When & How To Get Your Money Back If You Cancel Business Travel Because Of The Coronavirus
With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic spreading throughout the world, travel plans have been impacted for personal and business travelers alike. For small businesses especially, canceled plans may cause expenses you just can’t afford right now.
If you’ve booked your business travel with a credit card that includes travel insurance, you may be wondering if you can cancel your plans and get some or all of your money back. Unfortunately, credit card travel insurance is often fraught with language that excludes trips canceled “due to fear of getting sick.” This means you may find it difficult to get a full reimbursement if you cancel a trip solely because you don’t want you or your employees exposed to the coronavirus.
However, many airlines are working with customers on flight changes and hotels are being more flexible with their cancellation policies. Most big airlines are waiving flight change fees up through the next month. This means that if you can reschedule your trip (or use your booking for a different trip planned further out), you may be able to avoid eating all the costs.
Let’s dive into the full nitty-gritty below.
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Know Your Refund Rights
The U.S. Department of Transportation outlines several instances where you’re entitled to a refund in case of a trip change for flights to, within, or from the US. Notably, if the airline cancels your flight and you decide not to rebook a new flight on the same airline, you can request a full refund of the ticket’s price and other fees associated with the ticket. Per the Department of Transportation’s website:
Cancelled Flight – A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to be rebooked on a new flight on that airline.
You are also entitled to a refund if an airline makes a significant change to the flight’s schedule or if you are involuntary moved to a lower class.
The Department of Transportation has also recently clarified that these refund regulations hold true in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The department specifically stated that “the obligation of airlines to provide refunds […] does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).”
Of course, there are situations where a refund isn’t required — such as if you voluntarily canceled your plans or if you were unimpressed with the airline’s service. However, it’s worth knowing and learning the Department of Transportation’s guidelines. If an airline that canceled your flight won’t give you a refund, you may be able to get your money back by citing the above rule.
Does Trip Interruption Insurance Cover COVID-19?
A number of credit cards offer travel cancellation and trip interruption insurance when you pay for travel with the card. However, whether these travel insurance plans cover the coronavirus is something you’ll have to discover on a case-by-case basis.
Many credit cards exclude epidemics and pandemics from travel insurance coverage. Additionally, you may be out-of-luck if travel providers (such as airlines or hotels) cancel your travel arrangements (be it flights, hotel rooms, or rental cars). Other potential exclusions include situations where a travel provider goes bankrupt and can no longer offer to offer the service you’ve booked. All told, the possibility of your return flight getting canceled or you getting sick probably isn’t enough to induce travel insurance to cover your costs.
However, some credit cards do cover situations where you have been medically advised not to travel, a family member has a life-threatening illness, or you are quarantined by a physician or the government. If you or a travel companion qualifies for one of these cases, you may be eligible to have your costs covered by your credit card’s travel insurance.
To determine whether or not your specific credit card will cover you right now, you should carefully peruse your card’s benefits document. You may still have a paper copy of your benefits that the issuer sent out after you were approved for the card. You can also often access the details of your card’s benefits on your issuer’s online portal.
Something worth noting is that signing up for additional travel insurance may not protect you any better than just plain old credit card insurance does. These more “traditional” travel insurance plans still might contain language that excludes coverage if you cancel over worries about getting sick — unless you sign-up for an expensive “cancel for any reason” plan. Plus, some insurance providers marked the coronavirus pandemic as a “known event” as early as January — so you won’t receive coverage if you booked after that month.
Because providers of credit card insurance seem to be waffling on their coverage, we recommend that you first contact airlines and hotels to see if you can either receive a refund or change your bookings to a different date.
Specific travel policies regarding the coronavirus will depend on who you booked travel with and through. In most cases, you’ll find that the travel providers you booked with will be the most likely parties to issue refunds or waive change fees. If that doesn’t work, then you can try reaching out to the provider of your credit card insurance.
Several airlines have provided information regarding flight changes due to the coronavirus:
- Air France: Trips booked for before May 31 can be postponed to no later than November 30 without change fees. More information is available via Air France’s press release.
