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Hi friends. First and foremost, I hope everyone is okay, at home reading this, dreaming of the day this nightmare is over and they can get down to planning their next vacation. Stay home, stay safe and lets ride this out so we can get back to life! But I wanted to pop on here and create an informative post based on many of the questions I have been receiving from clients and friends regarding travel and vacation plans in the light of the uncertainties regarding the global pandemic we are now facing.
I will be updating this post as need be. Last Updated 5/5/2020
A Spring 2020 Travel Update from a Travel Professional
Before I begin trying to help you navigate spring 2020 travel in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic – I do want to convey the most important things first:
- I am a travel advisor with access to a ton of information, from various vendors, to emails from brand Business Managers, to the many travel agent Facebook groups I am part of, privy to the tales of many travelers. With that said, I am going to offer you some advice and tips on how to navigate dealing with your upcoming travel plans, but I CANNOT advise on, rebook, or cancel a trip that you did not book through me. Keep reading on some tips on how to navigate this landscape. And of course, next time, book with a Travel Agent.
- I am not a doctor, nor am I an infectious disease expert. I do not have a crystal ball. I, like you, have no idea when this is going to end, if/when it will get worse, how this will impact the economy and your travel dollars. If you have not currently booked a trip for this spring, summer, or even fall, I would honestly hold off. It’s been devastating for people to have to cancel amazing trips and with so much uncertainty, save yourself the trouble of booking, then having to cancel. Patience is going to be the theme of this post.
- Policies, cancellation terms, waivers of fees – these things are being updated daily, sometimes hourly. Getting up to date information is key. So is being patient. More on that below.
- Everything I mention here is subject to change – which is why I’ve been hesitant to write this post at all – but I want to help people, and this is how I can. You can use my tips as a resource and guide, but in regard to specific trips, YOU NEED TO CONTACT THE VENDOR*, THIRD PARTY WEBSITE** OR TRAVEL AGENT YOU BOOKED THROUGH, TO GET ACCURATE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR TRIP. And know that what you are told today, can change tomorrow.
*Vendor- In travel that means airline, hotel chain, tour company, cruise line, etc. that you booked directly with.
** In travel this means your Travelocity, Costco travel, Expedia, Hotwire, hotels.com, etc. Again, another shameless plug for ALWAYS using a travel advisor as these sites have already gotten much slack for their poor handling of cancellations and re-bookings around COVID-19.
What to do with travel scheduled for May 2020
Again, my lack of crystal ball has me left guessing when life, and travel, will return to somewhat normal. BUT at the time of this writing, MOST vendors have taken action to allow travelers to cancel or rebook trips scheduled for May 2020 -without penalty. In fact, as of today, many resort brands in the Caribbean are shutting their doors for a few weeks, cruises have ceased operations and all facets of the Disney brand ( theme parks, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney) are closed until further notice.
What these waivers and cancellation policies look like varies by supplier, and is changing daily. Again, you need to go to the SOURCE of where you booked the trip because various suppliers have their own change fees/policies in addition to those set forth by the airlines and hotel brands.
What does that mean? For example, in mid-March I wanted to cancel a trip to Hawaii I booked for a client through United Vacations. United Airlines was offering a voucher for the cost of the airfare, and waiving the normal fee to change the dates of travel, as was Hawaiian Airlines. The hotels were refundable, BUT at that time United Vacations had NOT waived their change fee of $300 per person. We held out until the last minute, and alas United Vacations decided to drop the change fee.
On March 13, 2020 when I called in to cancel that United Vacations trip, I held for THREE HOURS before someone came on the line to help me. I wish I was kidding… I ultimately spent OVER FOUR hours on the phone to cancel that trip, and to postpone another. And that was after spending over an hour on the phone with Sandals that day, and countless hours on hold with other airlines and vendors that week.
