Need to cancel your holiday travel plans amid COVID? Here’s the latest on changes and refunds

With California’s pandemic policies tightening, COVID-19 cases escalating and vaccines unlikely to reach most people until spring or later, many families are rethinking their holiday travel plans. “It’s time to cancel everything,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news conference Wednesday night.



a group of people standing next to a sign: A flight crew member at LAX on Nov. 23, just ahead of the Thanksgiving travel period. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


© (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A flight crew member at LAX on Nov. 23, just ahead of the Thanksgiving travel period. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of health and human services, said Thursday the state is, in effect, telling, not asking, Californians to stop all nonessential travel. That includes canceling holiday travel plans, Ghaly said. The new requirements, to take effect Friday, were in response to stress on critical care services and hospital intensive care units. Details on how the state would enforce such a broad restriction remained unclear Thursday afternoon.

Here’s a quick look at how airlines, lodgings and other travel suppliers are handling reservation changes and cancellations.

Airlines

In late August and early September, several airlines dropped their ticket change fees at least through the end of this year. Among them: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

Southwest Airlines, which has had the most flexible major airline ticket policy for years, continues to allow passengers to rebook their flights for travel up to one year from the original purchase date.

It’s easier to get a credit or vouchers for future travel than it is to get your money back. As millions of travelers learned in the first months of the pandemic, many airlines refused to issue refunds unless they had canceled or significantly delayed a flight themselves. And even then, many did their best to nudge customers toward accepting travel credit rather than cash.

But as the Federal Trade Commission noted, airlines are required to offer refunds for canceled or significantly delayed flights, even if the cause is beyond their control. If your airline resists, report it to the U.S. Department of Transportation — but be warned that the DOT can take months to process complaints and the process is far from a sure thing.

Trains

Amtrak has waived change fees for tickets bought by Dec. 31. You may be eligible for a credit voucher or a refund, depending on the type of ticket you bought.

The cheapest Saver Fares give refunds only within 24 hours of booking; these tickets can’t be changed, either. Value Fares offer a refund or voucher if you cancel within 15 days of your departure. Canceling closer to your departure date may cost you 25% of the ticket price.

Flexible, Business and Premium fares will give you a full refund or voucher with no fees as long as you cancel in advance. If you don’t show up without canceling, you forfeit your ticket.

Buses

Greyhound is allowing bus riders to postpone their travel plans through Jan. 31. Requests for a credit voucher must be made at least a day before you are scheduled to leave. (This doesn’t apply to cash or Sezzle transactions.)

FlixBus allows riders to cancel or postpone their travel plans free of charge as long as you let it know 14 days ahead of time.

Lodgings

Cancellations and refunds at hotels vary from site to site and from chain to chain. Check with the hotel where you have a reservation and find out what its policies are.

Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, says broadly on its website: “In general, for guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, the policies that were in place at the time of reservation, or as previously communicated, will continue to be honored.” You may cancel or change reservations made after July 6 for arrivals through Dec. 30 at no charge. Prepaid and advance paid rooms may have different rules; the policies don’t apply to all Marriott properties.

If the hotel is closed the night you want to stay, you will receive a refund. (These policies don’t apply to hotel bookings made through travel agents or third-party online retailers.)

At most properties, Hyatt Hotels reservations booked before July 1, including advance purchase rates, can be canceled without penalty up to 24 hours before you arrive. With some exceptions, reservations booked July 1 and beyond for stays through July 31, 2021, can be canceled at no charge up to 24 hours in advance.

Airbnb cancellation policies “are set by hosts and can vary (flexible, moderate or strict),” the company’s website says. You may qualify for a refund under an “extenuating circumstances policy,” which includes illness, travel restrictions and unforeseen events. Read the FAQs carefully and contact your individual host to see whether you can get a refund if you decide not to go.

California State Parks’ spokesman Jorge Moreno was unable to provide details Thursday on how the new state rules may affect camping.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance may or may not cover COVID-19-related cancellations, depending on the type of insurance you bought. Once the disease was declared a pandemic on March 11, it became a “foreseen event,” which made insurance coverage less likely. Here are some pandemic questions and answers from TravelGuard, one of the largest travel insurance companies.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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