Growing concerns over the recent outbreak of coronavirus have left many looking to cancel their upcoming trips – or wondering if it’s safe to book should the situation worsen.
Spain, France and Germany all have cases, and the FCO has advised against all but essential travel to Italy. Many who do choose to travel may face the prospect of self-isolation for 14 days upon their return.
But what are the ramifications should you cancel? If you are travelling to an FCO “do not travel” or “all but essential travel” area, travel insurance should cover you, and many airlines are offering refunds or the opportunity to rebook flights – but outside of these parameters, things get murky.
Airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have announced they will not be issuing refunds unless travel to a destination is specifically advised against, and the majority of travel insurers are unable to give a definitive answer on their policies, reviewing situations on a “case by case” basis. On the accommodation front, things are even more unclear.
To try and counter this, Airbnb has announced a new policy for “times of uncertainty.”
The rental website is now advertising “a suite of tools and programs” it’s calling “More Flexible Reservations”, in an attempt to offset some of the impact of the virus on bookings.
The major change is that until June 1st, Airbnb will waive its three per cent fee for hosts who refund more of their would-be guests’ money than the Airbnb cancellation policy requires them to.
For guests who need to cancel a trip, Airbnb’s 14 per cent guest service fees will be refunded in the form of travel coupons “for guests who book a stay between now and June 1, 2020″ – if the host doesn’t offer a refund on their own.”
Airbnb has also extended its Extenuating Circumstances Policy to cover travelers going to and coming from China, South Korea and some parts of Italy. Guests needing to cancel bookings in these areas will be entitled to a full refund.
Everyone else, however, is still bound to the cancellation policy of their host, who can choose from one of six options, ranging from flexible to super strict.
Look out for listings with a “Flexible” policy, which allows free cancellation until 14 days before check-in, whereafter guests can cancel up to 24 hours before check-in and get a refund of the nightly rate, minus the service fee (which is now being waived anyway).
Other policies are less forgiving. On an upcoming trip to New York, for instance, an Airbnb host’s “Strict” policy gives free cancellation for 48 hours after the booking. Now this has passed, the guest is entitled to a 50 per cent refund until seven nights before check-in. No money will be refunded if the booking is cancelled less than seven days in advance.
As with all things, it’s worth throwing yourself on the mercy of your host and asking if they can refund more than stated – especially if you can provide solid reason, like being part of an at-risk group.
What about hotels?
Cancellation policies vary widely among hotels, but, in general, large hotels are more able (and usually more willing) to absorb the costs of cancellations than smaller boutique properties and rentals.
A number of hotel chains have updated their refund policies in recent days in response to the virus, though many are still not completely in line with FCO advice.
Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, is waiving cancellation fees for travellers going to or coming from a list of affected areas – though Iran is not included on the list.
Four Seasons is offering free refunds for guests wishing to cancel bookings at any Four Seasons hotel in both the Greater China region and other countries and regions in Asia Pacific on or before March 31.
Accor, Hyatt, Hilton and Intercontinental all have similar policies in place. Hyatt has also announced that, as a gesture of goodwill, any guest can cancel a nonrefundable, prepaid rate on or before March 8 in exchange for 10,000 World of Hyatt loyalty points.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, whose brands include Travelodge, says travellers going to or coming from China, South Korea and Italy may cancel penalty-free – as long as they booked directly with the hotel.
A number of hotels have said their cancellation policies only apply to those who have booked directly with them.
Travellers who have booked via a third-party site like Expedia or Booking.com should contact those sites directly to request a refund.
Booking.com recently announced that coronavirus qualifies for Force Majeure (Forced Circumstances), which means all qualifying bookings can be canceled for free.
This includes travel to and from mainland China, as well as certain regions of Italy and South Korea. This policy also applies to travellers affected by travel bans (i.e. those quarantined in Italy), and “individual cases wherein a traveller cannot reasonably be expected to travel/stay.”
Those requesting a refund from Expedia.com are directed to fill in a form, and all cases are reviewed individually. If your planned travel is less than seven days away, calling is recommended. Due to high volumes of queries, wait times at call centres are currently extremely high.