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Coronavirus Travel Restrictions, Airline & Hotel Cancellation Policies


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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the global travel industry, upending millions of travelers’ lives, and threatening countless livelihoods in the process.

It’s likely the pandemic will affect many travelers, either directly or indirectly. Because this is a fluid situation that changes by the day, bookmark this list to refer to frequently so you can get new information as it becomes available. The list includes:

  • A running tally of countries and regions with coronavirus travel restrictions
  • Guidelines for determining when to cancel planned travel and how to get a refund or credit if you do
  • A list of cancellation and change policies for major airlines, hotels, and cruise operators.

Countries & Regions With Coronavirus Travel Restrictions

Due to the fast-moving nature of this situation, this summary does not necessarily reflect all current restrictions.

Before booking international travel, refer to your destination countries’ English-language government websites for up-to-the-minute details and check the U.S. Department of State’s list of country-specific travel advisories.

Entry Restrictions for U.S. Travelers

Many countries remain closed to U.S. citizens and nationals who don’t meet certain narrow exceptions, such as holding dual citizenship, having close family members in-country, or traveling on qualifying “essential business.”

The good news is that most countries and territories that continue to permit entry to U.S. travelers lie on this side of the Atlantic, within a few hours of the mainland United States by air.

They include Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and most Caribbean island nations and territories. Most require proof of a negative COVID test upon arrival, though enforcement varies widely and quarantine requirements are rare for travelers who test negative.

Farther-flung countries that remain totally open to U.S. travelers include Turkey, Maldives, and several Balkans nations.

The United Kingdom and Cambodia, among a few other popular tourist destinations, allow U.S. citizens to enter but generally require some combination of quarantine upon arrival, confirmed negative COVID-19 test result, ongoing health monitoring and check-ins for up to 14 days after arrival, and a sometimes hefty financial deposit to ensure compliance.

CNN has an up-to-date list of countries that allow Americans to enter and what restrictions or entry requirements, if any, American travelers face. The U.S. Department of State (State Department) maintains a more comprehensive and technical list of country-specific restrictions and requirements.

Because the situation remains fluid, neither this list nor CNN’s or the State Department’s should not be considered comprehensive. Refer to both before booking and commencing international travel but also check with local immigration authorities to determine whether you’ll even be permitted to complete your journey or required to quarantine on arrival for it renders travel impractical.

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories

The State Department is closely watching the COVID-19 situations in other countries with an eye to keeping U.S. national travelers and expats safe abroad.

Four travel advisory levels denote the relative danger of travel to each country and subcountry region:

  • Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions. These are low-risk countries.
  • Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. These areas often present an elevated risk of property crime or exposure to novel illnesses not common in the U.S.
  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Travel to these areas is unusually risky due to political instability, widespread violence, disease outbreaks, and other dangerous conditions.
  • Level 4: Do Not Travel. The State Department does not advise travel to these areas, and U.S. persons already in Level-4 areas should leave as soon as possible. The State Department has little or no effective presence in some Level-4 countries.

On March 31, 2020, the State Department issued a global Level-4 travel advisory for the entire world outside the United States, effectively discouraging any international travel for the foreseeable future.

The State Department’s global advisory expired in early August 2020, but certain countries remain at Level-4 due to severe coronavirus outbreaks or other potential health risks. Again, because many international jurisdictions effectively prohibit entry by Americans and others require lengthy quarantines upon arrival, planning nonessential international travel remains difficult at best.

Depending on your home base, you might have trouble completing internal U.S. travel plans as well. Some states have (or had and may reimpose) strict quarantine-on-arrival or pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.

For example, New York State requires travelers from noncontiguous states and countries where COVID-19 is widespread to quarantine for up to 10 days, promptly take a COVID-19 test, or both upon arrival.

Check with your destination state’s tourism and health authorities for up-to-date information before making nonrefundable bookings.

Reentry Requirements for U.S. Travelers

Beginning on January 26, 2021, the U.S. government requires all U.S.-based travelers (citizens and noncitizen residents) to provide documentation of confirmed or probable COVID-free status upon reentering the country following travel abroad.

