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Airlines, cruises and tours waive change and cancellation fees due to coronavirus [Updated]

Posted: 31 March 2020 10:05 am
News

Man at airport holding his ticket and looking up.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Royal Caribbean and Contiki are among those letting you change your travel plans for free.

International travel restrictions are tightening by the day. So far, the government has enforced a 14-day self-isolation policy for overseas arrivals and has upgraded all destinations to "do not travel".

It's also calling for all citizens and permanent residents to return to Australia as soon as possible. From 9pm on 20 March, all non-residents and non-citizens will be denied entry into the country. A domestic travel ban has been put into place with some states and territories enforcing a 14 day-self isolation policy on all non-essential entrants.

With borders closing rapidly and airlines are planning to ground both international and domestic flights.

Of the Australian airlines:

  • Virgin Australia: From 31 March to 14 June 2020 all intern00ational flights are temporarily suspended. 90% of domestic flights will be suspended from 27 March to 14 June 2020.
  • Qantas and Jetstar: 31 March - 31 May, all regularly scheduled international flights are temporarily suspended. Domestic flights are also being reduced for the same dates.
  • Tigerair: As of 25 March 2020 all Australian flights are suspended.

In response to these drastic changes, travel companies are easing the stress of travel and lost finances by offering penalty-free changes and cancellations on upcoming trips.

Mind you, when they say cancellations, this doesn't necessarily mean refunds. More likely, they're providing flight credit to be used within 12 months of issue. This is similar to their fee-free change waivers, only you'll have a voucher that allows you to rebook rather than having to rebook on-site or through your booking agent.

Qantas and Jetstar passengers that are impacted by the cancellations will be contacted with recovery options, including travel credit to the full value of the untravelled journey. You can also cancel or reschedule your flight online.

Virgin Australia has established an online booking cancellation request form for any guests travelling before 30 June 2020 wishing to cancel for travel credit.

All this is in line with the ACCC advice on event and travel cancellation due to COVID-19. Provided on 18 March 2020 it states: "If events, flights or other travel services such as cruises are cancelled, the ACCC expects refunds or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher will be offered in most circumstances.

"However, if the event, flight or travel service is cancelled due to government restrictions, consumer rights under the consumer guarantees may be impacted. In these situations consumers may be entitled to a refund under the terms and conditions of their ticket, or potentially may make a claim under a travel insurance policy."

Of the airlines that depart our shores, Emirates, Qatar, Air New Zealand, Etihad, United Airlines, American Airlines, LATAM, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Scoot are all offering some level of flexibility.

Cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises are letting cruisers cancel for a full future cruise credit (FCC). For Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Silversea, MSC, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas and Celebrity Cruises, this is valid 48 hours prior to departure.

Of the tour companies, Contiki, Trafalgar and Topdeck are among many allowing fee-free reschedules.

Flights

Under the new policies, travel booked in the near future may be eligible for date or destination changes. Cancellation for travel credit is also available for some airlines.

Changes and credit are typically valid for a year from the ticket issue date with Qatar, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

If you're changing your flight, your new travel plans must be for the same booking class and must be made at least a few days in advance of the date of your flight. Generally, you'll only be given one change per booking. The exception is with Air New Zealand, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines, where the change penalties are waived regardless of the number of changes made.

While you'll avoid change fees or ticket reissue fees, you won't be able to avoid price difference charges if your flight costs more for the new date or if you're upgrading your flight class.

If your new flight costs less than what you originally paid, no refund of the difference will be given either.

Flights services are being cancelled daily with Qantas and Jetstar in particular looking to cut international services by 90% until May. If your service is cut you'll be contacted by the airline for options to either reschedule or cancel, likely for a travel credit voucher.

