Coronavirus (COVID-19) Travel Resources
Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), many airlines have suspended flights and offered free changes or refunds for travel to impacted areas. I've collected some resources to help you make sense of it all.
DISCLAIMER: While all info is accurate at the time of publishing (and I’ll do my absolute best to keep it up to date) you should always verify facts with the airline, insurance provider, or a reputable source like the World Health Organization.
I have personally cancelled 3 trips as a result of this chaos thus far.
BEFORE READING: Here is my ultimate tip. If you have a question regarding a cancellation or change for an airline, I find that airlines respond very well to direct messages on Twitter and sometimes on Instagram. You won't be able to speak to anyone on the phone for quite some time. This also includes popular agencies like Expedia.
LAST UPDATED - MARCH 13, 2020
WHAT IS COVID-19?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over a new coronavirus officially known as COVID-19. First identified in China in December 2019, the virus can cause fever, difficulty breathing, severe cough, and pneumonia. As the virus has spread around the world, there’s been news of cruise ship passengers quarantined, museums closed and public gatherings cancelled, airport screenings implemented, and other measures taken to slow the spread of the virus.
Read more about the virus on the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 resource page.
Many airlines have suspended flights to China and Italy and have been offering free changes or refunds for travel to these and other impacted areas such as South Korea, Japan, and Europe. For travelers, this has led to a lot of uncertainty.
Is it safe to travel to certain areas—or at all?
What happens if your trip is cancelled
What if you don’t feel comfortable traveling and want to change your flight?
I’ve collected some resources to help readers make some sense of it all. Sources are at the bottom.
DISCLAIMER: While all info is accurate at the time of publishing (and I’ll do my absolute best to keep it up to date) you should always verify these facts with the airline, insurance provider, or a reputable source like the World Health Organization.
WHAT AREAS OF THE WORLD ARE AFFECTED BY COVID-19?
At the time of writing, COVID-19 has been reported in more than 100 countries, including the United States. The situation is changing by the minute, however, especially as testing becomes more widely available.
For updates on COVID-19 spread and recovery around the world, check out this Johns Hopkins map of COVID-19 cases.
For updates on COVID-19 news right down to the minute, check out this page by Al Jazeera.
To check travel advisories for any country, check out the US State Department travel advisory list by country.
For a list of countries the CDC recommends you don’t visit, check out the CDC travel warning information.
WILL TRAVEL INSURANCE COVER COVID-19?
Travel insurance generally doesn’t cover “known events” and COVID-19 has been deemed a known event as of January 21, 2020. That means that travel insurance purchased before that date may cover disruptions resulting from the virus, but coverage purchased after January 21 likely will not.
There is an exception to this though. Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) travel insurance allows you to do just that: cancel for any reason you want. The catch is that it’s only valid if you purchase it within a certain amount of time after booking your trip (this varies by policy but is typically 7-21 days). Additionally, it’s pricey—usually 5-10% of the total trip cost, or $250-$500 on a $5,000 trip—and if you do end up canceling you’ll only get back about 75% of the total trip cost. I've never elected to purchase this type of insurance but know some people who have.
Additionally, at least one travel insurance provider is extending coverage in some circumstances. Allianz is including coverage for: emergency medical care and emergency medical transportation for a customer who becomes ill with COVID-19 while on their trip; trip cancellation and trip interruption if a customer becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during their trip; and non-refundable, non-transferable trip cancellation expenses for customers who purchased their plan prior to January 22, 2020 for trips that include stops in Mainland China, South Korea or the Lombardy or Veneto regions of Italy, who are departing prior to April 1, 2020.
Credit card travel protection policies vary as well, and a lot depends on whether your trip is cancelled by the airline or whether you are choosing to cancel. I'd recommend calling customer service for your particular card and asking as it'll vary greatly from product to product.
CAN I CHANGE A CONFIRMED FLIGHT?
For destinations the CDC has raised to Level 1, 2, or 3 warnings (China, Iran, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Italy) many flights are cancelled, and airlines are offering full refunds, refunds in the form of future travel credit, or waived changed fees. Experts expect most airlines will be "bailed out" as their businesses simply can't absorb the massive losses they've sustained thus far.
Many airlines are offering free changes for destinations outside the above list. American, United, and Delta are all offering fee changes for any flights through April 30, regardless of the destination or date they were booked. Note that for the waived change fees, in most cases while you won’t pay a change fee you will still pay the fare difference if your new date costs more, though there are some exceptions.
Some airlines are better than others about proactively notifying travelers of their options, so if you don't see your airline below or aren't clear on the rules for your trip, check the airline's website or reach out to the airline directly via phone, email, or social media. As previously mentioned, I find that airlines respond very well to direct messages on Twitter, and sometimes on Instagram.
