If you plan to cancel the tropical vacation you've booked to avoid coming down with the Zika virus, you're probably in good company. Worries over travel have picked up in recent days with the news that at least 31 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the virus including a pregnant woman in New York City, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But canceling raises more questions. Will you be hit with cancellation penalties? Will you be able to get a refund? 

The good news is that some major airlines and cruise lines are bending their usually strict rules on cancellation for passengers with tickets to the affected areas. But at the same time, you may also need to negotiate for a refund to cancel travel plans. 


JetBlue, which was rated the most highly among airlines in our 2015 airline Ratings, has the most forgiving policy among the five largest U.S. carriers we contacted. Customers concerned about Zika and holding tickets to affected areas can cancel travel for a refund even if they purchased non-refundable tickets. Re-bookings can be made without penalty. 

United and American provide similar options, but only to women who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant, and their travel companions, and their policies doesn't apply to non-refundable tickets. American requires a note from a doctor and refunds are limited for travel to only 11 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico.

Southwest Airlines, also highly rated by our subscribers, has no specific Zika policy, but it never charges penalties for changing flight plans. So any traveler concerned about Zika is free to avoid problem destinations. If you have non-refundable tickets, their full value can be applied to travel elsewhere on Southwest.

Delta did not respond to our request for comment, but the airline's website says customers may be able to change their destinations and travel dates without being charged a fee. They may also qualify for a refund if they cancel travel plans. Changes need to be made by February 29.

What you should do. If you're not pregnant or trying to become pregnant and still prefer to cancel, getting a refund may be more difficult. If you bought travel insurance that has a rider that permits cancellation for any reason, that should protect you. If you don't have the insurance, we recommend that you negotiate for a refund from the airlines. That may require that you argue that canceling your trip helps prevent the spread of the virus to the U.S. It is especially advisable if you expect to be in contact with anyone who is pregnant (there are still questions as to how easily this disease gets transmitted). 


Consumers who buy tickets for a cruise are typically subject to stiff penalties if they change or cancel travel plans. Payment in full is usually required 90 or more days before departure. If you later want to cancel, you can lose up to 100 percent of your payment depending on when you make that decision.

But if the reason for canceling has to do with the Zika virus, the cruise lines are being unusually lenient. Carnival, the largest cruise line, Disney Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises are letting pregnant women cancel travel or change their itineraries to exclude Zika-prone destinations. They can also request credit for a future voyage.*  

The new policies do not apply to those planning to become pregnant. 

What you should do. If your cruise line isn't willing to help you avoid cancellation or change fees, remind them of the policies set by the other cruise lines and ask for similar treatment.

As with the airlines, if you purchased travel insurance that has a rider that permits cancellation for any reason, that should protect you. We suggest that you don't automatically take the limited insurance policy offerings that the cruise line sells. You're likely to get better coverage and lower fees if you shop the market more broadly by using an online broker such as InsureMyTrip.


Hotel chains have more consumer-friendly cancellation policies and routinely require 48 to 72 hours’ notice to avoid a charge equal to one night’s stay.

However, if you cancel a prepaid stay during a peak period, you could forfeit the entire amount. Some resorts may bill you for three nights if you cancel your trip. 

If you've booked a private vacation home rental through online marketplaces such as Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO, the homeowner sets the cancellation policy.

What you should do. Given the severity of the warning from the CDC, negotiate for a full refund or a reduced penalty waiver. It can help to contact the hotel or travel agent and explain that your doctor has warned against travel to the area.

For private vacation home rentals, check your contract for the owner's cancellation policy to see if you can get out of the deal within the rules. If you are unable to break the agreement, appeal to the owner on a personal level and try to negotiate a fair refund, given the new health threat.

*Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Norwegian Cruise Lines allowed women expecting to become pregnant to cancel or change their itineraries if traveling to a Zika-prone area. That benefit applies only to women who are already pregnant.