Travel cancellations are spreading as wide as the coronavirus. As of early March, the disease has been detected in over 68 countries across every continent but Antartica, and the Centers for Disease Control's list advising all-but-essential travel is expanding. China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, major tourist countries in Europe, and even domestic locations have been impacted — essentially every travel plan on deck is in question thanks to the global virus.
But, coronavirus or not, travel plans are always subject to cancellations or last-minute changes, and MoneyGeek has a few key tips for how to change travel plans without sacrificing the whole trip — or, as they say in the finance world, without losing your shirt.
1. Check Your Credit Card’s Travel Protection Plan
Any savvy traveler always has their most trusted travel companion with them: their credit card. Most credit cards have some level of travel protection and insurance built into their benefits, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Reserve, Amex Platinum, Capital One Venture, and Visa Signature offer some of the best travel protection plans on the market.
As far as trip insurance goes, travel rewards cards Chase Sapphire and Chase Reserve have the most comprehensive benefits, with both cards tallying an annual $10,000 trip cancellation or trip interruption benefit. Trip cancellation benefits cover you before your trip begins, while trip interruption covers you the moment your trip starts; either way, you’re covered.
2. Check to See If Your Travel Plans Are Refundable
Many travel plans can be refunded, whether it’s 100% or even partial. Most airlines give a 24-hour window when your trip can be canceled without a fee, and most airlines (with the exception of Southwest, which has zero cancellation fees) will refund all but $200 for canceled flights. If you purchase your flight through a third-party site like Expedia or Priceline, you can usually pay for travel insurance for a nominal fee.
In the case of hotels, most reservations can be canceled with a full refund if canceled before the 24–72-hour window of the reservation. Airbnb cancellation fees are determined by the specific host; however, if an accident, illness, or further extenuating circumstance takes place outside of the cancellation window, Airbnb will issue a refund if you provide adequate documentation or reasoning. Whether it’s illness related, an airline delay, or even an issue like coronavirus, the travel site is usually willing to make amends for well-documented cancelations.
3. Pick Up the Phone
Email or social media may seem quicker and more convenient, but a human connection can work to your advantage — even if the policies do not. More importantly, a human connection with the right human is what you want to aim for. When you first call a customer support line, maintaining a friendly connection with the representative can help you make your case.
While most representatives don’t typically have the power or authority to grant travel refunds, politely and kindly asking to speak with a manager or supervisor may yield the results you’re looking for. A manager is more likely to break rank and waive a cancellation fee or provide a partial refund, especially if you are nice and reasonable. Anger doesn’t usually get you anywhere in these situations, so stay calm and respectful to help clear up the issue.
4. Look For Options Other Than a Full Refund
Oftentimes, if an airline, hotel chain or tour operator won’t budge on their cancellation fees, you can always ask for either a rain check or voucher. The money has still been spent, and they are definitely keeping their profits, but you can use the voucher for a different time or trip. Just be sure to keep an eye out for any date restrictions — sometimes vouchers are only good for 90 days to a full calendar year.
5. Transfer Your Travel Plans
If all else fails, you might be able to transfer your travel plans through an online travel transfer marketplaces. Most airlines allow for name transfers on tickets as long as you haven’t booked a basic economy flight, especially on international flights, as the name on the travel manifest isn’t usually populated into the airline system until a few days before the flight departure.
You’ll probably have to forfeit a small fee to the marketplace, and you may have to sell your trip at a discounted rate in comparison to the market value paid. If you booked your ticket well in advance, however, and flight prices have entered their steep upcurve, you might even make money.
Travel safety extends beyond making smart choices when you get to your destination. Ensuring that you are protected beforehand with travel insurance or cancellation options in the event of an emergency can save you money, time, and stress. Knowing your rights, options and protections ahead of time can prevent worst-case scenarios when an illness like coronavirus or other international issues disrupt your travel plans.
Hillary Adler is the content marketing director at MoneyGeek and an avid traveler. She is a strategic digital marketing and business development professional with seven years of experience in media and technology. She combines deep industry knowledge with experience growing brand profiles through data analysis, content strategy, marketing and PR. She excels at crafting high-impact content and maintaining consistent messaging across all brand touch points.