Unbelievable… I am writing this blog on March 19, 2020 a historic day, not in a good way, a day when US Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory urging Americans not to travel, urging people to come back home to US if they are abroad or to be prepared to remain outside US for an indefinite amount of time.
This is unprecedented in my lifetime and I hope this day goes down in history as the worst day in the world travel and it never happens again.
I hope you are all feeling ok physically and mentally during this crisis. I know I am already feeling cabin fever! For someone who’s living and breathing travel 24/7 being literally grounded is very hard. Of course, I am not traveling all the time, but when I am not traveling I am working on planning trips for clients and living vicariously through their adventures. However, now the travel industry is canceled for the foreseeable future and for my brain it is a “DOES NOT COMPUTE” scenario.
I know lots of people are going through an agonizing decision-making process of what to do with their currently booked trips, to cancel, to reschedule, to file an insurance claim, how to recoup the money they paid and heck, they still want to have a vacation – so what now?
I want to share some tips and insight into what you can do if you are in this situation and how to make the most out of your travel plans.
My clients with the booked trips for the next couple of months are all asking me the same question – what are our options of canceling, rescheduling or recouping our money.
First of all, you need to look at the dates of your trip. If you are traveling in the next 2-3 weeks, you need to reschedule or cancel your tickets. I would urge you to reschedule if you can. If you have an alternative set of dates that you can travel you can reschedule to those dates. Don’t reschedule a March trip to May because we may still not be able to travel in May. Currently, airlines are offering a one-time change fee waiver, so if you use your one-time waiver you will not be able to use it again, based on the current policies.
If you are canceling, most likely you will not get your money back but a credit with the airline that you have to use either by the end of the year or a one year from the time your original ticket was booked, whichever comes first. This is what I have seen in several cases of canceling my clients’ tickets, but because things are changing so fast each day, don’t assume anything, check with your airline first.
If an airline canceled your flight or you have canceled your trip and are due a refund, have patience (a recurring theme) it may take a few billing cycles for the money to appear back in your account. Not only the travel suppliers are overwhelmed with the refund requests and processing time is taking longer, but credit card companies and banks are also feeling the pain.
It is a similar situation with the hotels – you may get a credit on your account for future travel, but getting your money back may be tough, unless you booked recently, in the last few weeks, then some hotel chains are offering to refund your bookings.
So again, read the fine print on the recent notices that have been offered by hotels or check with your travel agent if you booked with one. Just because you booked a non-refundable hotel it may not necessarily mean that you can’t cancel it.
If you are traveling in May or later
If your travel dates are 4 weeks or more from now, I would urge you to wait. I know it is hard, and patience is running low but playing the waiting game may be your best bet.
If there is no travel advisory for your destination and your travel dates now, canceling or trying to change your travel plans now will mean that you will have to pay out of pocket for the change or cancellation fees. Waiting until 2 weeks prior to travel dates may give you an opportunity to take advantage of waived fees.
Also, trying to get through to a travel provider or travel insurance if your travel dates are not within the immediate 14 days from now will mean that you will spend hours on hold just to get turned away. Call centers and customer service email queues are overwhelmed and they are prioritizing requests based on the travel dates.
If you have decided to change your travel dates please stick to your original itinerary especially if you have worked with a travel agency or travel advisor to build this trip.
For example, if you have a trip booked to Italy, not only did a travel advisor put in countless hours (I usually spend 25+ hours on a custom made trip to Italy and that is with all the resources and connections at my fingertips) but also those travel providers in Italy are counting on that revenue. If you change your Italy trip from May to a Hawaii trip in December, that means that travel advisor has to start from scratch by creating a brand new trip for you (the original 25+ hrs are now wasted, and we are not getting paid for them plus the time we need to cancel all the services) and the suppliers in Italy are not getting the revenue they counted on (if you got a refund). If you can’t travel to Italy in May, try to go in September or October, which is a beautiful shoulder season or worst-case scenario reschedule the trip for next year. Do the right thing, don’t cancel the destination!
Travel Insurance: When It Can and Can’t Help
Now let’s talk about travel insurance! My clients who have purchased travel insurance have coverage through TravelGuard. I am going to cover a few general questions raised by clients but keep in mind that even the same travel insurance policy may have different benefits depending on the state where you live. So before making any decisions, check the fine print of your policy.
Of course, no one likes to talk or think about any kind of insurance until we are in a situation where we need one. And just because you have travel insurance doesn’t mean you can cancel your trip and get money back because you are afraid to travel because of Coronavirus. Most people opt out of cancel for any reason for an insurance upgrade because it is very expensive and it still only covers 50-75% of the trip cost. It is not part of your standard insurance policy!
So don’t assume anything until you go through the insurance policy in detail. I recommend printing it out and highlighting parts important to you. Also, it is a good idea to call an insurance company and ask specific questions about the policy when you are buying it, which is typically before a major disaster like coronavirus hits, so you can avoid being on hold for hours when everyone else is calling too.
