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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 were 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 international flights are temporarily suspended. Domestic flights have been reduced.
  • 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 lets 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 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.

Domestic and international flight services with Qantas and Jetstar have been cut by up to 95%. As at 5 May, the majority of domestic and trans-Tasman flights are suspended until end-June while international services are suspended until end-July.

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.

Booked through an online travel agent? You'll likely be able to cancel or amend your booking as well. As at 3 May all Flight Centre bookings, including those with Aunt Betty, Travel Associates, Student Universe, Universal Traveller and Jetescape Travel (Byojet Travel) cancelled due to COVID-19 will be refunded without penalty.

Any future travel booked with a travel agent will however be subject to its terms and conditions.

For example, Expedia was offering penalty-free cancellations on full-service flights scheduled to depart before 30 April 2020. These could be refunded in the form of credit with the airline. There's no details yet on whether these flexibile cancellations will continue for future bookings. Check the Expedia Customer Support Portal for more details.

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 by 31 October.Contact the airline directlyContact the airline directly for detailsUnlimited on domestic flights, maximum 2 changes for international flights.YesInternational flights for travel up until 31 June can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit.
QantasBook a domestic flight by 31 August for travel before 31 October.Change to any available future travel datesBefore the date of departureOneNoInternational and domestic flights for travel up until 31 October can be cancelled up until the date in exchange for travel credit. Credit is valid for travel until 31 December 2021.
JetstarNo credit, only fee-free flight changes. Original flight must be booked between 21 May and 31 August.New flights must be completed by 31 October.Contact the airline directly for detailsOneNoInternational and domestic flights for travel up until 31 July can be cancelled by 30 April 2020 in exchange for travel credit.
TigerairNo changes can be made, only credits on cancelled flights for tickets purchased before 20 April.Cancelled flights that have not been compensated yet are eligible for conditional credit with Virgin Australia (domestic flights only).--Yes-
Singapore AirlinesTickets issued from 5 March to 31 August 2020New flight itinerary must be completed by 31 March 20213 days prior to departureOneYesNo
Emirates31 June 2020 for travel on or before 30 November 2020Opt to:
-Keep your ticket for 24 months and reschedule when ready to-Exchange any unused portion of tickets for a travel voucher equivalent to the original amount paid
Up until the flight departure dateMultipleNoYes. Even if you've opted to keep your ticket or be issued travel vouchers you can still ask for a full refund.
QatarFor travel up until 31 December 2020Up to 24 months3 days prior to departureMultipleYesYes. Flights can be cancelled in exchange for future travel as a voucher with 10% additional value. These are valid for 2 years. Refunds will only be given if your flight is cancelled.
Cathay Pacific17 March to 30 June 2020Up to 12 monthsUp until the flight departure dateMultipleYesYes. Cancel tickets purchased by 23 March for travel until 30 June 2020 for a refund or travel credit. New flight must be booked by 31 December 2020 and departy by 30 June 2021.
Air New Zealand31 July 2020 for international flights or 30 June for trans-Tasman flights.Up to 12 months from ticket issueUp until the flight departure dateOneYesYes. Tickets for travel until 31 December can be cancelled for a credit.
Malaysia Airlines30 June 2020Rebookings must be made by 31 December and travel completed by 30 June 2021Contact airline for detailsMultipleYesNo
Air CanadaBookings made by 31 July 2020 for travel between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2021Your deferred trip must be completed by 30 June 20222 hours prior to departureOneTBCYes. Bookings made direct with the airline can be cancelled fee-free for travel credit.
Etihad31 AugustRebooked by 30 November and travel by 31 October 202148 hours prior to departureMultipleNoYes for Etihad credit. Book by 3
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 July 2020 that have been cancelled. Choose between a 100% refund to your original payment method or a 120% Scoot voucher credit valid for 12 months.
AirAsiaBookings made by 17 April for travel from 23 March - 31 August 2020All available datesUp until departureMultipleNoFlights can be cancelled instead of rebooked in exchange for travel credit, valid for 2 years
Hawaiian AirlinesBookings made from 1 March - 31 July2 years from issue date24 hours prior to departureOneYes, if you opt for creditYes. Tickets purchased before 1 March 2020 can be cancelled and rebooked for travel before 31 May 2022. Tickets purchased from 1 March - 31 July 2020 can be rebooked for travel 2 years from purchase.
British AirwaysFrom 3 March to 31 August 2020 for travel until 30 April 2021Date changes are valid up to 12 months from ticket issue. Credit is valud until 30 April 2022.Up until departureOneYes, if you opt for the travel voucherYes in exchange for a voucher only. Valid for bookings made before 3 March for travel until 30 September or made between 3 March-31 August for travel until 30 April 2020. Voucher valid until 30 April 2020.
United Airlines1) 3-31 March

