Coronavirus Travel Restrictions, Airline & Hotel Cancellation Policies

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on the global travel industry, upending millions of travelers’ lives, and threatening countless livelihoods in the process.

It’s likely the pandemic will affect many travelers, either directly or indirectly. Because this is a fluid situation that changes by the day, bookmark this list to refer to frequently so you can get new information as it becomes available. The list includes:

  • A running tally of countries and regions with coronavirus travel restrictions
  • Guidelines for determining when to cancel planned travel and how to get a refund or credit if you do
  • A list of cancellation and change policies for major airlines, hotels, and cruise operators.

Countries & Regions With Coronavirus Travel Restrictions

Due to the fast-moving nature of this situation, this summary does not necessarily reflect all current restrictions. Before booking international travel, refer to your destination countries’ English-language government websites for up-to-the-minute details and check the U.S. Department of State’s list of country-specific travel advisories.

Entry Restrictions for U.S. Travelers

Most countries have effectively ceased to permit entry to U.S. citizens and nationals who don’t meet certain narrow exceptions, such as holding dual citizenship, having close family members in-country, or traveling on qualifying “essential business.”

The good news is that most countries and territories that continue to permit entry to U.S. travelers lie on this side of the Atlantic, within a few hours of the mainland United States by air. They include Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and most Caribbean island nations and territories, though some Caribbean nations impose arrival restrictions that can impede free movement. Farther-flung countries that remain totally open to U.S. travelers include Turkey, Maldives, and several Balkans nations. The United Kingdom and Cambodia, among a few other popular tourist destinations, allow U.S. citizens to enter but generally require some combination of quarantine upon arrival, confirmed negative COVID-19 test result, and a sometimes hefty financial deposit to ensure compliance.

Because the situation remains fluid, this list should not be considered comprehensive. Before traveling to another country, check with local immigration authorities to determine whether you’ll be permitted to complete your journey or required to quarantine on arrival.

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories

The U.S. Department of State has four travel advisory levels denoting the relative danger of travel to each country and subcountry region:

  • Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions. These are low-risk countries.
  • Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. These areas often present an elevated risk of property crime or exposure to novel illnesses not common in the U.S.
  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Travel to these areas is unusually risky due to political instability, widespread violence, disease outbreaks, and other dangerous conditions.
  • Level 4: Do Not Travel. The State Department does not advise travel to these areas, and U.S. persons already in Level-4 areas should leave as soon as possible. The State Department has little or no effective presence in some Level-4 countries.

On March 31, 2020, the State Department issued a global Level-4 travel advisory for the entire world outside the United States, effectively discouraging any international travel for the foreseeable future.


Cancellation & Change Policies for Major Airlines & Hospitality Companies

This running list of coronavirus cancellation and change policies includes major airlines and hospitality companies, many of which are waiving change fees and dispensing credit for rebookings many months into the future. Refer to each company’s website for more details and cancellation or rebooking information specific to your destination.

Airline Cancellation Policies

All major U.S. airlines and budget carriers have coronavirus-related cancellation and change policies. Unless otherwise noted, rebooked flyers must pay the fare difference between the original and new fares, if any. If you’re flying with a smaller carrier, check their website for details. Also, be aware of any airline-imposed hygiene requirements, as most major airlines now require passengers to wear masks or face coverings on flights.

American Airlines

American Airlines’ policy waives change fees for passengers booked before Sept. 8, 2020, for travel between March 10, 2020, and Aug. 8, 2021, to rebook for travel within one year of the original travel date. The policy applies to all airports served by American and allows changes to destination and connecting cities.

United Airlines

United Airlines’ policy waives change fees for all passengers booked before March 2, 2020, for travel between March 9 and Dec. 31, 2020, to rebook before Aug. 31, 2020. The rebooked itinerary must begin within 24 months of the original ticket date. This policy applies to all airports served by United.

Separately, all electronic travel certificates issued for flight cancellations are now valid for 24 months from the booking date. United has not specified an end date for this policy. United also waives change fees on all new bookings for 12 months from the booking date, though this waiver will likely end at some point.

