Italy’s picturesque Amalfi Coast has fallen quiet amid the coronavirus lockdown. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )
Australians who have booked a flight or holiday and need to cancel their trip due to the rapid spread of coronavirus may be able to get credit to use at a later stage.
- Airlines and hotels have been advising customers they may be eligible for credits or reward points if they make cancellations within a certain timeframe
- Room sharing service Airbnb said its hosts and guests can cancel eligible reservations with no charge or penalty
- With the spread of the COVID-19 virus now well-known, it’s unlikely to be considered an “unexpected event” for travel insurance purposes
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took the advice of the national chief medical officer to cancel gatherings of more than 500 people and advised Australians against travelling overseas unless it was essential.
New travel requirements mean all people arriving in Australia, including citizens, must self-isolate for a fortnight.
Standard travel insurance policies are unlikely to cover cancellations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Many airlines, hotels and online travel booking sites have been advising customers that they may be eligible for credits, or reward points, if they make cancellations within a certain timeframe.
Over the weekend, Qantas and Virgin announced that its customers will be given the option to receive travel credit if they cancel flights.
Room sharing service Airbnb updated its cancellation policy, saying it was allowing guests to cancel reservations anywhere in the world for a full refund.
Qantas offers customers travel credit
Qantas and Virgin have taken a big hit to their business because of recent travel bans.
The airlines have already announced cuts to several flights, and are likely to announce further cuts in the coming months.
In the meantime, both airlines are helping customers who want to delay their holidays.
Qantas said customers with existing bookings on any domestic or international flight until May 31, who no longer wish to travel, can cancel their flight and retain the value of the booking as a travel credit voucher. This needs to be processed by March 31.
The changes apply to all domestic and international flights for Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar (including Jetstar domestic services in New Zealand and Jetstar Asia’s flights between Darwin and Singapore).
“We understand that some customers would prefer not to travel at the moment,” Qantas Group chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said in a statement.
“Travel restrictions are being introduced by governments to contain the spread of the coronavirus, not because of the risk of contracting the virus on a flight.”
For Qantas customers, travel credit can be redeemed for travel for up to 12 months from the original booking.
For Jetstar customers, travel vouchers can be redeemed in one booking only within 6 months of issue, for travel within 12 months of the new booking date.
Qantas Frequent Flyers who have booked classic redemption flights on Qantas, Jetstar and all partner airlines, and no longer wish to travel, will have change fees waived.
Qantas customers who make a new domestic or international booking and later decide they no longer wish to travel, can cancel their flight and retain the value of the booking as a Qantas travel credit or Jetstar travel voucher.
This applies to bookings made from March 10 until March 31, for travel before May 31.
Qantas and Virgin have taken a big hit to their business because of recent travel bans. (Supplied: Qantas)
Virgin Australia, Flight Centre also allow credits
Virgin Australia said guests with international bookings from now until June 30 who no longer want to travel have the option to change their flight to a later date and/or to a different destination, without incurring a change fee.
“They’ll just need to cover the difference if the value of the new fare is greater than the original,” the company said on its website.
“If they want to cancel their flight, they are eligible to receive credit to a travel bank with no cancellation fee.”
The company had said it understood some guests may be concerned about recent flights where a passenger has been confirmed to have coronavirus.
“We are working closely with the relevant health departments to notify any guest who may be considered at risk of contracting the virus,” it said.
Other global airlines have announced similar policies, and major travel agents are also helping customers with changes or refunds.
Flight Centre has also been badly hurt by the recent travel plans, on Friday announcing that it would close 100 underperforming stores across Australia due to coronavirus fears.
A Flight Centre spokesman said the company was allowing its customers to cancel and keep their funds on file for future bookings without incurring any penalties.
Airbnb, online booking websites refresh policies
Airbnb on March 14 said it had updated its “extenuating circumstances policy” in response to “the extraordinary events and global disruption to travel caused by COVID-19”.
This policy allows hosts and guests to cancel eligible reservations with no charge or penalty.
It now applies to existing reservations for stays and experiences made on or before March 14, with check-in dates between March 14 and April 14.
This policy applies to all countries around the world with the exception of domestic travel in mainland China, which is scheduled to return to normal rules on April 1.
“We understand that this announcement will impact hosts around the world, many of whom depend on the economics they generate on Airbnb,” the company said in a statement.
“We will be working in the days and weeks ahead to identify tools and initiatives to support our hosts during these very challenging times.”
“We’re in this together.”
It said Airbnb would “not collect any fees or benefit in any way” from any reservations cancelled under this policy.
Travel bookings website Expedia said on its website its call centres were being inundated with requests for cancellations, and customers may face long wait times.
It said customers can hop online and change or cancel many reservations from within their account without any additional fees for hotels, flights, car rentals, and activities.
Tripadvisor said on its website standard travel insurance is unlikely to cover cancellations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Concern over health and safety is not generally listed under standard coverage,” it said.
In addition, because the spread of the COVID-19 virus is now well-known, it’s unlikely to be considered an “unexpected event”, meaning many travellers were now unable to purchase specific policies to cover them for it.
Airbnb on March 14 said it had updated its “extenuating circumstances policy” in response to “the extraordinary events and global disruption to travel caused by COVID-19”. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Hotels offer to credit customers – but not in every case
Most major hotel chains have special coronavirus policies to make it easier for guests to change or cancel reservations, but smaller hotels may be more restrictive with their policies.
Some reservations that have been booked as “non-refundable” may only result in reward points if cancelled and hotels have advised guests who booked via online travel agents or other third-party travel professionals to contact their booking provider for information.
A Hyatt spokesman said all existing reservations made before March 13 that are for arrivals between March 14 and April 30 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival.
He said any future arrival date can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival.
But for all Advance Purchase Rate “non-refundable” reservations made directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, and for arrivals before June 30, rewards points were on offer instead of a full refund or credit.
Hilton said it was extending the expiration date of all unexpired Weekend Night Rewards as of March 11 to August 31.
And all of Hilton’s “weekend night rewards” issued before August 30 would be extended to expire August 31, the company said.
A Four Seasons spokeswoman said the hotel chain would waive cancellation fees until April 30 for guests travelling to any of its hotels and resorts in the Asia-Pacific region and Italy.
Guests travelling from Italy, South Korea, and Greater China (including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) to any Four Seasons hotel or resort globally would also be able to have those fees waived.
The Marriott said on its website that for guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, it would allow full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival.
This was as long as the change or cancellation is made by April 30, and it said any changes to existing reservations would be subject to availability and any rate differences and subject to exclusions (for example peak demand period bookings).