Coronavirus fears: What you need to know about canceling your vacation

Will you get a refund if you cancel your vacation over coronavirus fears?

Are coronavirus fears driving you to cancel your upcoming vacation? If you’re considering canceling, you aren’t alone. In recent weeks, pleas for help from travelers who want to cancel cruises, flights, and hotels have inundated our helpline.

These consumers all hope to override the written contract they have with these providers and get a full refund.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Insured International -- Travel Insured International is a leading travel insurance provider. For over 25 years, their goal has been to help each individual travel confidently. Some of the major travel insurance benefits provided by in their plans include Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption, Accident and Sickness Medical Expense, and Baggage and Personal Effects coverage. Plans also include other non-insurance assistance services. In 2015, Travel Insured was acquired by Crum & Forster, whose parent company is Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. The financial strength and core values of the companies give Travel Insured the best position in the market to continue its commitment of helping individuals protect their travel plans. Travel Relaxed…Travel Secure…When you have Travel Insured.

But if you decide to cancel your vacation, can you get your money back? (Update Dec. 13)

Coronavirus fears are hitting the travel industry hard

Coronavirus has sparked fear in an increasing number of travelers worldwide. This pandemic has walloped the travel industry. If the cruise lines, airlines, and hotel groups granted all the refund requests, the industry would inevitably collapse.

So what’s the answer?

Taking into consideration the health threat that the coronavirus currently poses, travel providers have implemented various waivers and credit offers.

If fears of the coronavirus weigh heavily on your mind, this guide can help you navigate your decision to cancel your vacation.

Cruises: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Without question, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the cruise line industry the hardest. In fact, just this week, the Department of State issued a warning that passengers with underlying health conditions should not cruise. This advisory has caused cruise lines to scramble to develop some temporary cancellation policies. These cancellation terms deviate significantly from their normal, rather restrictive, contracts.

Here are the most up to date coronavirus cancellation policies for the major cruise lines. (March 14: As of today, all major cruise lines have suspended operations.)

*Note: Although the cruise line doesn’t owe you a refund if it changes your itinerary if your cruise is canceled, it does. 

  • Carnival
    The cruise line is currently offering a variety of onboard credits as incentives for passengers who decide to sail as planned. Carnival has updated its cancellations to include most sailings through mid-2021. Passengers who are scheduled on these canceled voyages can receive a future cruise credit to be used by April 30, 2023 (Note: Passengers must re-book by May 23, 2021) or a 100 percent refund. There are also a variety of onboard cruise credits that the passenger can apply to the new sailing. Please check this link to the Carnival site for more information.
  • Celebrity 
    In response to coronavirus concerns, Celebrity has developed a new Cruise with Confidence cancellation program. This policy allows passengers to cancel any time up to 48 hours before the sailing on any voyage until Jan 31, 2021 and receive a full future cruise credit, to be used by May 4, 2022. *Dec. 2 Update: Celebrity extended its suspension of all cruises until March 2021.
  • Disney 
    Disney Cruises is making temporary adjustments to its cancellation policy for passengers who are fearful of coronavirus. Travelers who wish to postpone their scheduled cruises through March 2021 may cancel without penalty up to 15 days prior to the sailing. They can receive a 100% future cruise credit for use through April 2022. (Note: If Disney canceled your cruise, you are eligible for a refund) *Dec. 11 Update: Disney has canceled all cruises through Feb 28, 2021.
  • MSC
    (Dec. update) MSC has canceled most sailings through Feb 28, 2021. Please see the full list of MSC cruise cancellations here. Passengers scheduled on a canceled cruise can request a refund or a 125 percent future cruise credit (good through Dec. 31, 2021) directly through the MSC website.
  • Norwegian
    (Dec. update) NCL has implemented a policy that allows its passengers to cancel up to 48 hours before any cruise and receive a full future cruise credit.  Cruisers must use their credit by Dec. 31, 2022. *Dec. 2 Update: NCL will not be sailing again through Feb. 2021 and many sailings have extended suspensions.
  • Princess 
    As of Nov. 20, Princess has canceled all cruises through March 31, 2021.  Passengers can receive a refund or they can opt for a 125% future cruise credit for use before May 1, 2022.  Princess has also indicated that passengers who canceled their cruise on or after Feb. 4, 2020 are also eligible for this offer.  Note: Many routes and ships have more extended suspensions. You can read more details on the Princess site
  • Regent Seven Seas 
    RSSC Guests who wish to cancel their scheduled cruises, may do so up to 24 hours before the scheduled departure and receive a 100 percent future cruise credit. That credit can be used through Dec. 31, 2022. On Dec. 2,  Regent extended the global suspension of its cruises through March 2021.
  • Royal Caribbean
    RCCL is currently offering penalty-free cruise cancellations to passengers who cancel any time up to 48 hours before the start date of any scheduled voyage. The cruiser must rebook by Dec. 31, 2021 for a cruise before April 30, 2022. *Dec. 2 Update: Royal Caribbean has canceled all cruises through Feb. 2021.
  • Viking
    The Temporary Risk Viking Risk-Free Policy was created in response to coronavirus fears. This temporary policy allows cruisers to cancel up to 24 hours before their scheduled voyage and receive a 100% future cruise credit, to be used within 24 months from the date of issue. *Dec. 2 Update: Viking has suspended all river and ocean cruises scheduled through March 31. Guests can choose to receive a full refund or a future cruise credit equal to 125 percent of their original cruise fare, to be used within two years.