Delta Airlines

Delta’s policy waives change fees for all flights booked after March 1, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020. Affected travelers have at least until Sept. 30, 2022, to complete travel.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines’ policy waives change fees for all flights to and from all airports booked on or before Feb. 26, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020. The airline waives change fees for all flights booked from Feb. 27 to Sept. 8, 2020, for travel up to one year from the original travel dates (assuming the original travel dates fell before Aug. 8, 2020). In both cases, rebooked travel must commence one year from the original travel dates.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest never charges change fees for rebooked travel. Travelers who cancel flights at least 10 minutes before scheduled departure receive credit equal to the fare for rebooked travel within a year of the departure date.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue’s policy waives change fees on flights booked between March 6 and Sept. 8, 2020, for travel at any time. Rebooked travel may commence at any time (provided JetBlue has scheduled flights far enough out). Canceled flights produce a travel credit good for 24 months from the original travel date equal to the original fare.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit allows passengers who change their travel plans due to coronavirus to make one free fare modification (to change the destination city or travel dates, for instance) for travel at any point in the future. Passengers who choose to cancel rather than change their flights receive travel credit equal to the original fare for use within six months of the original travel date or a full refund of the fare.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines’ policy waives change fees for any booking, provided the change is made at least 60 days before the first date of travel. Later itinerary changes cost up to $119 per change.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines offers fee-free changes for all flights to all markets. The waiver applies to all flight dates. In late March, Hawaiian canceled most long-haul flights, and out-of-state travelers remain subject to 14-day quarantines upon arrival in Hawaii. Ticketed passengers should check with the airline to confirm that their flights are still operating as scheduled and with Hawaii’s health department for the latest information on arrival restrictions.

Hotel & Resort Cancellation Policies

These major hospitality operators have coronavirus-related cancellation and change policies. If you’re staying at an independent property or with a smaller chain, refer to the operator’s website for more details.

Hilton

Hilton offers cancellation policy waivers all bookings worldwide through August 31, 2020. Refundable and nonrefundable reservations are eligible.

Hilton has also extended the expiration of its Weekend Night Awards for co-branded cardholders to August 31, 2021.

Marriott

Marriott waived cancellation fees for all bookings worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) through June 30, 2020. This policy was not extended past June 30, 2020, and it’s unclear whether it continues to apply on a case-by-case basis. Check with your destination hotel or Marriott’s customer service hotline for more information.

Hyatt

Hyatt is waiving change or cancellation fees for all bookings worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) through July 31, 2021. Limited exceptions apply for certain Hyatt brands, including MGM Resorts.

Additionally, Hyatt is suspending loyalty point forfeiture through at least Dec. 31, 2020. In other words, you won’t lose loyalty points or status due to canceled or deferred travel or because you simply didn’t travel as often as usual during the pandemic, as would normally be the case.

InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has relaxed its reservation change policies indefinitely and instituted a new rate class (“Book Now, Pay Later”) that allows guests to change or cancel reservations up to 24 hours before arrival.

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels offered fee-free cancellations to travelers booked worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) until Sept. 30, 2020. It’s not clear whether this policy will be extended into the future.

Additionally, Choice Hotels has paused points expiration for Choice Privileges members through at least Dec. 31, 2020.

Airbnb

Airbnb is broadening its extenuating circumstances policy, which provides compensation when guests need to cancel for extraordinary reasons, to all markets it serves through Sept. 15, 2020. Qualifying bookings must have been made prior to March 14, 2020. Bookings made after March 14, 2020, are subject to the host’s normal cancellation policy unless the guest or host is sick with COVID-19 on the scheduled check-in date.

Vrbo

Vrbo doesn’t have a global coronavirus cancellation policy, other than a promise to refund its Traveler Service Fee on successful cancellations. The platform encourages guests and hosts to heed travel and health warnings from the World Health Organization and work together to reach a solution when guests must cancel. Vrbo always encourages guests to purchase travel insurance.


When & How to Cancel Planned Travel for a Refund or Credit

Use these guidelines to determine whether to cancel planned travel to affected areas and how to get your money back (or credit toward future travel) if you do. If you’re still not sure whether the pandemic impacts current travel plans or if you’re not sure you’re eligible to cancel for a credit or refund, check with your carriers, hotels, or tour operators.

When to Cancel Planned Travel Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Seriously consider canceling planned travel due to the coronavirus pandemic if you’re a member of a high-risk group, taking high-risk travel methods, or traveling to a high-risk region. Other considerations also apply.