Here’s a roundup of some of the airlines offering free changes on previously booked tickets. They'll usually request that you fly or re-book by a certain date.
Alitalia: Travelers with tickets for a destination in northern Italy (Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Milan Bergamo, Bologna, Genoa, Turin, Venice, Verona, or Trieste), who booked before February 23, 2020 with travel dates before March 8 can change their flight for free, as long as the new flight departs by March 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
American Airlines: American airlines is offering free changes for any ticket purchased prior to March 1 for travel through April 30, as long as the new ticket is reissued on/before December 31 or 12 months from the original ticket date (whichever is earlier) and the new flight departs on/before December 31, 2020. In cases where flights have been cancelled entirely (such as flights to/from South Korea, Hong Kong, China, and select cities in Europe) you’ll get a refund. Read the complete rules here.
ANA: Travelers headed to Japan who booked by February 28 for travel through March 19 can get a refund or change their flight with no fee as long as they travel by April 20, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
British Airways: Travelers booked to fly from London to Milan, Turin, Bologna, Venice, Bergamo, or Verona through March 15 can re-book with no change fee for travel up to April 3, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Cathay Pacific: Cathay Pacific is issuing refunds for travelers booked to select destinations where the airline has suspended flights as well as coronavirus-impacted destinations including Israel, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea for travel through April 30, depending on when you booked (varies by destination). Read the complete rules here.
Delta Air Lines: Travelers flying to any international or domestic destination through April 30 can change their flight with no fees. Change fees are also waived through May 31 for travelers booked to fly to any destination the UK or Europe, as well as Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul. The airline has suspended flights to Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and some flights to Japan, Italy, and throughout Europe, and will offer refunds or waived change fees for passengers booked on those flights. Read the complete rules here.
Iberia: Travelers booked to fly from the US to Europe between March 6 and April 30 (with a few blackout dates) can re-book with no change fee for travel up to November 30, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Icelandair: Travelers flying between now and August 31 can re-book with no change fees as long as travel departs before September 1, 2020. Read the complete rules here
JAL: Travelers flying to Japan who booked by February 28 for travel through March 19 can cancel or change their flight with no fee. For changes, flights must be re-booked to depart by April 20, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Lufthansa: Travelers flying Lufthansa through April 30 can re-book for a new date with no change fees, as long as travel departs by December 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Qatar Airways: Travelers who have booked flights for travel up to June 30 can change their dates with no change fee or exchange their ticket for a travel voucher valid for one year as long as they make the request at least three days prior to departure. Read the complete rules here.
Singapore Airlines: Travelers going to South Korea who booked by February 25 for travel through April 30 can re-book with no change fee, as long as the new trip starts on or before August 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
United Airlines: United is waiving change fees for all tickets—domestic or international—with original travel dates through April 30. United is also waiving change fees and/or allowing refunds for travel to or from select cities, which includes Wuhan, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Seoul, and several cities in northern Italy. Rules vary by city. For example, tickets to Hong Kong must have been purchased by February 12, 2020 to be eligible; for northern Italy, flights must be rescheduled by June 30, 2020 to avoid paying a fare difference (if you reschedule for a date after that, you’ll need to pay the difference in fare). Read the complete rules here.
If your airline is not currently offering free cancellations or changes for your trip, it can be wise to wait it out. If you wait until closer to your departure date, the situation could change and the airline may change its policies accordingly.
Source: Scott's Cheap Flights
HOW CAN I BOOK A NEW FLIGHT WITH PEACE OF MIND?
To help travelers feel a bit more secure about booking now for future trips, some airlines are waiving change fees for new bookings made in the next few weeks. Note that in most cases, if you do end up changing your flight under this policy, while there is no change fee you’ll still have to pay the fare difference if your new flight is more expensive.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and of course, always verify rules and requirements directly with the airline. As previously mentioned, I find that airlines respond very well to direct messages on Twitter, and sometimes on Instagram.
AeroMexico: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked after March 1 as long as you re-book by February 28, 2021. Read the complete rules here.
Air Canada: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, as long as you travel within 12 months of the date of your original ticket. Read the complete rules here.
Air New Zealand: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Alaska Airlines: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31 for travel through June 1, as long as you re-book for travel by December 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
American Airlines: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
British Airways: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, 2020 as long as you re-book to a date in the next 12 months. Read the complete rules here.
Copa Airlines: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, as long as you travel by June 15, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Delta Air Lines: There’s no change fee for new international or domestic tickets booked through April 30, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Icelandair: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 16, as long as you travel by June 1, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
JetBlue: There’s no change fee or cancellation fee for new tickets booked through March 31, for travel by September 8, 2020. Passengers will be credited the amount in the form of a travel credit that’s valid for one year. Read the complete rules here.