Airlines: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Coronavirus cancellations and drops in sales have similarly pounded the airlines. Here are the current cancellation policies developed by the airlines to address coronavirus fears.

*Note: If the airline cancels your flight, the carrier always owes you a full refund. (See: If the coronavirus made the airline cancel your flight, this is how to get a refund!)

  • American Airlines
    In response to the coronavirus pandemic, American Airlines has eliminated most change fees — permanently.  The carrier has also extended most travel credits thought December 31, 2021. *The passenger must pay any fare differential on the new ticket. For more information, see: If American Airlines gave you a flight credit, this is what you need to know. 
  • Delta Air Lines (Dec. update)
    For any Delta Air Lines passenger booked for travel from now to March. 31, the airline is eliminating change fees. Travelers who purchased their tickets before Aug 31 will have until Dec. 31, 2022 to rebook. Also, all eCredits that the airline issued previously for canceled flights from March 1 will have the same Dec. 31, 2022 expiration date.  *On Sept 1, Delta Air Lines announced that going forward it will permanently eliminate change fees for domestic flights — basic economy fares will not be included in this policy after March 2021.
  • United Airlines (Sept update)
    United Airlines has also established a cancellation and incentive program for its customers. Passengers who hold a ticket for a flight on United Airlines through Jan 31, 2021 can change their flights without penalty. United has announced that all electronic flight credit issued during this time will now be valid for 24 months from the date of the flight credit.   *Aug. 31: United Airlines announced that the carrier is getting rid of “most” change fees permanently for domestic flights. Basic economy is included in this new policy, but only until the end of 2020.
  • Southwest Airlines
    Southwest Airlines has some of the most customer-friendly cancellation policies available to passengers. The airline never charges its guests a cancellation fee as long as the traveler cancels at least 10 minutes before the flight. So should you decide to cancel your vacation because of coronavirus fears (or any other reason), make sure you cancel before that deadline and get a confirmation.
  • Spirit Airlines
    Spirit Airlines is offering its passengers penalty-free cancellations at this time. Passengers will receive flight credit that they must spend (not fly by) in the next 6 months. There is an online form that Spirit customers who wish to cancel over coronavirus fears can use to easily apply for the flight credit.

*Note: Face masks are currently required by all airlines should you wish to proceed with your flight plans. For more information see: What happens if you refuse to wear a mask on your flight.

And if you’re having a problem getting a refund from a European airline, there’s some good news:

Hotels: Here are the current coronavirus cancellation policies

Undoubtedly, the hotel industry is right behind the airline and cruise line industry with coronavirus repercussions. Here are the temporary coronavirus cancellation policies for the major chains as of Nov. 11, 2020.

