Can Your Credit Card Help With Coronavirus Travel Cancellations?

Probably not, but travel companies are stepping up to the plate

Cancelled travel plans
••• Andrew Bret Wallis / Getty Images

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads around the world, it’s causing lots of disruptions, including for travelers. If you have a trip coming up, or recently had an international flight canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, you may be wondering about the typical costs associated with changing or canceling flights, hotels, or other travel reservations. 

While travel credit cards are often touted for their valuable perks, in this case, their insurance benefits probably won’t help much when it comes to getting trip costs refunded. The good news? You have other options. Many travel companies are cutting breaks for travelers as COVID-19 spreads

Here’s what you should know right now: 

Does Credit Card Travel Insurance Cover Coronavirus Costs?

Trip interruption and cancellation insurance are two benefits on many travel rewards credit cards, including airline- and hotel-branded cards issued by American Express, Barclays, Capital One, and Chase. 

Trip interruption and cancellation insurance benefits are intended to help reimburse travelers for unused, prepaid expenses such as flight tickets, tour bookings, and hotel stays if a trip is called off or cut short. The coverage benefits, which vary greatly among cards, are intended to help you recoup travel expenses that might otherwise be non-refundable or cost extra to change.  

Unfortunately, when it comes to COVID-19, unless you actually come down with the virus or your doctor specifically instructs you not to travel, credit card travel interruption or cancellation insurance probably won’t cover any lost, nonrefundable costs. 

What Travel Interruption or Cancellation Insurance Does Cover

If any of the following occur and cause your travel plans to change, you may be covered by your card’s trip interruption or cancellation insurance:

  • Injury, illness, or death of you, your travel companion (which means someone on the same travel reservation), or an immediate family member
  • Severe weather or a natural disaster
  • Terrorist interference, such as a violent attack or hijacking 
  • Jury duty or another court subpoena that can’t be postponed or waived
  • Military duty status change for you or a spouse

However, if you’re advised by a doctor to not travel or have been quarantined for health reasons tied to COVID-19, you may be covered by trip cancellation insurance benefits. It still depends on your credit card, though. For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Delta Reserve Credit Card trip cancellation terms note such scenarios may qualify for coverage, but the Capital One Quicksilver card benefit terms only say that “disease” and “physical illness” verified by a doctor are covered.   

Even if your situation is covered, you aren’t entitled to funds instantly. You’ll have to file a claim and prove financial loss, and there are maximum benefit limits, which vary by card. For example, Bank of America Premium Rewards cardholders can receive up to $5,000 per person, per trip, while Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders are covered for up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip. You also must have paid for your trip partially, if not entirely, with the credit card carrying the travel insurance benefits for the claim to be considered.

What Trip Interruption or Cancellation Insurance Does Not Cover

There are a number of situations that won’t qualify you for trip interruption or cancellation insurance coverage, including disruptions caused by: 

  • War
  • Injuries from participating in sporting events, racing or speed contests, or uncertified scuba diving
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Emotional trauma or mental illness
  • Injury or illness sustained after traveling against a doctor’s orders
  • Change in plans or financial circumstances

Credit cards that offer these types travel insurance may also specifically note that travel changes caused by an epidemic or pandemic (such as COVID-19) aren’t covered. 

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits guide specifically states “Your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic” is not a covered reason for trip interruption and cancellation benefits. The USAA credit card benefits guide says this, too. 

In that case, even if you want to cancel or change upcoming travel plans as a precaution, your credit card benefits won’t be much help to recover any lost costs or fees. 

How Credit Card Issuers are Helping With Coronavirus-Disrupted Travel 

The Balance reached out to a number of banks that offer premium travel rewards credit cards to see what they are doing to help cardholders with travel disruptions resulting from COVID-19, if anything. Information about what we have learned so far is below.

For information about credit card payment and fee relief, please see our article on what card companies are doing to help consumers struggling due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

American Express

If you’ve booked travel with an American Express card, you may have a few options, but you’ll have to call to find out what, exactly. 

“If card members need to make changes to travel, American Express will be honoring our airline, hotel, cruise, and car partners’ travel policies,” said an American Express spokesperson in an email sent to The Balance on March 12. As an additional measure, the issuer is also waiving change fees on flight reservations made through American Express Travel through May 31, 2020.

