How to deal with getting refunds for travel and events in the era of the coronavirus

By Erica Gellerman

Updated March 25th, 2020

You’ve dutifully saved your hard-earned cash for a trip and made big plans to get away.

Now, as borders are closing, airlines are restricting and canceling flights, and the cruise industry is temporarily shut down, you’ll likely want to recoup the cost of your vacation.

We’ve got you covered. 

This list of resources will show you how to get a travel refund. This way you’ll have the funds to take that vacation – when it’s safe to travel. 

Airlines 🛫

If your vacation included a flight, canceling or rescheduling your trip won’t be as difficult as it usually is. Many airlines are waiving change fees for travel. 

Here are the cancellation policies and steps to rebook directly with some of the major airlines: 

United

United is waiving change fees for travel through May 31, 2020. If you booked your travel before March 2, 2020 your new trip must be booked before December 31, 2020 or 12 months from your original booking date. And any rebooked travel must occur within 12 months of your original ticket date.

Any travel booked between March 2, 2020 and March 31, 2020 can be changed for free over the next 12 months. 

If you’re not sure when you want to travel, you can cancel your trip and rebook later with the change fees waived. You can read their entire notice here

American

If you booked your ticket before March 1, 2020 for travel that takes place before May 31, 2020, you can rebook your ticket without a fee. If you booked your ticket from March 1, 2020 to March 31, 2020, you can rebook without a fee on travel up to February 28, 2021.

According to their policy, you can cancel online and call back to rebook at a later time. 

Alaska

If you purchased your ticket on or before February 26, 2020 for travel between March 9, 2020 and May 31, 2020, you can change your tickets for free to travel anytime between now and February 28, 2021. 

Tickets purchased between February 27, 2020 and March 31, 2020, with travel dates from February 27, 2020 to February 28, 2021, are eligible to be rebooked without a fee for another date between now and February 28, 2021. 

If you’re not sure when you want to rebook travel, you can have your refunded travel deposited into your Alaska Airlines My Account wallet or receive a credit certificate. 

You’ll need to cancel or rebook your tickets before your booked flight. Keep in mind that it might be difficult to reach a representative on the phone, but you can rebook or cancel online using this guide

JetBlue

If you’re booked to travel from March 10, 2020 through May 31, 2020, you can rebook for free before October 24, 2020. If you’d prefer to cancel rather than rebook, you’ll receive a travel credit that is good for one year. 

You can make changes online by calling JetBlue. Stay up to date with their travel alerts here

Delta

All change fees are waived for travel departing in March to May 2020. Rebooked travel needs to begin by December 31, 2020. 

If you’re not sure where you want to go, you can cancel your travel now without a fee and use the credit to rebook later. 

Delta has a guide to help you easily make changes to your travel online.  

Third-party tickets 

If you booked your travel through a third party, you’ll want to start with them to modify your reservation. In some cases, you’ll be able to modify your reservation online. Here is some information about how to cancel with Expedia and Priceline.

Hotels 🏨

If you booked a hotel room, your best bet is to call the hotel directly to see what the cancellation policy is. Some hotels have modified their cancellation notice period, even for prepaid rates. Here are some specific policies for some of the major hotel chains:

Marriott

From now until April 30, 2020, Marriott is allowing changes without charge as long as you make the change at least 24 hours in advance of your stay. Pre-paid rooms, which usually have a very strict no-cancellation policy, are included under this policy. 

Hilton

All reservations scheduled for arrival until April 30, 2020 can be changed or canceled without fees, as long as your cancellation is made at least 24 hours prior to your arrival. Advance purchase reservations are also included in this policy. 

Intercontinental Hotels

Cancellation fees for new and existing bookings are waived between now and April 30, 2020. This hotel chain advises that you cancel your reservation online by using their app, as customer care teams are experiencing a high volume of calls. 

Vacation Rentals 🗺

If you booked a vacation on a rental site, here is what two of the leading vacation rental platforms are offering:

Airbnb

Airbnb is offering guests full refunds for reservations booked before March 14 with a check-in date of April 14 or earlier. 

If your reservation meets these criteria, you won’t need to contact Airbnb to cancel and get a refund. You can change or cancel your reservation from your trips page online or on the app. They provide estimates as to when you can expect to receive a refund.  

Vrbo

For canceled stays between March 13, 2020 and April 30, 2020, you’ll receive a refund of the service fees, but not necessarily for the cost of your stay. 

Unlike the generous refund policy at competitor Airbnb, Vrbo is asking hosts to comply with their policy to offer a minimum of 50% refund for canceled stays if an alternate date can’t be found. This means you may or may not get a partial or full refund from the host.

You can find more information on their cancellation policies here.  

Rental Cars 🚗

Most rental car companies have generous cancellation policies. If you did pre-pay for your rental car, there are options to change your reservation without paying fees. 

For example, Budget offers free changes to existing rental reservations. Hertz, in turn, offers free change and cancellation fees for travel restricted areas. 

Travel refund tips ✅

Here are some more helpful tips when canceling a trip: 

  • Keep your confirmation: You should get an email confirmation of your cancellation, so file that away someplace safe in your inbox. 
  • Make a list: Write a list of all refunds and travel credits that you’re expecting to receive. You may have a number of things to cancel (flight, hotel, rental car etc.) and it’s hard to keep track of everything in your head. 
  • Track reimbursements as they come in: Travel credits will likely hit your bank account immediately, but reimbursements will take more time. Track them as they come in to make sure that nothing gets missed. 

Bottom line

This is a tough time for everyone. And we get it: It can be disappointing and stressful to cancel a trip that you saved up for and were looking forward to. 

But remember: You can always reschedule your trip when things settle down.

Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and creator of TheWorthProject.co. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker.

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