How to Cancel or Change a trip due to COVID-19
I have figured out a few things you can do to try to help with the excessive wait times. And with the deluge of cancellations, vendors have taken measures to better equip themselves for the call volume. They have definitely better staffed the call centers, but here are some other ideas to minimize the wait times when trying to call in about your upcoming trip:
- See if you can cancel online. I know American Airlines now allows you to log into your flight using your PNR (6 letter code) and hit a button to cancel your trip. You will hold on to that PNR to use when it’s time to later rebook. IF YOU DO THIS, MAKE SURE YOU ARE AWARE OF, AND SCREEN SHOT CURRENT CANCELLATION POLICIES. DO NOT GO ON AA.COM AND CANCEL A TRIP PAST WHEN THEY ARE WAIVING THE FEES – YOU WILL BE CHARGED THE CANCELLATION FEE. Because right now, many airlines are only waiving change fees for those traveling during a set time – before April 30, 2020 or May 31, 2020, maybe into June – see below.
- UPDATE: Hawaiian Airlines is doing this as well. They have also seriously cut back on service, so you might want to wait until your flight is cancelled by the airline to qualify for a full refund. If your flight is cancelled, they will email you. If you do not show up for your flight, you will use your ticket number to rebook.
- See if you can chat with the vendor or third party website through an online chat feature. This is great if you just have a question and do not want to sit on hold all day to clarify something. For security reasons, you might not be able to cancel or rebook your trip through an online chat, but this is a good feature to look out for. They also might be able to direct you to an inside sales or alternate phone number for quicker access.
- Find out what time the call center opens and call right at that time. Especially if you are on the east coast, you can get a jump start before the rest of the country is calling in.
- Call when you have time to sit on hold. Put your phone on speaker, and get to other tasks while you are waiting. Watch TV, do household chores, work… whatever to make the time productive so it’s not just about sitting around waiting.
- BE PATIENT – You might be sensing a theme here, but this is so important. If your trip is not for a few weeks, WAIT. WAIT to call in and cancel. There are so many reasons for waiting. Right now, there is a BIG DELUGE of people scrambling to get home from trips, and to cancel trips set to occur in the next few days. Vendors are rolling out better ways to reach them.
- Another important reason to wait – in my experience over these weeks of mass cancellations – both by travelers and the vendors, IF the trip gets cancelled on you, your compensation MAY be better. For example, I had a family set to sail on a Norwegian cruise on April 11, 2020. For the last few weeks, they were debating what to do. In early March, Norwegian offered them the chance to push back their trip with a Future Cruise Credit in the amount of what they paid. Ultimately, Norwegian cancelled ALL sailings thru April 12, and now they have the option to get a Future Cruise Credit of 125% of what they paid OR a full cash refund of what they paid!
- As of early April, the US is cracking down on refunds for flights cancelled by the airlines. Important to note, this is not for folks who previously rescheduled or took a voucher out of fear of travel. If you stayed in it up until the flight was cancelled (or your flight was impacted by a MAJOR schedule change), THEN you can ask for a full refund.
As you go to cancel your trips due to COVID-19, here are some questions you should ask and information you need. Again, when you book a trip with me, this is what I DO FOR YOU:
- What, if any of the cost of your trip is refundable to your original form of payment?
- What of the cost of your trip will be refunded in a voucher for future travel?
- By when do you have to use the voucher? In some cases, you have to BOOK future travel by a certain date. In some cases, you have to TRAVEL by a certain date.
- What happens if your new trip costs less than your original trip?
- If applicable, do you have to use your voucher for the same trip? Same room category? Can you use it with a sister brand (i.e. a cancelled Beaches vacation, can you rebook at Sandals?).
- If applicable – can 2020 room rates be honored for travel booked into 2021? (A few brands I know are offering this)
- Get specifics, take notes, and take down the name of the person you spoke to. Better if you can screen shot (with time and date) the current policy and even better if you can have the rebooking terms sent to you in an email. Having a paper trail will pay off when it’s time to rebook.
- Again, the above is what I DO FOR YOU as your travel agent, in addition to helping plan and price vacations. I make sure you have all the info, I wait on hold, I take notes and make sure I have everything set to re-plan your vacations.
What to do with travel scheduled for June 2020 and beyond
The best thing I can say is, BE PATIENT.
