I have a vacation planned for summer. Will I get a refund if I cancel?
It depends on several factors, including if you protected your trip with travel insurance that included Cancel for Any Reason coverage. CFAR coverage usually adds about 50 percent to the price of a basic policy, which averages 4 to 10 percent of a trip's cost but gives you the most flexibility if something unexpected (like the coronavirus pandemic) requires you to cancel. Note that fewer insurance companies are offering CFAR coverage these days, according to Stan Sandberg, cofounder of TravelInsurance.com, a site for comparing and purchasing travel insurance policies.
Even if you don't have CFAR coverage, many providers — from hotels to cruise lines to rental-car companies — are loosening change and cancellation policies during the coronavirus outbreak. When the company cancels a cruise or tour, it's likely to offer a full refund and, in some cases, a bonus, says Lauren Cardinale, travel consultant and owner of Travel Design Co. in New Orleans. “They're usually offering a 100 percent refund or future travel credit of 100 percent — or even 125 percent or 150 percent — to entice people to keep their money with the company.”
When the customer cancels, even due to a pandemic during which authorities are asking people not to travel, many companies offer only waived change fees and vouchers or credits toward future travel. Refunds are harder to come by.
Vacations By Rail, for instance, is offering travelers who’ve paid for escorted tours scheduled on or before Aug. 31 a travel credit for the amount paid, to be applied to another 2020 or 2021 tour, without incurring a change fee. Independent vacation bookings for 2020 can be moved to later in 2020 or 2021, without incurring a change fee.
Grand European Travel is offering customers who are booked on company-canceled trips (through June 30, for now) vouchers for future travel through 2022. For trips it has not yet canceled, the company is no longer charging a fee for rescheduling up to 30 days before departure.
The best deal for consumers depends on how close they are to a scheduled departure date, Cardinale says. It may be advantageous to hold off on canceling — for now. “If [vacationers] are paid in full and they're already within the cancellation penalty, it's in their best interest to just hold on and wait to see what the supplier does,” she suggests. “They'll benefit the most that way.”
Don't hotels usually allow you to cancel at the last minute, anyway?
Yes, so canceling hotel reservations shouldn't be a problem if you booked directly with the hotel. If you snagged a special nonrefundable rate, you could lose money, but even in that case many hotels are being more flexible during the pandemic and are allowing no-fee cancellations. Note that you're likely to experience long wait times if you try to call the big hotel chains to make changes, so first try to change your reservations online.
Examples of hotel policies
Radisson Hotels is offering no-fee changes or cancellations for all stays through June 30, though its site notes that the company is “constantly updating” its policy based on coronavirus-related developments, and it’s subject to change. Radisson is also asking guests to call agents “only if your travel is within the next 72 hours.” If you make a reservation between April 1 and June 30 for any future date, you can cancel for no charge up to 24 hours before arrival, even for advance purchase rates that are normally not cancelable.
Choice Hotels also asks guests to modify reservations online. If you’ve booked a noncancelable, prepaid rate directly with Choice Hotels, you can cancel with no charge up to 24 hours before arrival if you use the company’s online form by June 30.
Hilton says that all “noncancelable” (advance-purchase) reservations for arrival on or before June 30, 2020, can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival day. That also applies to new reservations, including Advanced Purchase, made between April 1 and June 30 for any future travel date.
Hyatt is permitting changes to existing reservations (including the usually more restrictive advance-purchase rates) made before April 1 for arrivals before June 30 up to 24 hours in advance; the same applies to new reservations (including advance purchase). The policy applies to new reservations, too, with some exceptions.
Best Western is allowing guests to cancel anytime up to 24 hours before arrival for no fee by June 30, with some exceptions.
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts is waiving cancellation and change penalties on new or existing direct bookings for stays through June 30, up to 48 hours (or less, if permitted by the hotel’s policy) before arrival.
If you've booked your trip through an online travel agency such as Expedia (or AARP Travel Center Powered by Expedia) or Booking.com, you may need to make changes through that site, the hotel, car rental, airline, cruise line directly. On its site Expedia says, “We will continue to work with travel partners as necessary to implement flexible policies” during the outbreak. The company also has a customer service portal to assist with changes.
What about booking and canceling a car rental during these uncertain times?
For new car-rental reservations with any company in the next few months, consider the “pay later” option, even if it's a bit more expensive than a prepaid rate, to allow for the most flexibility.
Hertz is allowing prepaid reservations booked before March 13 to be rescheduled for use within 24 months for no charge, though canceling a prepaid rental will include the usual fees, except in travel-restricted areas (you can make changes online). It has also waived young-renter fees and lowered the renter age from 20 to 18 “to help college students and young drivers returning home or needing transportation.”
Avis has a similarly loosened change and cancellation policy.
I see promotions for cruises and other trips that are so cheap! Should I book a bargain vacation for later this year?
Maybe. There are many great deals now, with providers going overboard to sweeten the pot. Viking River Cruises, for one, is offering free air and special savings and requiring smaller (2-for-1) deposits for 2020 and 2021 sailings if you book by April 30 — and it has a “risk-free guarantee,” through which you’ll be allowed to change your cruise date up to 24 hours before departure for no fee (this also applies to bookings made before the outbreak). Some of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts are offering 25 percent off rooms through Aug. 31.
If you do want to book, consider travel insurance with a CFAR policy. And it's all the better if you can book with a travel provider offering no-fee cancellations or the option to buy a protection plan that allows for no-penalty, last-minute cancellations. Many are doing so to address travelers’ concerns about unpredictability.
Royal Caribbean has canceled all sailings departing on or before June 11; customers booked on canceled cruises can receive a full refund or a 125 percent cruise credit that’s good through April 30, 2022 (not applicable if you’ve booked with the “Cruise With Confidence” policy, in which case you’ll receive the 100 percent credit). To encourage new bookings, the cruise line has a “Cruise With Confidence” policy for trips booked through Sept. 1, allowing guests to cancel up to 48 hours before they sail and to get a future cruise credit that’s good through 2021.
American Cruise Lines, which offers river and coastal trips in the U.S., is trying to reassure travelers with a “Cruise With Comfort” guarantee for all journeys departing through Aug. 31, 2020; it allows customers to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours before the cruise starts. They'll receive a voucher for a future cruise before the end of 2021.
Collette, which offers tours around the world, has an optional Travel Protection Plan and waiver that you can purchase when booking that allows you to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours before departure for a full cash refund. It starts at $149 per adult for domestic escorted tours under six days and goes up to $925 for Antarctica tours.
Uniworld River Cruises is allowing customers to reschedule (or receive a voucher to use through 2022) up to 14 days before their departure for any 2020 or 2021 cruise, excluding September trips. If you want to cancel, you'll pay a penalty, but that amount can be used toward a future journey. Airfares booked through Uniworld are subject to airline cancellation fees.
(For information on airlines’ policies, see “Coronavirus and Travel: What You Should Know").
One final thing to keep in mind, says Cardinale: The situation is “messy, and things are moving fast. What holds true today might not hold true tomorrow.” Travelers who are flexible and will be satisfied with a future travel credit if things change may be eager to book. Those who are set on specific dates and would expect a full refund should wait.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 7, 2020. It's been updated to reflect cancellation policy changes.