- Alaska Airlines: Tickets purchased on or before February 26 for flights between March 9 and April 30 can be changed or canceled without a fee, per Alaska. Canceled flight funds will be credited for future fares.
- American Airlines: Change fees are waived for those who book travel through April 30. More information can be found on American Airlines’ coronavirus updates page.
- British Airways: Bookings made from March 3 to May 31, as well as existing bookings up to May 31, can have both the destination and date of travel changed for free. More details are available on the British Airways website.
- Delta Airlines: Any Delta ticket for flights in March, April, or May is rebookable without change fees for up to two years. Delta also has a coronavirus updates page.
- JetBlue: Those traveling through May 31 can have cancel/change fees waived, according to JetBlue’s travel alerts page. For cancellations, JetBlue will credit the fare amount in the form of travel credit that is valid for one year.
- Southwest Airlines: Southwest does not charge customers change or cancellation fees. Airfare from canceled plans can be credited for a future trip up to one year after the original purchase date. Southwest has set up a coronavirus information page.
- United Airlines: Flights booked now through April 30 can be changed for free over the next 12 months. Additionally, all tickets issued on or before March 2 with original travel dates before May 31 can be changed without a fee. More info can be found on United’s website.
Hotels & Lodging
If you booked with one of these hospitality firms, you may be able to receive some financial relief:
- Airbnb: Reservations made on or before March 14 with a check-in date before May 31 can be canceled before check-in without a fee. Hosts can also cancel bookings without a charge or change to their Superhost status. For more information, visit Airbnb’s policy page regarding the coronavirus.
- Choice Hotels: For those traveling within the US and Canada, changes or cancellations may be made without a charge up to 24 hours before arrival as long as the change/cancellation is made before April 30. A press release contains more info.
- Hilton: All reservations scheduled for arrival before June 30 can be changed or canceled without a fee up to 24 hours before arrival. Hilton has more details, as well as information about the Hilton Honors program, on its website.
- Hyatt: Any reservation booked before April 1, for arrivals before June 30, can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival. With some exceptions, you can also change or cancel reservations up to 24 hours in advance with no change for any future reservation made between April 1 and June 30. Hyatt has posted more details on its website.
- IHG: Cancellation fees for existing and new bookings up through April 30 have been waived. IHG has updated its travel advisory page for coronavirus information.
- Marriott: Cancellations and changes made before April 30 can be made at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival date. Marriott’s press release has more info.
Here’s a quick rundown of what a few of the bigger credit card companies are doing for travelers:
- American Express: Amex has created a coronavirus hub for travel customers. For bookings made through American Express Travel, Amex will be honoring their travel partners’ policies and plans to waive fees on flight modifications or new bookings made through May 31. American Express further offers an FAQ page for trip cancellation/interruption insurance regarding the coronavirus and its credit cards.
- Capital One: An FAQ page covering travel insurance and the coronavirus is up on Capital One’s website. Capital One advises customers to contact Visa or Mastercard directly with questions regarding travel insurance. For trip changes, Capital One recommends reaching out to the travel providers you booked with.
- Chase: Chase suggests reaching out to travel partners, according to a support page on its website. Otherwise, Chase recommends that cardmembers check their benefits details or to reach out to Chase’s customer service with questions.
Other Ways To Get Your Money Back
Unfortunately, it may be difficult to trigger your travel insurance unless you get sick or are otherwise ordered to stay home by a doctor or the government. And because airlines aren’t simply offering free refunds (unless they cancel the flight), you may wind up being on the hook for travel costs. However, airlines are relaxing their change policies. This means that if you can change your plans to a later date or if you can change your flights for a different trip down the line, you may be able to soften the financial blow to your business.
If you find yourself unable to cover travel costs right now, you may be eligible to apply for a line of credit. Other financial help can be found via SBA disaster loans or emergency business loans. To save money elsewhere, look at what your credit card issuer is doing to work with those struggling to make credit card payments due to the coronavirus.
For more small business guides covering the coronavirus pandemic, check out Merchant Maverick’s Covid-19 resources hub.
For all general coronavirus information, we suggest visiting the CDC website.