The issuer is not answering specific questions about benefit coverage, but if you have an Amex card that offers trip interruption or cancellation insurance and experience disrupted travel as a result of COVID-19, American Express encourages you to reach out. 

“For card members who did not book their travel with Amex Travel and have travel insurance coverage offered as part of their card benefits or have purchased American Express Travel Insurance, we encourage them to call the number on the back of their card to inquire about potential coverage or file a claim,” said the spokesperson.

For more information about American Express assistance during this time, see its webpage about COVID-19, which also includes links to the latest updates from a whole host of travel providers. 

Capital One

Capital One has posted an FAQ page on its website for consumers who have been directly affected by COVID-19 so far. The bank is advising travelers to reach out to Visa or Mastercard with travel insurance benefit questions and to the airline or hotel with which you have reservations to resolve travel plan disruptions. Consumers can still book travel through capitalonetravel.com, except for flights to China or Iran. 

Citi

It’s unclear if Citi is doing anything to help cardholders who booked travel with a Citi card and are now dealing with changing plans, but the bank has posted this page on its website. Eligible credit card holders who need credit line increases or payment collection forbearance are also encouraged to reach out to Citi for assistance.

At the time of publication, Barclays, Capital One, Chase, Citi, USAA, and U.S. Bank have not responded to repeated requests for information about travel arrangements. Bank of America declined to answer questions for this article. The Balance will continue to monitor this topic and seek information from card-issuing banks.

Will Buying Extra Travel Insurance Help?

In some situations, yes. You can purchase additional travel insurance policies from companies such as Allianz Travel, Travel Guard or Travelex that includes trip cancellation or interruption coverage to recoup lost travel costs based on eligible reasons such as injury, job lay-off, or a natural disaster.  

However, as you may have noticed, the covered reasons for calling off a trip are often similar to those outlined in travel insurance credit card benefits. That means unless you, a traveling companion, or a family member becomes sick with COVID-19, this coverage may not be much help. Cancelling a trip based on fear or travel advisories usually isn’t covered by general travel insurance policies.   

However, some providers also sell Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) benefits. CFAR is an extra level of coverage (which also means it’ll cost extra) that you can add to an existing travel insurance policy to more broadly cover last-minute trip cancellations. CFAR policy terms let you cancel your trip up until as little as 48 hours before your departure, and will reimburse you for a portion (say, 75%) of your prepaid, nonrefundable trip costs.

Even CFAR policies come with stipulations. In many cases you’ll need to purchase this type of coverage shortly after booking your trip, and already have 100% of your trip insured. Read the policy fine print and ask questions before you buy.

Other Options

Fortunately, if you’re dealing with changing travel plans due to increasing COVID-19 concerns, are worried you might in the near future, or aren’t comfortable traveling right now, all is not lost. Major airlines, hotels, and even travel reservation websites are stepping up and offering deals for customers who have disrupted travel plans. Your first line of questioning should actually be to your travel provider.

What Major U.S. Airlines Are Doing

American Airlines: The airline has suspended flights to many locations through May 6, including Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and nearly all flights to Asia. It has also dramatically reduced the number of international flights operating this spring and summer, including routes to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, and Madrid. Flights to a number of South American destinations, including Chile, Colombia, and Peru, have been suspended, too. 

American is waiving change fees for customers who purchased flights to Europe before March 15 for travel through May 31. On a broader scale, the airline is waiving change fees for customers who made non-refundable travel reservations before March 1, 2020, with travel dates between March 1 and April 30, 2020. You must also change the flight to a new booking within 2020 or within 1 year of when the ticket was issued—whichever is earlier. 

If your travel plans are impacted by any of the latest flight changes, the American Airlines reservations team will reach out to you directly to rebook your trip. If you’d rather take the cancellation and get a refund, you can request one at aa.com/refunds. 

For additional details, see the “Current travel alerts” page on the airline’s website.  

Delta: This airline is waiving all change fees for travel impacted by COVID-19, including all U.S. and international flights scheduled to depart in March, April, or May 2020, and all tickets bought between March 1 and April 15, 2020. If your trip meets any of those qualifications, you can pick new travel dates and even change your destination. You can change or cancel your travel by Dec. 31, 2020, or the expiration date of your ticket. 

Unused ticket values will be applied to your rebooked flight. If there’s a fare difference, you’ll either owe the difference if the new trip costs more, or you’ll receive a travel credit for the difference if the new trip costs less. For more details about the latest Delta flight change options and travel advisories, see the airline’s Coronavirus Travel Updates webpages.

