How the Spread of Coronavirus Could Affect Your Travel Plans

As new cases continue to erupt worldwide, how can American travelers prepare?

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The coronavirus has now spread well beyond Asia, hitting the Middle East, Europe, the U.S., and other parts of the globe.

As new cases continue to erupt, what should American consumers do if they’re traveling outside the U.S., where the virus is much more prevalent than it is here?

First, check the website for the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. health protection agency, which tracks the coronavirus around the world.

The CDC currently recommends that travelers avoid nonessential to China, where the virus originated, as well as to Iran, Italy, and South Korea. The agency also has lower-level warnings about travel to other countries. Check the website for the latest travel notices on specific countries.

What If You’ve Already Booked Travel?

If you don’t want to risk traveling during the outbreak, you may have trouble getting refunds for travel you’re already booked.

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“The reality is that there is no one set of rules for canceling a trip and it largely depends on the destination and route of your flight,” says Kyle Valenta, Executive Editor at expert travel review site

Valenta says that some airlines have offered to re-route passengers free of charge if they have connecting flights in areas that have seen coronavirus outbreaks. Others are offering refunds if your final destination is China, Hong Kong, or Macao.

However, flights to areas like Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam—places that aren’t on the CDC or World Health Organization list for highest alert levels—are generally not subject to refunds.

The situation changes daily, so it's best to check with your airline.

If you booked your hotel online, make sure you check the cancellation window on your booking. “These are often fairly generous,” says Valenta.

Many cruise ship operators have been giving vouchers to travelers who want to change their plans, according to Charles Leocha, president & co-founder of Travelers United, a passenger advocacy organization. But whether you get a voucher or a refund depends on the rules in your home country and the cruise lines or tour operators, says Valenta.

The CDC says travelers, especially those with underlying health conditions, should not go on cruises.

Travel insurance may help, but not as much as you might think. Besides, most consumers don’t buy it.

“Coverage can vary from policy to policy, so it’s important for travelers to read the terms and conditions,” says Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice.

For example, travel insurance plans that include a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) benefit allow travelers to do just that—cancel for any reason, including the fear of contracting the coronavirus, she says. However, it’s important for consumers to understand that with some CFAR plans, they may just get a partial refund, receive future travel credits, or both.

Plus, Godlin stresses that not all plans provide the CFAR option. However, most traditional travel insurance plans would provide coverage if a traveler contracts the virus or another illness during their trip. Coverage could including emergency medical expenses and even a medical evacuation back home, she says.

What If You Haven't Booked Travel?

If you’re planning a trip outside the U.S. there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

For example, travelers should get refundable rates when making reservations at hotels and rental cars.

“These are usually just a little bit more expensive than the non-refundable rates, but worth it if your plans change for any reason,” says Leocha of Travelers United.

“Book defensively,” he says. “Homeaway and Airbnb, two popular lodging sites, have very good cancellation clauses, but you have to make sure that you choose the refundable room rates, otherwise you could be stuck.”

Airlines are also beginning to adjust their policies to reflect the uncertainty over travel. Jet Blue, for example, said it will waive fees for changing or canceling flights booked from Feb. 27 through March 11 for travel completed by June 1. Those canceling their plans will get a credit good for one year.

American Airlines says it is suspending operations to and from Milan, Italy, and New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA). Flights to Milan are scheduled to resume April 25.

Delta Air Lines says beginning on on Monday, March 2, it too is temporarily suspending flights between New York (JFK) and Milan (MXP). Its service to and from Milan will resume starting on May 1.

Again, it's best to check with the individual airline before you book.

Watching and Waiting

Some Americans who have already booked big trips for this summer are waiting anxiously and hoping for the best.

Mery Diaz, a 42-year-old professor of social work at the City University of New York, is one of them. After saving and planning for over a year, she and 10 family members will spend the month of July in France, celebrating her mother-in-law’s 80th birthday.

“This is a giant investment,” Diaz says. “It’s my mother-in-law’s dream trip and we’ve been setting aside money for it all year.”

Diaz has been keeping up with news of the rapidly spreading virus.

“I’m trying to avoid panic and misinformation about the coronavirus,” she says. “But we are going to be traveling there at the height of the tourist season with young kids and older people.”

Diaz worries about crowds and the susceptibility of her family members.

“We’ve just started talking about taking precautions.” she says. “I’m wondering if we’re being too relaxed.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect changes in some airlines' ticketing policies. This article was originally published Feb. 24.

Image of Octavio Blanco, editor at CR with Money CIA

Octavio Blanco

My mission: To write stories that broaden readers' horizons and offer new solutions they can apply to their lives. Who I write for: My family, my friends, my neighbors, myself, and—most important—you. My passions: Music, art, coffee, cheese, good TV, and riding my electric bike (for now). Find me on Twitter: @octavionyc