The bottom line: Our team can’t mediate individual goodwill gestures if coronavirus fears cause you to cancel your vacation

As a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, we mediate cases in which the company is operating outside of its established policies.

On rare occasions, we do contact companies and request goodwill considerations. However, the sheer number of requests we are receiving concerning coronavirus cancellations makes it impossible to mediate individual cases. But this should not deter you from making your own plea to your travel provider.

Our research team has made it easy to access the executive contacts of all of your travel providers. From cruise lines to airlines and hotels, the information you’ll need to make your request is all there. (Thanks, Meera and John!)

Keep these things in mind before and after coronavirus fears lead you to cancel your vacation

  1. Be aware
    The coronavirus cancellation policies issued by the travel industry are quite fluid — changing daily, sometimes even hourly. Monitor the websites of your cruise line, hotel and airline for updates. You must review your travel provider’s current policies before you cancel your vacation. Even if you’ve decided to cancel your vacation, in most cases, there is no value in canceling weeks or months beforehand. Remember, if your cruise, flight, or tour is eventually canceled, your travel provider owes you a full refund. So often, it’s best to wait it out and see if your provider cancels.
  2. Be polite
    If you’re asking for a refund and the provider has not waived the cancellation penalties, keep in mind that you’re asking for a goodwill gesture. Review Christopher’s article about resolving your own consumer problem and keep your request short and polite.
  3. Be patient
    Unfortunately, you are in the same boat as thousands of others who also want to cancel their vacation because of coronavirus. The cruise lines, airlines, hotels, and consumer advocates are plowing through tons of requests every day. You’ll need to have some patience waiting for your answer.
  4. Be reasonable
    Finally, you must stay reasonable with your cancellation request. Recently, we’ve seen travelers who want the cruise lines to refund trips many, many months into the future. Or they want to cancel vacations that have no real coronavirus threat at this time for a full refund. The truth is that no one knows how this pandemic will play out. If your trip is far into the future, it’s best to stay calm and keep an eye on the situation. Hopefully, by the time your vacation rolls around, the coronavirus will be a distant memory. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

*This article was last updated on April 5 at 11 a.m.

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