Canceling your vacation rental or hotel when no waiver exists

Unfortunately, this is where it gets tricky. Many vacation homes are privately owned, so your rental contract is going to be the key factor should you decide to cancel your vacation over coronavirus fears. Some vacation rental owners will be more flexible than others. But if you’re asking for a goodwill gesture, it’s critical to keep that in mind. When formulating your request, remember, you want to make the owner want to be flexible and help you. So keep it cordial and don’t make demands for things to which you aren’t entitled.

The same holds true with nonrefundable hotel reservations if there is no waiver in place for your location. You’re going to need to be extra friendly and hope that your request lands on a sympathetic ear.

In both cases, consider asking for a future travel credit as an alternative to a refund. Many vacation rental owners and hotels will be more willing to overlook the official cancellation terms if you request a credit rather than a refund.

*Oct 1 update: Airbnb has announced a sweeping change in their extenuating circumstances cancellation policy in light of coronavirus fears. For guests with reservations made prior to March 14, they can cancel for a full refund. Hosts can cancel without penalty as well. For reservartions made after March 14, the cancellations policies displayed on the listing at the time of booking will apply. You can read more about Airbnb’s CO VID19 temporary cancellation policy. The updated policy announced on March 30 also provides financial relief for hosts. 

*Vrbo has updated its coronavirus cancellation guidelines. The company has announced it will refund all the fees it has collected for stays that are canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic for reservations through June 30. It also has requested that its hosts offer guests who wish to cancel during this time an alternative stay date. Lastly, for guests who don’t want to book an alternative date, the hosts should offer “at least a partial refund. Although they [the host] are not obligated to provide a refund outside of the cancellation window, those who do not offer flexibility are subject to penalties in our marketplace.”  (*Vrbo has not updated its coronavirus cancellation policy since May).

The bottom line: Our team can’t mediate individual goodwill gestures if coronavirus fears cause you to cancel your vacation

As a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, we mediate cases in which the company is operating outside of its established policies.

On rare occasions, we do contact companies and request goodwill considerations. However, the sheer number of requests we are receiving concerning coronavirus cancellations makes it impossible to mediate individual cases. But this should not deter you from making your own plea to your travel provider.

Our research team has made it easy to access the executive contacts of all of your travel providers. From cruise lines to airlines and hotels, the information you’ll need to make your request is all there. (Thanks, Meera and John!)

Keep these things in mind before and after coronavirus fears lead you to cancel your vacation

  1. Be aware
    The coronavirus cancellation policies issued by the travel industry are quite fluid — changing daily, sometimes even hourly. Monitor the websites of your cruise line, hotel and airline for updates. You must review your travel provider’s current policies before you cancel your vacation. Even if you’ve decided to cancel your vacation, in most cases, there is no value in canceling weeks or months beforehand. Remember, if your cruise, flight, or tour is eventually canceled, your travel provider owes you a full refund. So often, it’s best to wait it out and see if your provider cancels.
  2. Be polite
    If you’re asking for a refund and the provider has not waived the cancellation penalties, keep in mind that you’re asking for a goodwill gesture. Review Christopher’s article about resolving your own consumer problem and keep your request short and polite.
  3. Be patient
    Unfortunately, you are in the same boat as thousands of others who also want to cancel their vacation because of coronavirus. The cruise lines, airlines, hotels, and consumer advocates are plowing through tons of requests every day. You’ll need to have some patience waiting for your answer.
  4. Be reasonable
    Finally, you must stay reasonable with your cancellation request. Recently, we’ve seen travelers who want the cruise lines to refund trips many, many months into the future. Or they want to cancel vacations that have no real coronavirus threat at this time for a full refund. The truth is that no one knows how this pandemic will play out. If your trip is far into the future, it’s best to stay calm and keep an eye on the situation. Hopefully, by the time your vacation rolls around, the coronavirus will be a distant memory. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

*Last updated on Dec. 13 — originally published on March 11