Specifically, travelers must present one or both of the following to U.S. Customs personnel:

  • Proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test (PCR only, not antigen) within three calendar days of the return journey
  • Documentation from a licensed health care professional (doctor’s note) of recovery from COVID-19 within 90 days prior to travel

This requirement applies to all U.S.-based travelers 2 years of age and older, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.


Cancellation & Change Policies for Major Airlines & Hospitality Companies

This running list of coronavirus cancellation and change policies includes major airlines and hospitality companies, many of which are waiving change fees and dispensing credit for rebookings many months into the future.

Refer to each company’s website for more details and cancellation or rebooking information specific to your destination.

Airline Cancellation Policies

All major U.S. airlines and budget carriers have coronavirus-related cancellation and change policies. Unless otherwise noted, rebooked flyers must pay the fare difference between the original and new fares, if any. If you’re flying with a smaller carrier, check their website for details.

Also, be aware of any airline-imposed hygiene requirements. All airlines operating in the U.S. follow federal regulations requiring passengers to wear masks or face coverings on flights and in boarding areas. Many international airlines and airports require masks as well.

American Airlines

American Airlines’ policy waives change fees for passengers booked before Sept. 8, 2020, for travel between March 10, 2020, and March 31, 2021, to rebook and complete travel by Dec. 31, 2021. The policy applies to all airports served by American and allows changes to destinations and connecting cities.

Separately, American Airlines now waives change and standby fees for all domestic and short-haul international flights (primarily within North America, Central America, and the Caribbean) booked after Oct. 1, 2020. This policy applies to paid and award fares in all fare classes.

United Airlines

United Airlines’ policy waived change fees for all international passengers booked before March 2, 2020, for travel between March 9 and Dec. 31, 2020. The rebooked itinerary must begin within 24 months of the original ticket date. This policy applies to all airports served by United.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, change fees may still apply to international itineraries originating and terminating in non-U.S. territories.

For domestic U.S. passengers traveling from a U.S. airport (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) to any domestic or international destination, United no longer charges change fees on most new economy and premium cabin bookings.

Per United, this change complements several other passenger-friendly updates to the airline’s ticketing policy. However, the policy may not apply to Basic Economy fares.

Separately, all electronic travel certificates issued for flight cancellations are now valid for 24 months from the booking date. United has not specified an end date for this policy. United also waives change fees on all new bookings for 12 months from the booking date, though this waiver will likely end at some point.

Delta Airlines

Delta has permanently eliminated change fees and award redeposit fees for most fare classes on flights from North America to anywhere in the world. This policy may not apply to Basic Economy fares.

Delta also waives change fees for all other flights booked after March 1, 2020, for travel through March 31, 2021. Affected travelers have at least until Dec. 30, 2022, to complete travel.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines’ policy waives change fees for all flights booked from Feb. 27, 2020, to March 31, 2021, for travel through February 28, 2022. In both cases, rebooked travel must commence one year from the original travel dates.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest never charges change fees for rebooked travel. Under normal circumstances, travelers who cancel flights at least 10 minutes before scheduled departure receive credit equal to the fare for rebooked travel within a year of the original reservation date.

However, Southwest has made two important but temporary exceptions to this policy:

  • Beginning Sept. 8, 2020, any accumulated fare credits expire on Sept. 7, 2022.
  • Through Dec. 15, 2020, Southwest Rapid Rewards members can request to convert fare credits set to expire on Sept. 7, 2022, into Rapid Rewards points, which never expire.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue has permanently eliminated change fees on most fares, beginning on April 1, 2021. Changes to Blue Basic fares may still incur change fees as high as $100 per ticket, however.

Rebooked travel may commence at any time (provided JetBlue has scheduled flights far enough out). Canceled flights produce a travel credit good for 24 months from the original travel date equal to the original fare.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit allows passengers who change their travel plans due to coronavirus to make one free fare modification (to change the destination city or travel dates, for instance) for travel at any point in the future.

Passengers who choose to cancel rather than change their flights receive travel credit equal to the original fare for use within six months of the original travel date or a full refund of the fare.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines’ policy waives change fees for any booking, provided the change is made at least 60 days before the first date of travel. Later itinerary changes cost up to $119 per change.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines offers fee-free changes for all flights to all markets. The waiver applies to all flight dates. Tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2020, for travel at any time, are valid for two years from the ticket purchase date. Tickets purchased through March 31, 2021, are valid for one year from the ticket purchase date.