A breakdown of each airline's conditions

AirlineWhen must my initial flights be booked by?For how long can I defer my flight?When do I have to defer my flight by?Number of changes you can makeAm I allowed a destination change?Free cancellations allowed?
Virgin Australia (international flights only)Valid for new and existing bookings for flights departing until 30 June 2020Contact the airline directlyContact the airline directly for detailsMaximum two changes per bookingYesInternational flights for travel up until 30 June can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
QantasNo longer offering change fee waivers, only cancellations for creditInternational and domestic flights for travel up until 31 July can be cancelled by 30 April 2020 in exchange for travel credit. Credit is valid for travel until 31 December 2021.
JetstarNo longer offering change fee waivers, only cancellations for creditCredit must be redeemed within 6 months of issue, travel taken within 12 months of the booking date.International and domestic flights for travel up until 31 July can be cancelled by 30 April 2020 in exchange for travel credit.
TigerairOriginal travel must be between 15 March and 30 June 2020Change to any available future travel datesUp until the flight departure date; however, keep in mind long waiting queuesOneYesNo
Singapore AirlinesOn or before 15 March 2020 for travel up to 31 May 2020New flight itinerary must be completed by 31 March 20213 days prior to departureOneYesNo
Emirates31 March 2020Up to 11 months from ticket issueUp until the flight departure dateMultipleNoNo
QatarFor travel up until 30 June 2020Up to 12 months3 days prior to departureOneYesTravel up until 30 June can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
Cathay Pacific20 April 2020Travel must be completed by 28 February 2021Up until the flight departure dateMultipleYesYes. Cancel tickets purchased by 23 March for travel 17 March - 31 May 2020 for travel credit. New flight must depart by 10 December 2020.
Air New Zealand31 March 2020Up to 12 months from ticket issueUp until the flight departure dateMultipleNoTravellers impacted by the cancellation of Pasifika Festival, Deftones concert, ASB Polyfest, Homegrown and the My Chemical Romance concert can cancel in exchange for travel credit
Malaysia Airlines23 March 2020Rebookings must be made by 31 May 2020 and rebooked travel completed by 31 December 2020TBCMultipleYesNo
Air Canada31 March 2020Your deferred trip must be completed by 31 December 202024 hours prior to the original departure dateOneTBC
Etihad7 April 2020, for travel from 22 March 2020Up to 12 months from ticket issue48 hours prior to departureOneNoNo
Scoot31 May 2020Travel by 31 March 20214 hours prior to departureOneNoYes. Self-service feature is available online. This is valid for bookings made before 15 March 2020 for travel until 31 May 2020. Refunds will be in the form of Scoot vouchers
AirAsia30 April 2020Change flight date within 90 days OR cancel for credit, valid for 12 monthsContact airline for detailsOneNoFlights booked until 30 April can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
Hawaiian Airlines31 March 2020New travel must be ticketed on or before 31 December 2020, new travel must commence before 31 December 202024 hours prior to departureOneNoFlights booked to attend the Merrie Monarch Festival (11-21 April, travel to Hilo or Kona) can be cancelled for a refund
British Airways16 March 2020Date changes and travel credit are both available and valid up to 12 months from ticket issueUp until departureOneYes, if you opt for the travel voucherNo
United Airlines31 March 2020Up to 12 months from ticket issueUp until departureOneYesFlights booked from 3-31 March can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
Delta31 March 2020Travel must begin by 28 February 2021Up until departureOneNoFlights booked before or on 9 March can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
American Airlines30 April 2020Up to 12 months from ticket issueUp until departureOneYesNo
LATAM (international bookings only)22 March 2020, for travel until 31 December 2020Contact the airline directly14 days prior to departureOneYesNo
Thai Airways30 April 2020Rebook by 15 December 2020Prior to departureOneYesNo
KLMValid for flights departing by 31 May 2020Rebooked by 30 November 2020Contact the airlineOneNoFlights can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit
Garuda IndonesiaValid for flights purchased by 15 March for travel until 31 May 2020Can extend ticket validity until 31 March 202148 hours prior to departure is recommendedOneYesFlights can be refunded via voucher, which must be used by 31 March 2021

Select online travel agencies have also issued change fee waivers and cancellations. Expedia is offering penalty-free cancellations on full-service flights scheduled to depart before 30 April 2020. These can be refunded in the form of credit with the airline. Change and cancellation policies on low-cost airlines vary. Check the Expedia Customer Support Portal for more details.

Cruises

On 15 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned cruise ships that had sailed from foreign ports from docking in Australia for 30 days.

As of 28 March, this ban has been extended unil 15 June. In compliance, luxury liners including P&O and Carnival Cruises have suspended their operations until 16 June.

Travellers who are impacted by these impacted cancellations are being compensated with 100% future cruise credit. This can be used on cruises as far into the future as 2022.

Bookings for travel beyond the suspension dates are still available, and many fee waivers are still in place. This means that some future bookings can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to sailing. And if you choose to rebook, generally, any decrease in price will be refunded to the traveller in the form of credit. If the new cruise cost is higher, travellers will have to pay the difference.

A breakdown of each cruise liner's conditions

CruiseWhich cruises are eligible?When do I have to use my credit by?When's the cut-off for free changes?
Royal CaribbeanCruises departing before 31 July 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs before 31 December 202148 hours before departure
Princess CruisesCruises departing before 31 May 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through 1 May 202072 hours for cruises departing 9 March - 3 April 2020

By 31 March for cruises departing 4 April - 31 May 2020

Celebrity CruisesCruises departing before 31 July 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs before 31 December 202148 hours before departure
SilverseaCruises departing before 31 July 2020For cruises sailing before 31 May: Credit is given and can be used on any cruise that departs before 31 December 2021

For cruises sailing from 1 June - 30 July: If cancelled 30+ days in advance cash refund or future cruise credit is given. Cancellations made 2-30 days prior to sailing will receive 100% future cruise credit

48 hours before departure
MSCCruises departing before 31 July 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs before 31 December 202148 hours before departure
UniworldCruises departing before 1 May 2020Cancel 14 days before departure for a reduced cancellation fee of $250
VikingAll sailings. Cancellations by 30 June 2020Credit is valid for 24 months24 hours before departure
Holland America LineOption 1: Cruises departing before 31 July 2020

Option 2: Cruises departing from 1 April - 15 October, bookings must be made before 30 April

Redeem credit within 90 daysOption 1: 48 hours before departure

Option 2: 30 days before departure

Norwegian Cruise LineAll sailings through 30 September 2020

Note: All sailings from 1 October 2020 can be cancelled for a full refund up until 120 days prior to sailing

Credit expires 21 December 202248 hours before departure
Regent Seven SeasCruises booked by 30 April, departing on or before 30 SeptemberRedeem credit within 12 months, sail before 21 December 202248 hours before departure

See here for a full list of cruises, their suspension dates and change or refund options.