If you get credit for trip cancellation/insurance typically won’t pay you anything on top of credit.
If you purchased insurance and your trip is canceled or the dates changed, see if you can cancel or modify your insurance policy. There are certain criteria that may allow you to get money back for the insurance policy for the trip that didn’t take place if you haven’t filed a claim.
If you are stuck in a destination that is quarantined or announced closing its borders and you need to change your travel plans, reach out to TravelGuard. They have a 24/7 world assistance line staffed with specialists that have resources at their fingertips to help you get out of “a tough situation” that you may be in.
If your trip is later in the year and you didn’t get travel insurance – you can still get a policy. It won’t cover if you are afraid to travel but if you get sick with Coronavirus or have any other medical issue or your trip gets interrupted while you are already at the destination, having insurance will help you recoup the money you have paid to date.
But insurance is a must not only in light of Coronavirus.
So is the extra cost of travel insurance justified?
As a rule of thumb, every trip into which you’ve invested significant amounts is best insured.
What happens when someone gets sick unexpectedly and you have to move your trip forward by a few days? Or, you have a death in the family and cannot make it anymore? A no-show could easily become a loss, but if you have travel insurance, it will soften the hit on your pocket. Have you ever visited a new country only to react badly to the climate and need medical treatment? The quality of medical care in some countries can be questionable and expensive in cases of forced medical evacuation. Travel insurance helps to pay for those unexpected medical costs
You should review health-related coverage that’s offered and included ahead of time, which means before you buy a policy, not after.
In another scenario, your vacation might have to be cut short due to an aging parent needing emergency medical attention back home.
Are you an adventure sports lover? If you’ve decided to go hiking, sky-diving, operating an aircraft, or you are hoping to take part in a professional or athletic event, travel insurance can provide claims in cases of injury – be sure to confirm that this is included in your coverage and TravelGuard offers additional coverage for Extreme Sports but you need to make sure to ask to include it in your coverage.
Also, in case of hurricanes, which happen a lot during the late summer and fall seasons affecting many Caribbean vacations, if you want to purchase insurance after the hurricane has been named, your insurance won’t cover you for hurricane-related cancellations or interruptions.
New TravelGuard Preferred and Deluxe plan now offer the TripExchange option (it is not available in NY state), but it is available in NJ and many other states, so check if it is available in your state. TripExchange option means that you can transfer your trip to another destination and may be reimbursed up to 50% of your trip cost for any charges incurred due to the change, such as air ticket change fees, increases in fare costs and transportation and hotel costs. This benefit comes with lots of fine print but it doesn’t cost anything extra if you are buying Preferred and Deluxe plans with TravelGuard so it is worth looking into.
Now, I know talking about travel insurance probably raised a lot more questions. I can talk in general terms about policies but I can’t tell you based on your specific scenario if you will be able to cancel or get any money back, not because I don’t want to, but because insurance companies review each claim individually and because by law as a travel agent and not a licensed insurance agent I can’t go into details of coverage even when you are my client. So please, don’t think I am brushing you off when I tell you to contact TravelGuard with specific questions, I have to abide by the law.
To DIY Your Trip vs Booking With A Travel Advisor
One of the advantages of booking with a travel advisor has always been the human connection that you as a traveler have access to, whether it’s during the booking process or during the trip itself. While the coronavirus is unprecedented, it’s highlighting what has always been true about using a travel advisor – we truly provide travelers with immeasurable value.
In this case of having to make last-minute travel changes, I, as your travel advisor would be the one rebooking your trips and securing refunds, leaving you the client at ease knowing someone is working on your behalf dealing with the technicalities of different company policies. It saves you from confusion, panic and worry if you had to go through this process yourself.
Also, please understand that if you booked your own tickets/trip reaching out to a travel advisor now to get help changing your itinerary won’t help you. It is not that we don’t want to help, but if we are not the agency on record for that booking so we do not have the authority to make changes, no matter how much we want to help.
If you are stuck in a destination without insurance and need to book a new plane ticket or a new hotel reservation you, of course, can get a travel advisor to help you with that.
I hope these tips will help you to make the right decision about your travel plans. If you are feeling the withdrawal symptoms of not being able to travel, take advantage of the extra free time that you have to start planning your next trip – and I don’t mean you need to book anything but you can start doing research and brainstorming your new destination. I have several sample itineraries and blog posts where you can draw lots of inspiration.
Thanks for reading, now go wash your hands!
***DISCLAIMER. This information is based on my personal experience of working on changing dozens of trips in the last few weeks. Things change quickly and travel providers are changing policies in response every day. Check the fine print of your booking and contact your travel agent or travel supplier before making any changes. Olegana Travel Boutique does not bear any responsibility for the changes to your travel plans made by you based on the above information.