This I cannot stress enough. Unless you are scheduled to travel in the next 72 hours (or final payment for your trip is approaching), you should not be doing much with your vacation plans.
I know to you, your fabulous, amazing (possibly expensive) vacation is so important to you (and the vacations I plan for my clients mean the world to me), but right now vendors are trying to triage the situation, dealing with the most immediate needs first.
Plus, to most airlines, hotels and tour companies, June, July, August… 2020 might as well be 75 years in the future. I will update as time goes on, but as of this writing, most vendors are only offering to waive cancellation fees for trips set to travel before MAY 31 and some have extended into JUNE 2020 (UPDATE – as of April 16, 2020 some are pushing into June and beyond). If you cancel now, and your trip is outside that window, normal penalties will apply.
Will these waivers be extending? Who knows. My own personal guess is that the travel industry is both optimistic, and in full on triage mode, trying to take care of the most immediate needs first.
Again given how fast this has devolved over the last few weeks, June, July… these seem like a lifetime away in the travel industry.
Should I Cancel a Late Spring or Summer 2020 Trip?
UPDATE: As I updated this on April 16, it seems like over the past week, it has been come evident that its going to take a while before our normal travel life resumes. In my opinion, Summer 2020 international travel and cruising is definitely in question. Will domestic travel resume? What about theme parks aka mass gatherings? Still waiting because no one knows for sure, but its seeming less likely.
If you are in the position to cancel a future trip with NO PENALTY – you can do one of two things. You could wait until it will go into penalty then decide. That will give you a better idea of the world situation and if it’s safe to travel.
“Going into penalty” means the point at which you would lose money. If you don’t know what that means, you need to contact your travel advisor, read the terms and conditions of what you purchased, or go the source of your booking.
If you really think you aren’t going to go, and you are okay with losing your current rate, then cancel and get your money back. There will be plenty of time to rebook. Of course the downside to doing so is you can only rebook based on current prices and availability.
Personally, I have a $100 refundable deposit on a late August Alaska cruise. My final payment is due late April, so I am waiting until I have to put more money on it to decide.
UPDATE: I sadly just cancelled my 8/22/2020 Alaska cruise. Financially its not the year for us to take a big trip, plus international and cruise travel in August still feels dicy. I cancelled while I could still get my deposit refunded, and did not want to lay out about $4,000 more – which I would have been able to take in a future cruise credit either way, but now I don’t have to spend it at this time. Worth noting that I was hesitant to cancel because I had gotten SUCH A GOOD RATE (not because I’m at TA – but because I got a promotion for 20% for past guests) and at the time I cancelled, my cabin was pricing out at $300 LESS than what I thought was such a good deal!
Should I book a vacation for Summer 2020?
July 11 UPDATE: We have been traveling all summer. We drove from New York to Florida during the covid, stayed in three hotels this pandemic, and visited the reopening of Disney Springs. Things are open for tourists and please reach out if you have any questions about Summer 2020 (and beyond) travel!
Now that summer is approaching, I see more discussion about summer 2020 travel. I am thinking about that as well!
Chatter on the TA boards has definitely shifted in the last few days to really question if ANY summer travel is going to happen. But to be totally honest, we don’t know any more than you do.
My guess is that international and cruise travel are definitely in question for Summer 2020.
UPDATE: Carnival announced plans to start re-cruising on August 1 – with limited service.
Theme park opening dates are still in question.
Domestic travel may begin, but with limitations. Right now airlines are requiring guests to wear masks on board.
Lastly, here is a great list of travel advisories by US state and Canadian province.
If you are a cruiser (and I know I will always be) you can get some great cruise deals for summer and fall travel. Most cruise lines are offering “book with confidence” type guarantees that allow you to rebook your sailing for a future cruise credit if you decide to post-pone at the last minute.
The cruise lines have also issued statements about increased safety measures that are being taken to ensure guests remain safe.
You can also get some great deals on cruises for 2021. Make sure to book a refundable deposit rate. I just put some cabins on hold for spring break 2021!