Delta is experiencing a high volume of calls and recommends that unless you’re traveling within the next 72 hours, don’t call in. Use online services instead. 

JetBlue: JetBlue won’t charge cancellation and change fees for customers traveling through May 31, 2020. You can rebook you flights for travel through Oct. 24, 2020.  

Change and cancellation fees are also waived for all bookings made between March 6 and March 31, 2020 for travel through Sept. 8, 2020. Same goes for bookings made between Feb. 27 and March 5, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020.

If you cancel your flight, you won’t be charged a fee, but JetBlue will only give you a travel credit valid for one year, and fare difference costs may apply. The airline is also advising customers not requesting trip cancellations or traveling within 72 hours to refrain from calling in at this time, due to high call volumes. 

United: Following suit, United is also waiving change fees for all departures scheduled through May 31, 2020. The airline is dramatically reducing its number of international flights in April, too. See the domestic and international schedule reductions page on the United website for details about which flights will still remain in operation.

You can also look at the airline’s important notices page for details on how United is handling travel that’s being rescheduled or canceled for customers who had plans to visit regions that have so far been impacted most severely by COVID-19. In addition to waiving change fees, the airline is also offering to waive fare differences or issue refunds, depending on when your original ticket was purchased and to where.

Southwest: This airline never charges fees to cancel or change flights, and that still holds true. You can cancel your flight up to 10 minutes before your flight is supposed to leave. When your flight is canceled, you’ll have at least one year from the original purchase date to book a new trip.

Plus, if you are scheduled to travel between now and April 30, you can change your trip to another date within 60 days of the original booking without having to pay a difference in fare if there is one. You can do this online, and only if your trip is between the same departure and arrival cities.

Southwest also now has information posted on its Coronavirus travel information webpage about routes that are suspended until May 4, 2020, including those to or from Aruba, Belize, Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Cancun, Costa Rica, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Havana, Montego Bay, Nassau, Puerto Vallarta, Punta Cana, and Turks and Caicos.

What Hotels Are Doing 

Hilton: This hotel chain is still waiving change fees and offering full refunds in areas impacted by government-issued travel restrictions, such as Italy and China. Furthermore, all reservations (even prepaid, otherwise nonrefundable ones) for arrival on or before June 30, 2020 can be canceled or changed up to 24 for hours before arrival for no additional charge. New reservations made between now and June 30, 2020 can also be changed or canceled fee-free within 24 hours of arrival date.

If you have any Hilton Honors American Express card, the expiration date of any unexpired Weekend Night Rewards is being extended to Aug. 31, 2021. All such rewards issued before August 30 will now not expire until Aug. 31, 2021. The Hilton Honors program is also pausing the expiration of points that were scheduled to expire between now and Dec. 31, 2020.

Marriott: Marriott is waiving cancellation and change fees for hotel stays on any future travel date as long as the change or cancellation request is submitted before April 30, 2020. Reservation changes are subject to availability and you may be responsible for covering any rate differences. Travelers making new reservations between now and April 30, 2020 can be changed or canceled with no additional charge up to 24 hours before check in. 

Hyatt: Hyatt is waiving cancellation and change fees for all reservations made before March 13, 2020 scheduled to arrive through April 30, 2020. Any new reservation made before April 30, 2020 for any future travel date can also now be canceled or changed up to 24 hours before your scheduled check-in. 

In addition, the hotel chain is permitting travelers who have made non-refundable, prepaid reservations directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, 2020 for arrivals before June 30, 2020 to cancel the reservation in exchange for 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points.

Choice Hotels: The Choice hotel network (which includes brands such as Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, and Econolodge) is waiving cancellation fees until April 30, 2020 for all travelers with existing reservations. You can now submit cancellation requests online, too. If you make a new reservation between now and April 30, you can still change or cancel your stay up to 24 hours before check-in for no additional charge. 

What Cruise Lines are Doing

Carnival Cruise Line: This cruise line has canceled all of the following trips:

  • All ships sailing through April 9
  • Carnival Spirit sailing on April 10 and April 20
  • Carnival Radiance sailing on April 29, May 9, May 21, May 30, and June 11

Travelers have two options: Get a full refund, or get a cruise credit and up to $600 in onboard credit per room if you book a cruise by Dec. 31, 2020 departing by Dec. 31, 2022. You can make your reimbursement selection online.

