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) continues to spread around the world, it’s causing lots of disruptions, including for travelers. If you have a trip coming up, or had a trip 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. Most 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, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and 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 of 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 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. 

“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. As an additional measure, the issuer is waiving its own change fees on flight reservations made through American Express Travel through Sept. 30, 2020. 

American Express is not answering specific questions about benefit coverage, but if you have an Amex card that offers trip interruption or cancellation insurance, and you have travel plans disrupted 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 travel and COVID-19, which also includes links to the latest updates from a whole host of travel providers and instructions for canceling or changing hotel and flight reservations booked through AmexTravel.com.

Barclays

If you want to dispute a credit card charge related to disrupted travel plans, Barclays recommends that you reach out to the airline or hotel first to better understand their cancellation policies. If that doesn’t resolve the situation, you can file a dispute claim online through your account. 

Capital One

Capital One has posted an FAQ page on its website for travelers who have been directly affected by COVID-19. The bank is advising travelers to reach out to Visa or Mastercard with travel insurance questions and to the airline or hotel with which you have reservations to resolve travel plan disruptions. If needed, refer to its dispute support center.

If you booked travel through Capital One, you may be able to manage your trip through your online account, as outlined on the travel advisory webpage. You can still book travel through capitalonetravel.com, except for some international destinations due to pandemic outbreak concerns.

Chase

If you’re dealing with travel changes and cancellations, the Chase COVID-19 travel resources webpage recommends reaching out to the travel provider first, whether you booked your trip through Chase Ultimate Rewards or not. If the airline or hotel isn’t able to help, Chase has outlined the steps for filing a billing dispute online, if your situation qualifies. 

If you are scheduled to travel on or before June 30, 2020 and your airline is waiving cancellation fees, you can make changes directly with Chase through your My Trips account. If your trip is booked after June 30, the bank recommends waiting to request changes until your departure date gets closer since travel providers are still constantly updating their policies. 

Citi

Citi is also advising travelers to first contact the travel provider they were supposed to travel with to see if there are already ways to cancel or reschedule your trip. If your provider isn’t adjusting your charges or your travel isn’t within the next few days, Citi recommends you wait to call the bank until it’s closer to your travel date to minimize your time on hold. You’re also encouraged to contact Citi online or through the app.

If you have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card and a flight discount that expired between March 31, 2020 and May 31, 2021, that discount will now be good for six more months. CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select cardholders with a companion certificate that will expire on Dec. 31, 2020 now also have six more months to use that perk. 

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. Canceling 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, but the airline is planning to start increasing flights (mostly domestic) this summer after seeing an increase in customer demand in May. American Airlines is planning to fly 55% of its domestic flights and nearly 20% of its international flights in July 2020 compared to last year. Some Admirals Club airport lounges will also reopen on June 22. 

You can see more details about suspended routes and when service will resume online. The airline is restricting access to some seats on flights overall to give travelers more space, so be prepared for possible seat changes if you are still traveling over the next few months. 

American is waiving change fees for customers who buy a ticket on or before June 30, 2020 and are scheduled to travel by Sept. 30, 2020 (including award travel through Sept. 30, 2020). Your rebooked travel must be completed on or before Dec. 31, 2021. The airline is also waiving change fees one time for customers who booked Basic Economy tickets (which are often non-refundable) before May 31, 2020. You can keep up with the latest news on the “Current travel alerts” page on the airline’s website, which also includes details about travel to China. 

To cancel or change your trip, use your online account, which will say “change trip” or “cancel trip” if you’re eligible for cancellation. Once you have canceled, call reservations when you are ready to rebook. 

Delta: This airline is waiving all change fees for travel impacted by COVID-19, including all U.S. and international flights scheduled to depart between now and Sept. 30, 2020. Plus, all tickets bought between March 1 and June 30, 2020 can be changed without a fee for a year from the original purchase date. Furthermore, any travel credits you receive from canceled trips between March and Sept. 30, 2020 are now good until Sept. 30, 2022. 

If your trip meets any of those qualifications, you can pick new travel dates and even change your destination. You can cancel trips, make changes, and rebook flights through your online account. 

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. However, Delta is waiving the fare difference charge entirely for tickets that were bought before April 17, 2020 for travel between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2020.  For more details about the latest Delta flight change options, see the airline’s change and cancellation answer page.

Delta is capping seat capacity at 50% in First Class and 60% in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select, and 75% in Delta One to keep more space between travelers. Middle seat options will also be limited through Sept. 30, 2020.