Tours

While many tour companies have cancelled or reorganised their expeditions to avoid highly infected places like China, Italy and South Korea, the effect on cancellation and rescheduling policies has been minimal.

Of note, Contiki has announced flexible deposits and no change fees when you cancel at least 30 days before departure. Your deposit will be held as credit to use on future trips.

Trafalgar has issued a temporary fee-free cancellation policy for bookings departing after 1 April and on any new 2020 bookings. Cancellations must be made 30 days before departure and are on land journeys that don't go to Oberammergau.

Intrepid is allowing reschedules for tours departing in 42 days or less. If your new tour is cheaper, you'll be given a full refund of the difference. If your new tour is more expensive, you'll have to pay the difference.

Tours departing in more than 42 days can also be rescheduled to a later date or onto another itinerary. If your new tour is cheaper, a refund of the difference will be provided, and if it's more expensive, Topdeck will cover the first $100.

To stamp out the spread of coronavirus, G Adventures, Intrepid, Insight Vacations and Topdeck are among those who have suspended all or most of their tours until 30 April. Those booked on affected tours will not be given a refund. Instead, travel credit will be given to customers to use on future tours.

A breakdown of each tour company's conditions

Tour companyTour must departWhat's the cut-off for free changes?Free cancellations allowed?
ContikiAnytime30 days prior to departureYes, your deposit is saved as travel credit
IntrepidAfter 30 April 2020No cut-off dateYes, cancel for travel credit valid for departures before 30 April 2022
G AdventuresAfter 30 April 202030-59 days prior to departureYes, in exchange for travel credit
TrafalgarAfter 1 April 202030 days prior to departureNo
TopdeckAfter 30 April 202060 days prior to departure to avoid loss of depositNo, deposit will be lost
Insight VacationsAfter 30 April 202030 days prior to departureNo

These cancellation and change waivers are temporary and can be removed or altered at any time, particularly as the COVID-19 situation evolves. They are for direct bookings, so travel agencies may have varying policies.

Hotels

Although many hotels allow you to cancel for free, this is usually for select bookings only. Typically, you'll find non-refundable bookings have the cheapest rates. In light of the pandemic, hotels and homeshare are now offering more flexible arrangements for anyone who purchased a non-refundable stay.

For example, the Marriott is allowing fee-free changes or cancellations on existing pre-paid bookings, as long as the change is made before 30 April 2020 and at least 24 hours prior to your stay.

New bookings made before 30 April are also allowed to be changed or cancelled without penalty. Again, these changes must be made 24 hours prior to your stay.

Hilton is waiving cancellation fees but only if you're in regions affected by government-issued travel restrictions. This is valid for arrivals prior to 30 April and cancellations must be made 24 hours before your stay. Changes are also accepted without penalty, even on non-refundable or amendable stays.

On 14 March, Airbnb activated an extenuating circumstances policy that allows fee-free cancellations on experiences and stays. Eligible bookings must have a check-in date between 14 March and 14 April, and the policy is valid for trips worldwide, excluding domestic travel in mainland China, which is due to resume from 1 April.

Something to keep in mind is that these penalty-free cancellations are available for both guests and hosts. So if you're planning on staying in an Airbnb, it's a good idea to contact your host to confirm that the booking still remains.

Online booking agent Expedia is allowing customers booked on non-redundable rates before 19 March 2020 the ability to cancel their stay in exchange for a refund or travel voucher. Stays must have been between 20 March - 30 April 2020. Non-refundable stays after 30 April aren't currently available for free cancellations however this may change as the crisis evolves.

Hotel chainStay datesWhat's the cut-off for free changes?Free cancellations allowed?
MarriottBefore 30 April24 hours prior to your stayYes
Hilton (only for regions affected by travel restrictions)Before 30 April 202024 hoursYes
Avani HotelsBook by 30 April, stay before 31 October48 hoursNo, date and destination changes only
AirbnbBefore 14 AprilContact Airbnb directYes
Luxury Escapes (international bookings only)Any datesUp until the day of travelChange of date only

Before you book any kind of trip, be sure to verse yourself on the terms and conditions, and check Smartraveller for updates and travel advice on your destination.

Even though coronavirus is now a known event and you won't be covered for any COVID-19 related incidences, it is still worth considering travel insurance for your future trip. If you decide to delay or alter your itinerary, it is possible to update your policy with the new dates, provided you haven't started your trip yet.

This story was updated on 31 March 2020 to include new information from Jetstar.

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Other quick ways to save money

Are you worried about your finances during this time? Don't forget to review your bills - spending a little time on admin, could save you over the weeks and months to come.

Here are some guides on how to save some money on your daily expenses. There are plenty of things you could do, from checking your energy rates, switching to a low-interest credit card, or simply dropping parts of your insurance that you don't need.

Picture: GettyImages

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