Celebrity Cruises: If you have a cruise scheduled to set sail before July 31, 2020, you can cancel at any time up to 48 hours before departure to get a full cruise credit valid until Dec. 31, 2021. 

Disney Cruise Line: Disney Cruise Line has suspended all new departures between March 14 and April 12, 2020. The company is offering all affected travelers a full refund and will be reaching out via email with additional details. 

Travelers who have cruises booked on a European trip leaving from mid-May through July 25 can now cancel and get a full cruise credit that must be used within 15 months of the original sail date. Those scheduled to sail on Disney Magic lines from now through May 8, 2020 and Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wonder trips through May 31 can back out up until the day of departure in exchange for a cruise credit that must be used within 12 months of the original sail date. 

Holland America Line: This cruise line has suspended operations for all ships scheduled to depart through April 14, 2020. Travelers who make a new booking by April 30 can cancel a cruise scheduled to depart through Oct. 15, 2020 for any reason, as long as it’s done at least 30 days before departure.

If you have booked a cruise scheduled to depart between now and July 31, 2020, you can cancel within 48 hours before setting sail and receive a full credit for a future cruise any time before the end of 2021. (If you choose to go ahead with your cruise during that time, you will get an onboard spending credit as a thank you.)

Holland America also has a new “Compassion Policy” in place that allows travelers with specific health concerns to cancel at any time, regardless of departure date. 

MSC Cruises USA: Travelers with a cruise scheduled to depart on or before July 31, 2020 can now reschedule trips up to 48 hours before setting sail or cancel and receive a full refund in the form of a cruise credit to use on a future trip. Rescheduled cruises must depart on or before Dec. 31, 2021. 

Norwegian Cruise Line: All new and existing bookings scheduled to depart through Sept. 30, 2020 can be canceled up to 48 hours before the departure date. Travelers will receive a cruise credit to use on a future trip scheduled to leave on or before Dec. 31, 2022. For all cruises scheduled to depart on or after Oct. 1, you can cancel for a full refund up to 120 days before you set sail. 

Princess Cruise Lines: This cruise line has paused operations of all ships for 60 days, which directly impacts trip departures through May 10, 2020. Travelers can receive a full refund in the form of a cruise credit to use on a future trip, or request a cash refund by filling out an online form. Princess Cruises will be reaching out to impacted guests with more information about cancellations and compensation. 

If you’re scheduled to set sail on a cruise before July 31, 2020, you can also now cancel your vacation up to 48 hours before departure to receive a credit to use on a future trip. Travelers who book new cruises before April 30, 2020 that are scheduled to depart between August 1, 2020 and Oct. 15, 2020 can now cancel up to 30 days before setting sail. 

Royal Caribbean International: Travelers with cruises scheduled to set sail before July 31, 2020 can cancel their trip up to 48 hours before departure to get a cruise credit to use on a future trip through 2021.

Viking Cruise Line: All cruises scheduled to depart between March 12 and April 30, 2020 have been suspended. Viking Customer Relations will be reaching out to all affected travelers, and you can log into your online account with the cruise line for more information about your particular trip. The cruise line is offering a voucher for 125% of your trip cost that can be put toward a future cruise. 

Stay Calm & Contact Your Travel Provider

If you’re worried about COVID-19’s impact on your travel plans, or need (or want) to reschedule an upcoming trip, it’s time to start asking some questions. 

Reach out to your airline, hotel, or cruise operator if it’s listed in this article. Ask to take advantage of provisions they’ve already put in place. In many cases, you’ll be able to make travel reservation changes online. 

Customer service lines are being flooded with calls so if you're not traveling in the immediate future, we recommend seeing what you can do online first, or waiting until a later date to call. If your travel provider isn’t listed in this piece, see what they are doing for folks whose plans have been canceled or who may need to cancel in the future. If you paid for your trip with a credit card that offers trip interruption or cancellation insurance, refer to your benefits guide or better yet, call your credit card issuer for more information about your coverage as it pertains to your individual situation. If you really want to make travel plans and be covered for at least some of the losses if you have to change them, consider CFAR travel insurance.

Finally, stay calm. When it comes to future trips, it’s still smart to use credit cards to book travel going forward. While their travel insurance benefits aren’t necessarily helpful in this type of situation, future travel disruptions may be covered and credit card benefits are always subject to change.

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