Travel

What to Know If Coronavirus Is Affecting Your Travel Plans

The global spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, is causing significant changes to the way we travel. Be sure to read up on the latest information and travel recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19, which you might be more familiar with as coronavirus, is causing a lot of disruption to the travel industry right now. In the wake of COVID-19’s unpredictable spread, the demand for travel insurance has spiked as travelers try to safeguard against unforeseen circumstances that might throw a wrench in their travel plans. 
 
But even if you recently booked a trip and opted out of insurance, don’t fret. Numerous sectors of the industry, including airlines, cruise lines, and some hospitality companies, are adjusting their booking and cancellation policies to accommodate wary travelers. Here are the latest updates.

If you want to cancel or change a flight, or aren’t sure if you should book future travel

Several major airlines are waiving change and cancellation fees for recently booked flights, as well as offering flexible booking policies for upcoming travel. Most of these policies apply to both international and domestic flights, and not just those heading to restricted areas. 
 
For example, if you booked with JetBlue between February 27 and March 11, you can cancel or change your flight for free, as long as it’s scheduled to depart before June 1. Other airlines like Air France, British Airways, and United Airlines are waiving change fees provided you rebook for a future date, usually within the next 12 months. The exact dates and specifications vary greatly by airline, so be sure to call the airline directly, or get the full scoop here.
MORE:Here’s the full breakdown of modified change/cancellation policies by airline

With these lenient policies in place, March is actually a surprisingly good time to book flights. You can book now with the confidence that if you need to cancel later, you’ll be able to do so without the usual red tape. Right now, for example, if you book a flight with Delta Airlines before March 31, you can change and rebook as late as February 25, 2021 without a fee. 

Some cruise lines have adjusted their cancellation policies, too

US citizens are currently advised not to travel by cruise ship. Princess Cruises has suspended all itineraries through May 10. Royal Caribbean just adopted a new “Cruise with Confidence” policy that allows you to cancel your reservation just 48 hours from the cruise departure date. And for those of you contemplating a cruise who haven’t booked one yet, this is good news too -- similar to the airline cancellation policies, this allows you a lot more wiggle room to go ahead and book those dates you weren’t totally sure about yet. You’ll receive credit toward future trips departing through 2021.
MORE: What to know about Royal Caribbean’s new relaxed cancellation policy

In the wake of Royal Caribbean’s announcement, MSC Cruises adopted the same changes, too. The company’s new relaxed policies will go into effect March 10 and apply to cruises departing on or before July 31.
MORE:What to know about MSC Cruises’ new relaxed cancellation policy

Airbnb is allowing free cancellations in restricted areas

Airbnb has a relaxed cancellation policy, too, but only in destinations currently operating under official travel restrictions: China, South Korea, or northern Italy. So, as of this writing, this doesn’t apply to Airbnbs affected by precautionary event cancellations, such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
MORE:More info on Airbnb’s coronavirus cancellation policy

Some hotels are offering refunds and/or waiving fees

A few of the major chains have rolled out policy changes due to coronavirus, though they are mostly limited to high-risk, restricted travel destinations at this time.
 
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts: Receive full refunds on canceled stays across Asia, as long as the booking was made before March 31.
Hilton: You won’t pay any fees for cancelling stays in Greater China on or before March 31.
Hyatt: You won’t pay any fees for cancelling stays across Asia on or before March 31.
InterContinental Hotels Group: Your cancellation fees will be waived for booking made through March 31 if the travel was to or from destinations across Asia and in Italy.
Marriott International: You won’t face any cancellation fees for hotel stays through March 31 in destinations across Asia and Europe.
Radisson Hotel Group: You won’t pay any fees for cancelling reservations with check-in dates on or before April 30 for destinations across Asia, Iran, and northern Italy.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: You won’t face any fees for changing or cancelling stays through March 31 in destinations in China, South Korea, and Italy.

Not traveling anytime soon? Here’s what might affect you at home

If you’re someone who takes a personal mug to Starbucks, the baristas won’t be able to fill it for the foreseeable future, i.e. til the COVID-19 risk has sufficiently subsided. However, Starbucks will still give you your 10-cent discount if you bring in one of their reusable mugs during this time.
MORE:Starbucks can’t fill your personal mugs right now 

Food delivery

Most food-delivery services haven’t yet rolled out significant policy changes, but Postmates is offering customers the option of non-contact delivery, meaning you pick up your food from a nearby drop-off location.
MORE: Here’s how food delivery services are tackling the spread of coronavirus

Ridesharing services

Uber has begun rolling out tips on staying healthy to all drivers and delivery persons, and placed restrictions on employees traveling to China, South Korea, Iran, and parts of northern Italy. There are no reported cases thus far of any virus transmission between an Uber driver and rider.

“We are always working to help ensure the safety of our employees and everyone on the Uber platform, and we continue to be concerned by the ongoing spread of coronavirus,” read a statement Uber provided to Thrillist. “We have a dedicated global team of Uber operations, security and safety executives, guided by the advice of a consulting public health expert, working to respond as needed in each market where we operate around the world. We remain in close contact with local public health organizations and will continue to follow their recommendations.”

Lyft did not respond to a request for comment as of press time, but both Lyft and Uber will offer up to 14 days paid sick leave to drivers who become ill with coronavirus.

Summer festivals

On the one hand, it’s definitely speculation to try to say how many summer festivals and the like might go the way of South by Southwest. We are currently seeing more countries and big organizations taking action to prevent large gatherings of people, but it’s possible that once we get a better handle on the virus’ spread, seasonal shifts in temperature may cause things to naturally wane -- like they do with the flu.

“I would guess that in the next month or so we may see some big continued cancellations,” said Rachel Vreeman, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health. “But right now it’s hard to predict ...  my hope would be that as we look further down the year it would be a more normal level of risk.”

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.