Separately, Hawaiian Airlines miles no longer expire (as of April 12, 2021). You don’t have to worry about using your unexpired Hawaiian loyalty currency if you’re not ready to travel yet.

Check with Hawaiian health and travel authorities before booking or commencing travel, as Hawaii has had stricter arrival restrictions than most other states.

Hotel & Resort Cancellation Policies

These major hospitality operators have coronavirus-related cancellation and change policies. If you’re staying at an independent property or with a smaller chain, refer to the operator’s website for more details.

Hilton

Hilton no longer has a coronavirus cancellation or change policy in place. However, the chain has made some important modifications to its loyalty program:

  • Extended 2020 Hilton Honors members’ status through March 31, 2022
  • Extended expiration on all unexpired Weekend Night Rewards issued until Aug. 30, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2021
  • Paused Hilton Honors point expiration through Dec. 31, 2021
  • Rolled over all status-eligible nights earned on stays through Dec. 31, 2020, into the 2021 calendar year, keeping them eligible for 2021-2023 tier status

Marriott

Marriott waived cancellation fees for all bookings worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) through June 30, 2020. This policy was not extended past June 30, 2020, and it’s unclear whether it continues to apply on a case-by-case basis. Check with your destination hotel or Marriott’s customer service hotline for more information.

Separately, Marriott has extended 2019 elite status awards through February 1, 2022, for all Bonvoy loyalty program members, according to an October 2020 release from the company.

In February 2021, Bonvoy members who earned elite status in 2020 were eligible for a one-time bonus equal to 50% of their 2020 tier’s annual Elite Night Credit requirement.

Hyatt

Hyatt is waiving change or cancellation fees for all bookings worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) through July 31, 2021. Limited exceptions apply for certain Hyatt brands, including MGM Resorts.

Additionally, Hyatt is suspending loyalty point forfeiture through at least June 30, 2021. In other words, you won’t lose loyalty points or status due to canceled or deferred travel or because you simply didn’t travel as often as usual during the pandemic, as would normally be the case.

Other loyalty program changes include extending program members’ status tiers as of March 31, 2020, through Feb. 28, 2022, without requiring any additional stays or other qualifying activities.

InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has relaxed its reservation change and cancellation policies indefinitely. IHG also instituted a new rate class (“Book Now, Pay Later”) that allows guests to change or cancel reservations up to 24 hours before arrival, with limited exceptions.

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels offered fee-free cancellations to travelers booked worldwide (refundable and nonrefundable) until Sept. 30, 2020, after which local market policies resumed.

Additionally, Choice Hotels has paused points expiration for Choice Privileges members through at least Dec. 31, 2020. Further loyalty program changes may be on the horizon as well.

Airbnb

Airbnb is broadening its extenuating circumstances policy, which provides compensation when guests need to cancel for extraordinary reasons, to all markets it serves through Oct. 31, 2020. Qualifying bookings must have been made before March 14, 2020.

Bookings made after March 14, 2020, are subject to the host’s normal cancellation policy unless the guest or host is sick with COVID-19 on the scheduled check-in date.

Vrbo

Vrbo doesn’t have a global coronavirus cancellation policy, other than a promise to refund its Traveler Service Fee on successful cancellations.

The platform encourages guests and hosts to heed travel and health warnings from the World Health Organization and work together to reach a solution when guests must cancel.

Vrbo always encourages guests to purchase travel insurance.


When & How to Cancel Planned Travel for a Refund or Credit

Use these guidelines to determine whether to cancel planned travel to affected areas and how to get your money back (or credit toward future travel) if you do.

If you’re still not sure whether the pandemic impacts current travel plans or if you’re not sure you’re eligible to cancel for a credit or refund, check with your carriers, hotels, or tour operators.

When to Cancel Planned Travel Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Seriously consider canceling planned travel due to the coronavirus pandemic if you’re a member of a high-risk group, taking high-risk travel methods, or traveling to a high-risk region. Other considerations also apply.