JetBlue: Until June 30, JetBlue is consolidating flight service in several major metropolitan areas. Flights are temporarily suspended from Baltimore (BWI), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Hollywood/Burbank (BUR), Houston (IAH), Minneapolis (MSP), Newburgh (SWF), New York-LaGuardia (LGA), Ontario (ONT), Philadelphia (PHL), Portland (PDX), Providence (PVD), San Jose (SJC), and Westchester (HPN). On flights that are still operating, JetBlue has limited the number of seats that will be filled to encourage distance between passengers, much like other major airlines right now. 

The airline has also suspended all flights into a number of countries in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America due to international travel restrictions. For a complete list of impacted destinations, see the JetBlue Travel Notices webpage.

JetBlue won’t charge cancellation and change fees for all new bookings made through June 30, 2020.  You can rebook your flights for travel through the end of the available JetBlue schedule, just know that you may have to pay a fare difference if applicable.

If you cancel your flight, JetBlue will give you a travel credit valid for 24 months, and fare difference costs may apply. Canceled JetBlue vacation packages will also be refunded as credit valid for 24 months. To keep tabs on additional changes, see the JetBlue Travel Alerts webpage.

If you have a travel credit that was set to expire on or before June 30, it’s now good until Dec. 31, 2020. Travel credits issued between Feb. 27 and June 30 for flights will also now be good for 24 months instead of 12. 

United: United is waiving change and cancellation fees for all 2020 tickets—even new bookings—as long as you make changes before June 30, 2020. This broad offer is in addition to existing fee waivers extended to travelers earlier this year. If you decide to cancel, you’ll get an electronic travel certificate you can use for a future flight. All certificates issued after April 1, 2020 are good for 24 months from the date issued. The airline has posted step-by-step instructions for making travel changes online or through the United mobile app.  

United is operating with a reduced number of domestic and international flights.  

You can also look at the airline’s important notices page for destination-specific details on how United is handling travel that’s being rescheduled or canceled because of 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. Like other airlines, United is limiting seating in all cabins to encourage social distancing on flights that are still scheduled.

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 would normally have a year to book a new trip, but Southwest has extended the expiration so that any credits set to expire between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 7, 2020, are now valid until Sept. 7, 2022.

Southwest Rapid Rewards members who have credits that are set to expire or are created before Sept. 7, 2020 now have the option to convert those credits into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate of purchasing a flight ticket. Rapid Rewards points never expire so if you don’t want to worry about the constantly changing expiration dates of travel vouchers, this is a good option.

Southwest also now has information posted on its Coronavirus travel information webpage about routes that are currently disrupted or suspended, including international routes to or from the Caribbean and Latin America. A few U.S. routes are currently disrupted, too.

What Hotels Are Doing 

Hilton: Hilton is waiving change fees for all reservations booked on and between March 12 and August 31, 2020, even prepaid, normally nonrefundable ones. They can be canceled or changed up to 24 hours before arrival for no additional charge.

Hilton Honors members who cancel rooms booked under an advance purchase rate can opt to receive a free night certificate per canceled night instead of a cash refund. Certificates must be used by Aug. 31, 2021.

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 July 5, 2020. Reservation changes are subject to availability and you may be responsible for covering any rate differences. Travelers making new reservations between now and July 5, 2020 can change or cancel them with no additional charge up to 24 hours before check in. 

Hyatt: Hyatt is waiving cancellation and change fees for all customers with reservations made before July 1, 2020are scheduled to arrive through July 31, 2020. Almost any new reservations made on or after July 1, 2020 for a future arrival date through July 31, 2021 can also now be canceled or changed up to 24 hours before your scheduled check-in with no change fees.

Choice Hotels: The Choice hotel network (which includes brands such as Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, and Econolodge) is waiving cancellation fees until June 30, 2020 for all travelers with existing reservations booked directly with the hotel who cancel up to 24 hours before checking in. In addition, if you make a new reservation directly with the hotel, you can 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 San Francisco sailings through the end of 2020
  • Carnival Radiance trips sailing through Nov. 1, 2020
  • Carnival Legend trips sailing through Oct. 30, 2020
  • Carnival Sunrise trips sailing through Oct. 19, 2020
  • Carnival Spirit, Alaska, Hawaii, and Trans-Pacific cruises through Oct. 6, 2020
  • Carnival Breeze, Carnival Dream, Carnival Elation, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic, Carnival Sensation, and Carnival Vista sailings through July 31, 2020
  • Carnival Splendor trips sailing through Sept. 17, 2020
  • All other ships sailing through August 31

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, for a departure by Dec. 31, 2022. You can make your reimbursement selection online.

Celebrity Cruises: his cruise line has suspended most trips through July 31, 2020, and expects to start resuming service on August 1. However, Canada, Alaska, and some New England and Hawaii trips that were going to have more than 100 people on board have also been canceled through Oct. 31, 2020.  See the full list of impacted trips on the cruise line’s suspension page

If your trip is impacted, you’ll automatically receive a cruise credit for 125% of the original trip cost that will be good through Dec. 31, 2021. If you prefer a full refund to your original form of payment, you can submit a request online to get 100% of what you paid back.

