As the coronavirus crisis grows, many people have had to cancel vacation plans to stay “socially distanced” and help contain the virus’s spread. As disappointing as it is to scrub a spring break, your more pressing issue now is how to get back the money you put toward your trip.
Depending on your method of travel (and — as important — how it was canceled), getting a refund can be quick and painless. Here’s what you need to know.
Airlines tend to have strict refund policies. Unless you have an often far more expensive “flexible” or fully refundable ticket, if you change or cancel your reservation yourself, you may need to pay a fee that costs as much as the ticket itself. (The good news is, many airlines have eased up on change fees, at least for the duration of the health crisis — you’ll get credit toward future flights, though full refunds remain hard to obtain.)
Another factor is where you plan to fly to. Some airlines are changing their policies based on how certain destinations are affected by the ongoing situation with coronavirus. So, a refund could be in the cards depending on where you planned to spend your vacation.
Even so, if your airline cancels your flight — regardless of your destination or which airline you booked with — you’ll receive a full refund.
Cruise line refunds are a bit more complicated. In general, the refund you’re eligible for depends on the type of ticket you have and how much time is left until you embark. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line usually allows for partial refunds depending on when you cancel: 100% if it’s at least 90 days before you sail, 75% if you cancel within 76–89 days of departure, and so on until you’re 30 days or less away (you’ll get nothing back after that). Even so, in response to coronavirus, most cruise lines have temporarily waived fees on cancellations up to 48 (or, like upscale Viking Cruises, 24) hours before departure — but instead of money back, in most cases you’ll get credit toward future cruises, not money back.
Similar to airlines, if your cruise company cancels your trip, you’ll receive a full refund.
Most hotels will refund your stay if you cancel at least 48 hours beforehand, but this varies by hotel chain. Some are waiving cancellation fees entirely for those traveling to or from the most affected foreign areas, such as China, South Korea and Italy. If you booked through a third party, contact them to learn what’s required for a refund. For example, Booking.com says COVID-19 qualifies for “forced circumstances,” so cancellation fees will be waived for travel to affected areas. Similarly, Airbnb has an extenuating circumstances policy, which covers those who need to cancel for COVID-19-related reasons.
Tour de forfeit
If you had a tour booked, your best is to completely cancel it. Some tour operators offer full refunds if you cancel within a certain period, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. However, like airlines and hotels, tour operators’ policies vary. Make sure you carefully review cancellation terms and conditions.
Experienced travel agents are very familiar with refund policies, so if you booked through an agent, they can help you get your money back. And because you already paid the agent’s booking fee (whether you knew it or not), this should come at no additional cost.