4 questions to ask when you're canceling travel plans, according to experts

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In recent weeks, many travelers have scrambled to cancel or reschedule trips as the spread of the coronavirus continues across the globe.

Travelers are understandably wary: Some 48% of Americans who were planning trips domestically are likely to cancel plans or have already cancelled plans, and 67% of Americans who had international travel plans are either likely to cancel plans or have already, according to a recent Fortune and Survey Monkey poll of 2,600 people.

Those numbers may very well increase in light of the World Health Organization's March 12 declaration of the coronavirus as a global pandemic

If you have flights, hotel stays, and other arrangements booked, you may be unsure how to go about cancelling your trip. Here are answers to four common questions about trip cancellations. 

1. Can I get a refund if I cancel my travel plans?

Many travel operators are offering more flexible policies given current events. 

A number of airlines are making available refunds or fee waivers for canceled or rescheduled flights. For example, U.S.-based carriers like Alaska AirlinesDelta, and United are waiving change and cancellation fees for domestic and international travel, though it depends on when your trip was booked. Policies vary widely, so check your airline's website for details about cutoff dates and more. 

The first step, if you have flights booked, is to "check if your travel is covered under these policies," says Melanie Lieberman, travel editor at The Points Guy. "Airlines are trying to give travelers more confidence about booking future trips."

Some major hotel chains like HyattHilton, and Marriott are allowing customers to cancel stays without penalty in areas where there are travel warnings or travel advisories, or that have been declared high risk. Some Airbnb customers may be eligible for a full refund if they're traveling to or from areas severely affected by the coronavirus under the company's updated "extenuating circumstances" claim.

If your travel operator doesn't have a specific refund policy, Lieberman says that it "really never hurts to ask" directly for what you want. 

Airlines are trying to give travelers more confidence about booking future trips.
Melanie Lieberman
travel editor, The Points Guy

Kasara Barto of Squaremouth, a travel insurance search engine, agrees, noting that many companies are currently making exceptions: "We've heard reports from our customers that they're getting refunds for flights or for cruises across the board."

Because the demand for customer service agents is high and hold times can be long, set aside a chunk of time before you make a call, suggests The Points Guy.

2. I purchased travel insurance. If I cancel, am I covered?

Although people all around the globe are affected by the virus, "viral outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics aren't typically covered by a standard policy," says Barto. 

Whether you'll be covered may come down to what type of travel insurance you purchased. It's likely that the only kind of travel insurance that would allow you to cancel a trip is called "cancel for any reason," or CFAR. Under this policy, any reason, including one related to the current outbreak, is covered, explains Barto.

"Most travel insurance companies vow to continue offering 'cancel for any reason' coverage despite increased demand. Some have pulled back temporarily on offering the coverage or have reduced coverage limits. We are also not aware of any travel insurance price increases at this time," says Meghan Walch of InsureMyTrip.

Some credit cards may have travel insurance coverage, so check the terms of the card you booked your trip with to see if you may be covered.

We've heard reports from our customers that they're getting refunds for flights or for cruises across the board.
Kasara Barto

You may also be eligible for coverage under your travel insurance policy if you fall ill. It depends on the policy, but if you come down with a significant illness like the coronavirus prior to departure, you may covered under the "significant injury" benefit.

And if you're already on vacation and contract the virus, you may be covered under the "trip interruption" benefit, according to Barto.

3. I used points or miles to pay for a flight. Can those be refunded?

If you used points or miles to pay for a flight, the decision about whether to have them awarded back to you lies with the specific airline, says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate

"Under normal policies, you would have to pay something like $150 when you change or cancel to get your miles back," he says. "While dates and policies vary, major airlines are waiving that fee, but I would urge people to contact the airline and get reimbursed that way." 

If you're not eligible to get points or miles back, some airlines may be offering fee waivers instead.

4. If I can't get my money back, can I receive points or credit?

If you are concerned about your nonrefundable bookings, some travel companies are offering reimbursement in the form of points as a goodwill measure.

For example, "Hyatt is offering any guest who booked a nonrefundable rate on or before March 8 10,000 World of Hyatt points if they choose to cancel," Lieberman says.

Lieberman says that if you can wait before canceling your trip, you should. "If you have a trip coming up three months from now, we recommend that you sit tight for as long as possible because the situation can change," she says. "You might be able to walk away without losing any money if your airline offers a new waiver that's not in place today."

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