The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of our plans, and that includes plans for traveling this summer. But if you want to cancel, will you get your money back?
Some travel companies have changed their cancellation policies to handle the uncertainty. But many of these policies only extend to travel in the next weeks and months; if you’re traveling later in the summer, there may not be a lot of extra options available to you yet.
In general, getting a refund for canceling a hotel reservation will be easier than for a canceling a flight. Here are some of the things you need to know:
If an airline cancels your flight, you have several options, one of which is to get your money back. Every airline is required by the U.S. Department of Transportation to offer cash refunds if the airline cancels a flight.
But if you cancel? It may be a different story.
On April 17, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) released the results of an investigation into how the airline industry is handling refunds during the coronavirus pandemic.
This leaves you having to either accept a travel voucher or hope the airline eventually cancels the flight so you can get your cash back.
And travel vouchers come with limitations. While many airlines are issuing travel vouchers valid for up to two years, some airlines are making their vouchers expire within one year, according to the Senate report.
Only one airline, according to the report — Hawaiian — is offering cash refunds to passengers who cancel their tickets but then subsequently have their flight canceled by the airline itself. Passengers who canceled their tickets on other airlines are stuck with travel vouchers even if their flight never takes off.
Based on this, if you want to cancel a flight but want a refund, the best advice would be to wait things out and hope that the flight is eventually canceled so you can get your money back, or that the airline will change its policies if the crisis continues.
To date, there hasn’t been consumer-protection legislation passed regarding hotels.
But some hotels are being more flexible. Many allow full refunds if you cancel a reservation within a certain time frame before your stay, even on bookings that are usually more restrictive.
Marriott, for example, is refunding any bookings, “including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive” if you cancel up to 24 hours before arrival, a spokesperson said. The chain has extended this policy to any cancellations until June 30.
According to Jana L. Tidwell, the manager of public and government affairs for the Pennsylvania AAA Mid-Atlantic, hotels have been very lenient with their cancellation policies, And, unlike airlines, the vast majority of hotel reservations are not paid until you check out of the hotel.
Tidwell says that if you booked travel through a travel agent, contact the agent to help you with changes or cancellations.
Want info on your specific reservation and having difficulty figuring out the policy of your hotel? Another good resource to check: roomkey.com, which lists how hotels are accommodating canceled reservations due to the pandemic. (It also lists airline policies).
Airbnb is also facing a lot of calls, and so trying to get through right now is difficult. The company’s COVID cancellation policy covers anything booked through the site — if you booked it before March 15, and only if your travel plans are scheduled before June 1. If your reservation falls in that window, you can cancel. But the policy says “Airbnb will either refund, or issue travel credit in an amount that includes all service fees,” so it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get your money back.
Also, if you booked either after March 14 or for a date further out than June 1, the regular cancellation policy kicks in, which means you may have a tougher time getting your money back.
If you booked your trip through an online agency site like Expedia, Travelocity, or others, your experience may depend on exactly what you booked.
And getting through may be difficult. Both sites say their call volume is very high right now, so getting someone on the phone may involve a long wait.
If you’ve booked nonrefundable travel after April 30, Travelocity says:
“We know many travelers are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and we’re doing our best to provide refunds or options that fit travelers’ needs. Many airlines at this time are offering credit toward a future flight unless the flight has been cancelled. For hotel stays booked on our site, we have either negotiated a refund policy when possible or are offering a voucher from Travelocity equal to the total price + taxes and fees allowing you to rebook the original property within the next year.”
According to Sarah Frasch, the chief deputy attorney general and head of Pennsylvania’s OAG’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “The jurisdiction we would have is if they aren’t honoring their cancellation policy. If we see a pattern of violations that way, we can take action under the state Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.”