Airlines are trying to incentives folks to book now with flexible cancellation policies for tickets booked this spring, for future travel. The only downside to booking now, is airfare is paid in full when you book, so even though you can move your trip, you will be tying up your funds for some time.
Each airline’s and cruise line’s policy does vary, so be sure to ask your trusted travel advisor to help you i.e. me, because obviously even before a global pandemic, always book a cruise with a travel agent.
As an aside, if you had to cancel your Walt Disney World vacation for late March, April or May, you may qualify for a complimentary dining plan if you rebook for June – September 2020! If you are interested in rebooking, even if you did not previously use a travel agent, reach out for my help with rescheduling your trip!
With that said, now is a great time to research vacation options . I’m confident that travel trends over the next year or so will lean toward domestic travel, theme park travel (like Disney), National Parks and road trip/closer to home journeys.
Will travel insurance cover the cost to rebook or cancel my trip if I don’t want to go due to COVID-19?
Now this is a real gray area. FOR THE MOST ACCURATE INFORMATION REGARDING YOUR FUTURE TRAVEL PLANS AND AN INSURANCE POLICY YOU PURCHASED, CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE PROVIDER. Notice I did not say contact your agent, supplier etc., because honestly, we cannot legally interpret an insurance policy. If you purchased your policy before January 2020, you might have more of a leg to stand on regarding COVID-19 related cancellations, BUT I do not know that for sure.
Also, cancelling out of fear of traveling is NOT a covered reason under most insurance policies.
As always, insurance fraud is ILLEGAL.
Lastly, if you had purchased travel insurance and need to cancel or postpone your trip, contact your insurance provider to find out options for the policy you purchased. These rules vary by state of residency, so always best to go right to the insurer for accurate information to see if you can get a refund, or shift the policy to your new travel dates.
Can I add travel insurance on my existing trip?
Well, for a variety of reasons, you should always purchase travel insurance. However, nothing you purchase now will cover anything COVID-19 related as it is no longer an unforeseen event, which is why you purchase insurance in the first place.
I have the travel bug. What can I do during my quarantine to get excited for my next trip?
On a personal note, travel is my life. I run this website, I am a full service travel agent, I normally spend my days reading about travel, talking about travel, thinking about travel… well you get the point. It has been devastating to me to come to a screeching halt with the thing I love most in the world.
Right now, I’m taking a travel pause. Sort of. I have so many blog posts that are written, and I need to edit and add photos. I’m looking forward to publishing them and sharing travel with you all.
UPDATE: At the beginning of June, we drove from New York to Florida, stayed in hotels, and are planning to stay in Florida for most of the summer. Click through to read all about travel during coronavirus.
UPDATE: During Quarantine I have published: Three days in Milan with kids, What to pack for a Seven Night Disney Cruise, A Review of the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark, A Guide to the Best Beaches in Naples Florida, Where to dine on the water in Naples Florida, Club Med Sandpiper Review and Tips for Sailing on the Norwegian Getaway. I have also done MAJOR updates to: Hawaii on a Budget, Best Big Island Beaches, How to Plan a Hawaii Vacation and Things to do in Maui with Kids.
With more free time, I am doing all sorts of Travel Agent training, I can always be learning. And I need to keep organizing my office, so trying to do travel related business things, and I’m starting to think about upcoming trips for my family. I mean, I have the 2020-21 school calendar in front of me – why not?
Not really my thing, but there are some great online resources for virtual travel – here are some great options:
Recipes from around the World – that you can make at home!
Again, this is a great time to be thinking about your next vacation, researching and planning. In fact – you can even let the kids do some planning! My friend Tamara, from We3Travel put together this great homeschool vacation planner for kids, with printable to guide your kids to research and plan your next vacation!
I know we will come back from this. It’s just going to take time. Right now, things are scary and there is so much uncertainty – not just with regard to travel. I think for the most part, the response from the travel industry has been one of wanting to keep travelers safe, and secure. Travel is meant to be wonderful, not stress inducing! I hope you found these tips helpful, and I hope you reach out to me to help plan your next vacation!