  • You’re Planning International Travel. As the State Department’s global Level 4 warning suggests, international travel is extremely high risk and vulnerable to disruption in a pandemic environment, even when the destinations involved don’t appear to be hotspots. Moreover, the risk works both ways. Even if you’re healthy or vaccinated and relatively unlikely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, you could become a carrier and spread the disease to higher-risk people. And remember, many international markets require U.S. travelers to quarantine on arrival or prohibit them entirely.
  • You’re a Member of a High-Risk Group Who Has Not Yet Received a COVID-19 Vaccine. That includes people over age 60 and those with underlying health conditions, such as immune system disorders, diabetes, and hypertension. The risk of serious or fatal complications of COVID-19 is much higher for these groups.
  • Your Trip Includes a Cruise. If you’re booked on a cruise anytime soon, you should closely monitor developments and seriously consider rebooking at a much later date, especially if you’re a member of a high-risk group and haven’t been vaccinated. Communicable diseases spread quickly on cruise ships and many cruise lines have yet to resume normal operations.
  • You Can Get a Refund for Any Reason. If you’re not going to be out money for canceling your planned trip, the calculus is a lot more straightforward. You can cancel altogether or rebook for a later date.
  • You Have “Cancel for Any Reason” Travel Insurance Coverage. Standard travel insurance policies don’t cover cancellations due to concerns about becoming sick. They only apply if you’re actually ill. More generous policies with “cancel for any reason” riders are a bit more expensive but allow you to cancel without penalty no matter what. If you were fortunate enough to purchase such a rider, now is the time to use it.
  • Your Trip Is Not Essential. Canceling a trip abroad to visit an elderly relative you haven’t seen in years is much more difficult than canceling a destination bachelor party that’s easy to reschedule for after the wedding.

How to Cancel Planned Travel for a Refund or Credit

To get a refund or credit toward future travel if you need to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic, you must likely rebook your flight, hotel, or tour within a period designated by its operator.

Other steps could be necessary as well, including:

  • Checking the Operator’s Coronavirus Rebooking Policies. Check the list of cancellation and change policies in the preceding section and contact each operator for information specific to your booking or destination. When operators allow fee-free changes and rebookings, you could end up paying nothing out of pocket to reschedule.
  • Determining Whether You Can Cancel Without Penalty. If you prefer to cancel without rebooking, read each pertinent travel company’s cancellation policy. Unless you purchased a nonrefundable booking to get a lower rate, there’s a good chance your hotel or resort will allow you to cancel without penalty up to a week before your arrival (and sometimes even closer). If you’ve booked a short-term homestay through Airbnb or another rental platform, your host’s cancellation policy usually determines how much of your booking you can recoup, with options ranging from a full refund to total forfeiture. However, Airbnb has broadened its extenuating circumstances policy, which makes exceptions to host cancellation policies in times of crisis, for the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Most airline bookings are nonrefundable after 24 hours, though you can pay more for a refundable fare if you’ve yet to book. Without a protection policy, which adds to the cost of the voyage, cruise fares generally aren’t refundable — but many cruise lines are making exceptions during the pandemic.
  • Buying Travel Insurance. If you booked less than three weeks ago, you could still be eligible to purchase “Cancel for Any Reason” insurance that’s valid for your trip. Policies vary by insurance carrier, but it’s worth a shot. You’ll be out the one-time insurance premium but not the full cost of your nonrefundable travel.
  • Calling Customer Service to Ask for a Refund. Expect to sit on hold for longer than usual, but the effort could be worth it. Even if your booking is nonrefundable, extenuating circumstances could curry favor with the rep you speak with (or their manager). For instance, if you’re flying with an elderly relative at high risk for COVID-19 complications, your decision to travel could literally have life-or-death implications.
  • Rebooking Within the Allotted Time Frame. If you can’t cancel your reservation for a cash refund, learn how long your rebooking credit remains in effect. Most airlines still allow fee-free rebookings (less the difference in fare, if any) due to COVID-19, and a growing number of airlines now entirely waive change fees on most or all fares.

Final Word

The coronavirus pandemic is the most serious public health challenge caused by a communicable respiratory disease in living memory. Although the final toll is not yet known, this ordeal could well come to rival or exceed the Spanish flu crisis of 1918 to 1919 — the benchmark by which we judge all other modern pandemics — in its toll.

Until everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can get one, we all need to do our part to slow the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable among us. If that means canceling the international vacation you’ve been looking forward to for years, so be it.

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