2) 1 April - 31 July 2020

1) Up to 24 months from ticket issue

2) Up to 12 months from ticket issue

Up until departureOneYesSame rules apply for change fee waiver, only an eCredit voucher voucher is supplied.
DeltaFlights purchased through 31 AugustFor tickets booked prior to 17 April: 24 months from date of issue

For tickets booked after 17 April: 12 months from date of issue

Up until departureOneYesSame rules apply for change fee waiver, only a credit voucher is supplied.
American Airlines30 September 2020. Bookings made by 31 July will also have change fees waived for travel 1 October and after.Rebook by 31 December 2020Up 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
KLM21 April 2020If booked before 21 April you have until 30 November 2020 to choose new dates. If booked after 21 April travel dates are only limited by what's available.Contact the airlineOneNoYes. Flights can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit plus an extra 15% if your voucher is used within 12 months. Otherwise, voucher is valid until 31 December 2021.
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

Cruises

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

Since then the ban has been extended until 17 September. In compliance, luxury liners including P&O and Carnival Cruises have suspended their operations until September/October.

Travellers who are impacted by these cancellations are being compensated with 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 CaribbeanCruise bookings made by 30 August 2020Credit is valid for 12 months48 hours before departure
Princess CruisesCruises departing before 30 April 2021Up to 12 months
  • 48 hours before departure for cruises sailing before 31 July 2020.
  • 30 days before departure for cruises sailing from 1 August - 15 October 2020
Celebrity CruisesCruise bookings made by 30 September 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through to 4 May 202248 hours before departure
SilverseaCruises departing before 30 April 2021Credit is valid for 24 months. Cash refund is also available.48 hours before departure
AzamaraCruise bookings made by 30 September 2020Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through to April 202248 hours before departure
MSCCruises departing up until 2 May 2021 and booked from 8 May-31 July 2020Credit can be used on any cruises between 1 August and 2 May 202115 days prior to departure
UniworldAll bookings from 1 June 2020Credit valud for 2 yearsCancel 60 days prior to departure
VikingAll sailings booked by 31 July 2020Credit is valid for 24 months24 hours before departure
Holland America LineBook by 31 August for departures through 31 December 2020Credit is valid for 12 months30 days prior to departure
Norwegian Cruise LineAll sailings through 31 December 2020. Sailings after can be cancelled up to 120 days prior to cruising.Credit expires 21 December 202248 hours before departure
Regent Seven SeasCruises booked by 31 July 2020, departing on or before 30 December 2022Redeem credit within 12 months, sail before 21 December 202215 days prior to departure
Fred. Olsen Cruise LinesAll sailings in 2020 and 2021Credit expires within 24 months. Refunds also available.2 weeks before departure

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

Tours

Worldwide, tours tour companies have cancelled and rescheduled many of their expeditions. However, the effect this has had 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. If Contiki cancels the trip you'll be offered a credit. If you booked your trip before 8 April however, you may be eligible for a refund.

Trafalgar has suspended all journeys up until 30 November 2020 with monies paid toward cancelled trips reimbursed as future credit. The tour company has issued a temporary fee-free cancellation policy for bookings departing from December 2020. Cancellations must be made 30 days before departure and are on land journeys.

Intrepid has cancelled all tours until 30 September and has issued travel credits for anyone booked on these. If your tour departs on after 30 September June, you can cancel or delay it and travel anytime before 30 September 2022.

Topdeck has similarly offering credit for any cancelled tours, either on their part of yours. This credit includes an additional $100 and must be used by December 2021.

To stamp out the spread of coronavirus, G Adventures, Intrepid and Topdeck are among those who have suspended all or most of their tours until 30 September. 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 September 202021 days prior to departureYes, cancel for travel credit valid for departures before 30 April 2022
G AdventuresBefore 31 December14 days prior to departure or 30 days prior to departure for tours departing between 1 January and 31 July 2021.Yes, in exchange for travel credit
TrafalgarFrom December 202030 days prior to departureNo
TopdeckAfter 30 September 202040 days prior to departureYes, in exchange for travel credit. Cancellation request must be made 60 days prior to departure
Insight VacationsAfter 30 November 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 allowed fee-free changes or cancellations on existing pre-paid bookings made before 30 June 2020. It's since updated this to include new reservations made on or after 6 July for arrivals until 30 September. Changes can be made 24 hours in advance.

Hilton is waiving cancellation and change fees on bookings made before 12 March for arrivals no later than 31 August 2020. This must be done at least 24 hours prior to arrival.

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?
MarriottThrough 30 September24 hours prior to your stayYes
HiltonBefore 31 August 202024 hoursYes
Avani HotelsBooking made from 31 March - 31 August for stays completed by 20 December 202024 hoursYes
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 July 2020 with change fee waiver date extensions on Delta.

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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.

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