Will ongoing fears about the coronavirus drive you to cancel your vacation plans in 2021? If you’re considering spending another year without travel, you aren’t alone. Throughout the pandemic, 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.
But if you decide to cancel your vacation, can you get your money back? (Last updated Sept 13, 2021)
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. *Update: As sailing begins to slowly resume, travelers must pay careful attention to the new requirements. As of Sept. 13, 2021, most cruise lines around the world, require passengers 12 and older to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to embarkation. (See: Don’t bother booking a cruise unless you’re fully vaccinated. Here’s why)
*Note: Although the cruise line doesn’t owe you a refund if it changes your itinerary if your cruise is canceled, it does.
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, or a 100 percent refund. There are also a variety of onboard cruise credits that the passenger can apply to the new sailing. You can use this link to check the status of your upcoming Carnival cruise.
In response to coronavirus concerns, Celebrity has developed the Cruise with Confidence cancellation program. This policy allows passengers to cancel any time up to 48 hours before the sailing and receive a full future cruise credit, to be redeemed through April 30, 2022, on Celebrity Cruise sailings departing on or before September 30, 2022.
Disney Cruises is making temporary adjustments to its cancellation policy for passengers who are fearful of coronavirus. For sailings through March 31, 2022, it’s critical that travelers carefully read the relaxed cancellation policy. This policy replaces the penalty-free cancellation that had previously existed. Cruise credits already earned can be used through September 30, 2022. *Update: Disney has scheduled cruising to begin again in Oct. 2021 (Canadian sailings are suspended through Feb. 2022).
Please see the full list of MSC cruise cancellations here. Passengers scheduled on a canceled cruise can request a refund or receive a future cruise credit (good through Sept 30, 2022) directly through the MSC website.
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. *Update: NCL is cruising again.
Princess has canceled most cruises through Dec. 2021. Passengers can receive a refund or they can opt for a future cruise credit for use before Dec 31, 2022. 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. In July, Regent extended the global suspension of its cruises through September 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 April 30, 2022 and sail by Sept. 30, 2022. *Update: Royal Caribbean has begun sailing again.
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. *Update: Viking has begun sailing again.
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 through to March 31, 2022. *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. (Note: Starting with tickets purchased from April 1, 2021, Basic Economy tickets are not included in the flexible cancellation and rebooking policy. So travelers should carefully consider purchasing such tickets which are typically only slightly cheaper than regular economy.)
- Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines passengers 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 for tickets purchased after April 30, 2021.
- United Airlines
United Airlines has also established a cancellation and incentive program for its customers. Passengers on United Airlines currently 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, 2020: United Airlines announced that the carrier is getting rid of “most” change fees permanently for domestic flights. Basic Economy tickets are not included in this new policy after Jan 1, 2021. Here’s some important information about how to use your United Airlines credit wisely by converting it to a travel certificate.
- 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.
- Hilton Hotels & Resorts
The Hilton group has developed a temporary coronavirus penalty-free cancellation. October update: Hilton announced that reservations made after Oct. 1, 2020 will be held to the cancellation policy displayed at the time of booking.
- Intercontinental Hotel Group
IHG guests who must cancel their reservations due to coronavirus fears will need to pay careful attention to the terms and conditions of their reservation. Starting Oct 1, 2020 reservations are held to the standard cancellation policies in place at the time the booking is made.
- Marriott International
Travelers to Marriott properties during the pandemic will need to pay careful attention to the cancellation policies
The hotel chain is not currently offering special coronavirus cancellation terms.
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.
*Guests with Airbnb reservations made prior to March 14, 2020, can cancel for a full refund if there is a coronavirus concern. For reservations made after March 14, 2020, the cancellation policies displayed on the listing at the time of booking will apply. Guests will not be eligible for a refund under the extenuating circumstance policy if they’ve booked a property after the pandemic was declared. You can read more about Airbnb’s COVID19 temporary cancellation policy here.
*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, 2020. 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 may be subject to penalties in our marketplace.”
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Sept 13, 2021 — originally published on March 11, 2020