  • You’re Planning International Travel. As the State Department’s global Level 4 warning suggests, international travel is extremely high risk in a pandemic environment, even when the destinations involved don’t appear to be hotspots. Moreover, the risk works both ways. Even if you’re healthy and relatively unlikely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, you could become a carrier and spread the disease to higher-risk people.
  • You’re a Member of a High-Risk Group. That includes people over age 60 and those with underlying health conditions, such as immune system disorders, diabetes, and hypertension. The risk of serious or fatal complications of COVID-19 is much higher for these groups.
  • Your Trip Includes a Cruise. Most cruise lines have ceased operations through summer 2020. However, if you’re booked on a cruise later in 2020, you should closely monitor developments and seriously consider rebooking for 2021 or later, especially if you’re a member of a high-risk group. Communicable diseases spread quickly on cruise ships.
  • You Can Get a Refund for Any Reason. If you’re not going to be out money for canceling your planned trip, the calculus is a lot more straightforward. You can cancel altogether or rebook several months out.
  • You Have “Cancel for Any Reason” Travel Insurance Coverage. Standard travel insurance policies don’t cover cancellations due to concerns about becoming sick. They only apply if you’re actually ill. More generous policies with “cancel for any reason” riders are a bit more expensive but allow you to cancel without penalty no matter what. If you were fortunate enough to purchase such a rider, now is the time to use it.
  • Your Destination or Transit Countries Are Considering Travel Restrictions. You don’t want to get stranded in a foreign country due to sudden travel restrictions. Check reputable local news sources in your destination and refer to English-language government websites for signs of pending restrictions.
  • Your Trip Is Not Essential. Canceling a trip abroad to visit an elderly relative you haven’t seen in years is much more difficult than canceling a destination bachelor party that’s easy to reschedule for after the wedding.

How to Cancel Planned Travel for a Refund or Credit

To get a refund or credit toward future travel if you need to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic, you must likely rebook your flight, hotel, or tour within a period designated by its operator. Other steps could be necessary as well, including:

  • Checking the Operator’s Coronavirus Rebooking Policies. Check the list of cancellation and change policies in the next section and contact each operator for information specific to your booking or destination. When operators allow fee-free changes and rebookings, you could end up paying nothing out of pocket to reschedule.
  • Determining Whether You Can Cancel Without Penalty. If you prefer to cancel without rebooking, read each pertinent travel company’s cancellation policy. Unless you purchased a nonrefundable booking to get a lower rate, there’s a good chance your hotel or resort will allow you to cancel without penalty up to a week before your arrival (and sometimes even closer). If you’ve booked a short-term homestay through Airbnb or another rental platform, your host’s cancellation policy usually determines how much of your booking you can recoup, with options ranging from a full refund to total forfeiture. However, Airbnb has broadened its extenuating circumstances policy, which makes exceptions to host cancellation policies in times of crisis, for the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Most airline bookings are nonrefundable after 24 hours, though you can pay more for a refundable fare if you’ve yet to book. Without a protection policy, which adds to the cost of the voyage, cruise fares generally aren’t refundable — but many cruise lines are making exceptions during the pandemic.
  • Buying Travel Insurance. If you booked less than three weeks ago, you could still be eligible to purchase “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance that’s valid for your trip. Policies vary by insurance carrier, but it’s worth a shot. You’ll be out the one-time insurance premium but not the full cost of your nonrefundable travel.
  • Calling Customer Service to Ask for a Refund. Expect to sit on hold for longer than usual, but the effort could be worth it. Even if your booking is nonrefundable, extenuating circumstances could curry favor with the rep you speak with (or their manager). For instance, if you’re flying with an elderly relative at high risk for COVID-19 complications, your decision to travel could literally have life-or-death implications.
  • Rebooking Within the Allotted Time Frame. If you can’t cancel your reservation for a cash refund, learn how long your rebooking credit remains in effect. Most airlines allow fee-free rebookings (less the difference in fare, if any) through late 2020 or early 2021.

Final Word

The coronavirus pandemic is the most serious public health challenge caused by a communicable respiratory disease in living memory. Without aggressive, concerted action by governments, private corporations, and nongovernment organizations across the globe, it could come to rival or exceed the Spanish flu crisis of 1918 to 1919 — the benchmark by which we judge all other modern pandemics — in its toll.

We all need to do our part to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect the most vulnerable among us. If that means canceling the international vacation you’ve been looking forward to for years, so be it.

Are your travel plans affected by the coronavirus pandemic? What are you doing in response?

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