KLM: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31, so long as you rebook for travel by May 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Lufthansa: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through April 30, so long as you rebook for travel by December 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Qatar Airways: There’s no change fee for tickets booked for travel up to June 30, so long as you make the request at least three days prior to departure. Qatar is also offering the option to cancel and get a travel credit with no fee. Read the complete rules here.
SAS: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 19 for travel until August 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Southwest Airlines: Southwest never charges a fee to change or cancel a flight, as long as you do it at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. Read the complete rules here.
SWISS: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31 with a departure date up to April 30, 2020, as long as travel is completed by December 31, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
United: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31 for travel over the next 12 months. Read the complete rules here.
Virgin Atlantic: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 30, as long as you re-book for travel by September 30, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
WestJet: There’s no change fee for new tickets booked through March 31 for travel through June 24, 2020. Read the complete rules here.
Source: Scott's Cheap Flights
WILL FLIGHT PRICES DROP AS A RESULT OF COVID-19?
Airfare is generally lower as a result of COVID-19, though there’s a lot of variance across routes and dates. Flights aren’t just cheap for travel in the short-term, but as far out as next winter in many cases. There’s likely a limit to how far they’ll go, though.
Many airlines are reducing their flight schedules in tandem with the reduction in demand. For example, United is reducing its international flight schedule by 20% and its domestic schedule by 10%. Fewer flights means fewer seats to fill, which will limit how far fares drop even as fewer people are flying.
You can find absurd flight deals through daily digest emails from www.scottscheapflights.com, one of The Best Websites and Apps for Booking Travel.
HOW CAN I STAY SAFE WHILE TRAVELING?
According to the World Health Organization, the virus is spread by droplets from an infected person. When that person coughs or sneezes, the droplets land on people or surfaces nearby. If you then touch one of those surfaces and then touch your face and get a droplet in your eyes, nose, or mouth, you could get sick.
Their recommendations are to:
Wash your hands frequently
Avoid touching your face
Sanitize surfaces around you
Keep a distance of at least 3-4 feet from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
The CDC recommends similar precautions while flying: “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contain 60%–95% alcohol.”
For more tips, check out:
For updates while you travel, enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) which sends automated health and safety alerts for the country you’re visiting. As always, do you own due diligence.
SHOULD I CANCEL MY TRAVEL PLANS?
Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and there are a lot of factors that go into making this decision. Here are some things to consider:
Is there a State Department travel warning or advisory or a CDC travel warning in place for this destination due to COVID-19?
Are you relatively healthy or do you or your travel partner(s) have underlying health issues?
Are you and your travel partner(s) able to self-quarantine for two weeks upon return from your trip if needed or would this be a hardship?
Do you have concerns about spreading the virus in your community or household?
If your plans are affected (e.g. the airline cancels your flight), could you recoup money already spent?
Will you be able to enjoy yourself on your trip or will you be stressed?
The CDC says, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes." However, CDC has recommended that older and at-risk people avoid plane travel and recommends that "travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide."
The CDC has also specifically cautioned against travel to Italy, Iran, China, and South Korea, and on March 11 the State Department issued a global Level 3 advisory recommending US citizens "reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19." However, the World Health Organization opposes widespread travel bans for the general public, writing: “In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.” I couldn't agree more.
Additionally, as noted above, most airlines are waiving change fees for flights booked now through the end of March in order to entice travelers to book future trips with more peace of mind. This is constantly changing.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I WAS PLANNING TO FLY TO EUROPE DURING THE 30-DAY "TRAVEL BAN"?
On March 11th, 2020, there was a new policy announced as a ban on travel from Europe to the US, but there are some grey areas. The US government is also unsure if they should add the United Kingdom to this list. I unfortunately had to cancel my trip to London and Malta because the event I was attending was cancelled.
The policy prohibits foreign nationals from entering the US if they have been in one of the following 26 countries in the Schengen Area in the previous 14 days:
The policy does not prohibit US citizens, legal residents, and some of their family members from traveling freely between the US and those countries, with some caveats. The policy mentions that those US citizens and legal residents who do travel to Europe will only be able to return to the US via 11 selected ports of entry which have medical screenings in place.
Those ports of entry are:
Atlanta: Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Chicago: Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Dallas-Fort Worth: Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Detroit: Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
Honolulu: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
Los Angeles: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
New York City: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Newark, New Jersey: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
San Francisco: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Seattle: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Washington, D.C.: Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Upon return to the US, those with possible coronavirus symptoms will need to get medical attention and all other travelers will need to self-quarantine at home for 14 days after their return.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT ANYTIME.
DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE.
Sources: World Health Organization, US State Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins, Al Jazeera, Scott's Cheap Flights