Refunds in the age of COVID-19By Sandra Bayley
If you are anxiously looking at your calendar, wondering whether you will be able to take that business trip next month or the family vacation in summer, you are not alone. The travel industry has been decimated and there’s a good chance that COVID-19 will ruin your plans. According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending in April, is down by 85 percent. Airlines are grounding planes and hotels are closing their doors. So, what can you to do about those non- refundable hotel bookings and flights? The good news is you have a few options. Airlines and hotels are updating their policies and making them more lenient.
Some larger hotel chains are allowing free changes
Marriott, Radisson, IHG and Hilton hotels are allowing free changes and cancellations with refunds for any existing reservations or future bookings up until June 30, 2020 as long as you cancel 24 hours prior to the arrival date.This includes non-refundable and pre-paid bookings that are typically more restrictive.
Airline policies are complex and it’s easy to get mired in the small print
As a general rule, you can cancel a ticket for a full refund within 24 hours of purchase as long as it was purchased more than seven days in advance. Before COVID-19, most airlines charged a change fee for a non-refundable flight plus any difference in fare. You could cancel for a credit that was good for one year from the time of the original booking. In response to the pandemic, airlines have waived change fees within certain date ranges and extended the length of time a traveler has to rebook. If the airline cancels the flight or if the flight is significantly delayed, the traveler has the right to a refund. This cancellation rule was reiterated by the U.S. Department of Transportation on April 3, 2020. The agency issued an enforcement notice after receiving complaints from passengers, claiming that airlines were refusing refunds and only offering credits or vouchers for cancelled flights.
What about refunds?
So what should you do if you would rather get a refund for your upcoming flight? The best thing is to wait and see if the airline cancels the trip. Check the flight status on the airline website and monitor your email for notifications. If the flight is cancelled, you’re entitled to a refund in the U.S. and Europe. A Lola.com travel consultant can help. You can also request a refund directly from the airline but be prepared for long hold times. In an effort to encourage travelers to take a credit instead of a refund, Delta and United have extended the validity of travel credits until May 2022. Airlines are not required to issue a refund if you cancel the flight.
Canada is the exception to the refund rule.
In a statement the Canadian Transportation Agency said that given these unprecedented times and in an effort to help the financially strapped industry, airlines are no longer obligated to offer refunds but could provide vouchers and credits.
Timing is everything
Reimbursement for delayed flights takes you into the policy weeds. It used to be that a delay of 90 minutes to 3 hours could make you eligible for a refund. American Airlines recently changed that to 4 hours and other airlines may follow suit. In these instances, it’s always best to check.
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