We have what could be defined as a perfect storm for the travel industry. Fifteen percent of the US is on unemployment. The bulk of the country is on restricted travel. International destinations are closed due to government-imposed travel restrictions. If you can get to a destination, you may be faced with a 14-day quarantine that will screw up your travel plans. And every cruise line is shut down. At this point, most vacations are canceled for the summer. Regardless of how it was canceled, many people are interested in how to recover their vacation investment. They may need the cash because of the bad economy, or they have no idea when they will be able to travel again. Many companies are providing travel vouchers or refunds. Here are some things to consider when you are canceling your vacation and need some advice on how to get a travel refund.
If you have purchased a travel insurance policy, we should look there first. For the most part, a conventional travel insurance policy does not have specific provisions for a pandemic. It is a very rare event and is likely not mentioned in the reasons for cancellation. The insurance company processes its claims based on what is stated as the reasons for cancellation. Just because you have health issues and should not be exposed to Covid-19 (also referred to as Coronavirus), it does not mean that it is a covered reason for the cancellation of your vacation. But there are some provisions that might apply.
Some covered reasons that may apply during a pandemic:
- Quarantined for Covid-19 (This doesn’t include mandatory shelter in place)
- A loved one is sick or dies from Covid-19
- Sick from Covid-19
- Laid-off or furloughed if you have worked for your employer for at least one year
- All flights shut down to your destination just prior to departure
- Your destination is under quarantine (note – this is a special interpretation of the word quarantine if it is not defined in your policy)
- Your host at your destination is sick or quarantined
Cancel for any reason coverage in your travel insurance plan will allow you to cancel your vacation for an uncovered reason and generally pays you 75% of your cancellation penalties. You do not have to accept travel vouchers and the insurance will pay 75% of that value of those vouchers.
Many may find that the travel insurance they purchased through the cruise company or airline may not cover many of the cancellation reasons mentioned above. It is always best to purchase from a third party, particularly a comparison website like TripInsurance.com because you generally get a better value and more covered reasons for cancellation.
If the airline has canceled your flight or had changed the schedule and you will experience a significant delay, you are entitled to a cash refund, not just a flight credit. This is according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Rules. The airlines may give you the runaround because they are hurting for cash and do not want to refund all the airfare they have collected for a canceled flight or a significant schedule change. We recommend calling back if you don’t get the answer you want from the first agent you get on the phone.
If your flight hasn’t been canceled yet, it likely will be. Give it some time and see if it does get canceled and then work on the refund.
According to The Points Guy, many airlines are waiving change fees, even for non-refundable tickets. Your much better value may be to bank the travel credit with the airline to use on future travel plans. Air travel fares could increase as consolidation happens in the next 12 months, so rebooking a new vacation now may be your best bet.
Many hotel reservations let you cancel more than 48 hours before arrival for no charge. Prepaid hotel on a nonrefundable basis is a different problem. You may lose your hotel reservation costs if you simply cancel, but some hotels are providing travel vouchers or refunds if they are shut down due to local pandemic restrictions. Give the hotel company a call and see what you can do over the phone. Christopher Elliott, founder of the Elliott Advocacy has discovered that most large hotel companies are allowing refunds on non-refundable rates if they cannot provide you accommodations or you have no way to get to the hotel. Depending on whether the hotel you’ve booked charges a deposit to hold a room, you may be able to walk away without incurring a charge or cancellation fee. Again – you may have to be patient and wait to cancel closer to your travel dates so that you know more information about travel restrictions.
AirBnB is more liberal about cancellations then most people think. If you have a medical problem or a financial problem like you are laid-off from your job, their customer service may be able to help you get a refund on your vacation deposit, even if your host won’t provide you a refund. There is no way for the host to allow you to stay in their home when there are coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions in place, so they may be more reasonable about cancellations or refund requests. But again – the owner may allow you to reschedule at a later date.
Cruise companies have been completely shut down by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a response, the cruise companies have changed their cancellation policies to either allow people to cancel and refund their deposits or provide very valuable travel credits that are worth 125% of their original cruise. Norwegian is providing 125% credits and Carnival is offering 100% credit back on the cruise plus onboard credits that can cover alcohol or other amenities. These credits are very valuable and enable you to upgrade your cruise. Your best bet may be to rebook your cruise.
Can you get a refund on your travel insurance plan?
Many people think that travel insurance only covers them while they are on their trip, and don’t realize that comprehensive travel insurance provides two different phases of coverage: pre-departure cancellation coverage, and post-departure travel coverage. Your travel insurance coverage has been in effect since the day after you purchased the plan.
Comprehensive travel insurance covers many reasons for pre-trip cancellation, much like your homeowner’s insurance covers your house for many risks. If you sold your home 11 1/2 months into your homeowner’s insurance term and never filed a claim, you are not necessarily entitled to a refund on your homeowner’s premium. Similarly, the travel insurance company has been providing coverage from the day after you purchased the plan and does not have an obligation to refund your plan.
By law, all insurance companies provide you with a 10 day free look period to review and cancel a policy with a full refund. This is true for every type of insurance. On TripInsurance.com, we provide a free look period of 14 days for all our policies. After that period, canceling and refunding the policy is completely at the discretion and control of the insurance company, and is only done for customer goodwill, and only if it is legal for the insurance company to cancel the plan.
The insurance company will not cancel the plan and refund the premium under these circumstances:
- If the request for cancellation happens after the scheduled trip departure date.
- If there are any cancellation penalties or credits provided by travel providers.
The reason they cannot cancel under these two circumstances has to do with the risks of violating state insurance laws, and customers committing fraud. They will not take the risk of violating insurance law, regardless of the customer’s goodwill that is involved.
We care very much about our customers and their vacation losses due to the pandemic. We have convinced the insurance companies to refund all plans when they legal can/will at great cost to our own company. Returning policies don’t just amount to the insurance company returning your premium. We incur credit card charges, customer support expenses, and commission costs on every plan we return. We are committed to maintaining all our staff to provide customer support in the face of an onslaught of hundreds of customer support emails and calls a day to help clients with their disrupted vacations. Our customers are our top priority and we will continue to do everything within our power to help you with your canceled vacation and future vacation plans.
Both US Fire and Nationwide will allow us to change the travel dates in your vacation plan to cover your new vacation that you plan with your travel credits or refunded travel arrangements. Banking that premium and spending it on a future vacation has two benefits. The insurance plan you have purchased cannot change. Even if the insurance company modifies their plans in the future to exclude certain risks due to the pandemic, they must honor the original plan you purchased. The rates that are locked into your current policy are honored by the insurance company, even if they raise rates on new policies. (We expect rates will go up.) You will get much better value out of your existing policy if you apply it to a future vacation after the coronavirus crisis.