The coronavirus (COVID-19) is still 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.
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:
- 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. Here’s what we learned:
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.
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.
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 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.
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 booked a flight through Chase Ultimate Rewards with points and are scheduled to travel on or before Aug. 31, 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 August 31, the bank recommends waiting to request changes until your departure date gets closer since travel providers are still constantly updating their policies.
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.
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 actually time to start asking your travel provider some questions.
Reach out to your airline, hotel, or cruise operator. Ask to take advantage of provisions they’ve already put in place. 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. In many cases, you’ll be able to make travel reservation changes online. To learn more about how travel providers are helping consumers during the pandemic, read "Can I Get a Refund for Travel Canceled or Delayed Due to the Coronavirus?"
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.