If you have a cruise scheduled to sail before Sept. 1, 2020, and booked before Aug. 1, 2020, you can still cancel at any time up to 48 hours before departure to get a full cruise credit valid through May 4, 2022. 

Disney Cruise Line: Disney Cruise Line has suspended all new departures through July 27, 2020, Disney Magic trips through August 5, Disney Wonder trips through Sept. 18, and sailings to and from Vancouver through Sept. 14, 2020. The company is offering all affected travelers a full refund or a cruise credit. It will be reaching out via email with additional details. 

Holland America Line: This cruise line suspended operations for all ships scheduled to depart through June 30, 2020. If you haven’t already requested a full refund to your original form of payment, you’ll automatically get a credit worth 125% of the base fare paid, plus a $250 onboard credit for each traveler.

Additionally, all 2020 Alaska, Europe, and Canada/New England cruises have been canceled, plus the cruise line’s Amsterdam 79-day Grand Africa Oct. 3, 2020 trip. If you’re scheduled on any of those canceled cruises, there are three refund options: 

  • If you did not pay for the trip in full, you can get a credit for a future cruise worth double the amount of your deposit
  • If you already paid for the whole trip, you can get a cruise credit worth 125% of the fare 
  • If you’d rather receive a cash refund, you can apply for a 100% refund to your original form of payment online by June 15, 2020.

If you don’t submit a cash refund request by the deadline, Holland will automatically give you the cruise credit for a future trip. Cruise credits will be good for one year, and rebooked trips must depart before Dec. 31, 2022 

If you book a cruise before August 31 that is scheduled to leave before Dec. 31, 2021, you can cancel within at least 30 days before departure to receive a full credit for a future cruise any time before the end of 2021. Holland America also has a “Compassion Policy” in place that allows travelers with specific health concerns to cancel at any time, regardless of departure date, if they provide documents from their healthcare provider.

MSC Cruises USA: All cruises have been canceled through July 31, 2020. MSC Meraviglia cruises to and from New York from Sept. 5 through Oct. 22, 2020 have also been canceled. Affected travelers can get a full refund or a credit toward a future cruise worth 100% of the original fare. Plus, travelers with a cruise scheduled to depart on or before Oct. 31, 2020 can reschedule their trip up to 48 hours before setting sail and receive a 100% credit for a future trip. Cancellation requests must be submitted online, and rescheduled cruises must depart on or before Dec. 31, 2021. For more details about the latest cruise changes, see the MSC Cruises itinerary updates webpage.

If you are planning a 2021 cruise, see the new MSC Cruises itineraries page to see what has been changed so far. 

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian has canceled all cruises through July 31, 2020. Travelers can receive a full refund (by submitting requests online by June 19, 2020) or a cruise credit worth 125% or 150% of the amount paid, depending on departure date. Credits must be used on a trip scheduled to leave on or before Dec. 31, 2022. 

All new and existing bookings for departures through Nov. 30, 2020 can be canceled up to 48 hours before. If you do so, you’ll get a credit good for a cruise leaving sometime before the end of 2022. You can also cancel for a full refund up to 120 days before you set sail. 

Princess Cruise Lines: Princess has paused operations of all ships through June 30, 2020. Wilderness lodges, trains, and buses operated by Princess in Alaska will not operate this summer, either. Several lines are canceled after June 30, too, including trips sailing from Australia, Vancouver, Seattle, and Taiwan.  Princess has a webpage detailing all of these impacted trips, as well as others.

 If your trip has been cancelled, you may have two refund options: Receive a credit to use on a future trip, or request a cash refund by filling out an online form. Instructions and deadlines for refund requests vary for each impacted trip, so see the website for specifics.

Royal Caribbean International: The cruise line has now suspended operations through July 31, 2020, and is aiming to resume some trips by August 1, 2020. However, Canadian ship ports are closed through Oct. 31, 2020, and the liner has canceled its China trips through June 30, 2020, and the Voyager of the Seas trip departing July 3.  If your trip has been impacted, you will automatically get a 125% credit good toward a future cruise that sails by April 30, 2022 (just make sure you rebook your cruise by Dec. 31, 2021).

For more information about travel refunds, see Royal Caribbean’s Health and Travel Alerts webpage

Viking Cruise Line: All cruises scheduled to depart through Aug. 31, 2020 have been suspended. The cruise line is offering a voucher for 125% of your trip cost that can be put toward a future cruise and is good for 24 months. Viking Customer Relations is reaching out to affected travelers, and you can call or email customer service to find out more. 

Key Takeaways: 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. 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 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 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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