Airlines, cruises and tours waive change and cancellation fees due to coronavirus [Updated]
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 international 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.
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
|Airline||When 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 make||Am 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 2020||Contact the airline directly||Contact the airline directly for details||Maximum two changes per booking||Yes||International flights for travel up until 30 June can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit|
|Qantas||No longer offering change fee waivers, only cancellations for credit||–||–||–||–||International and domestic flights for travel up until 30 September can be cancelled up until the date in exchange for travel credit. Credit is valid for travel until 31 December 2021.|
|Jetstar||No longer offering change fee waivers, only cancellations for credit||Credit 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.|
|Tigerair||Original travel must be between 15 March and 30 June 2020||Change to any available future travel dates||Up until the flight departure date; however, keep in mind long waiting queues||One||Yes||No|
|Singapore Airlines||On or before 15 March 2020 for travel up to 31 May 2020||New flight itinerary must be completed by 31 March 2021||3 days prior to departure||One||Yes||No|
|Emirates||31 June 2020 for travel on or before 30 November 2020||Opt 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 date||Multiple||No||Yes. Even if you've opted to keep your ticket or be issued travel vouchers you can still ask for a full refund.|
|Qatar||For travel up until 31 December 2020||Up to 24 months||3 days prior to departure||Multiple||Yes||Yes. 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 Pacific||17 March to 30 June 2020||Up to 12 months||Up until the flight departure date||Multiple||Yes||Yes. 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 Zealand||31 March 2020||Up to 12 months from ticket issue||Up until the flight departure date||Multiple||No||Travellers 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 Airlines||23 March 2020||Rebookings must be made by 31 May 2020 and rebooked travel completed by 31 December 2020||TBC||Multiple||Yes||No|
|Air Canada||31 March 2020||Your deferred trip must be completed by 31 December 2020||24 hours prior to the original departure date||One||TBC||–|
|Etihad||7 April 2020, for travel from 22 March 2020||Up to 12 months from ticket issue||48 hours prior to departure||One||No||No|
|Scoot||31 May 2020||Travel by 31 March 2021||4 hours prior to departure||One||No||Yes. Self-service feature is available online. This is valid for bookings made before 15 March 2020 for travel until 31 May 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.|
|AirAsia||Bookings from 23 March to 31 July||Change flight date before 31 October 2020||Contact airline for details||Unlimted||No||Flights booked from 23 March to 31 July 2020 can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit, valid for 2 years|
|Hawaiian Airlines||31 March 2020||New travel must be ticketed on or before 31 December 2020, new travel must commence before 31 December 2020||24 hours prior to departure||One||No||Flights booked to attend the Merrie Monarch Festival (11-21 April, travel to Hilo or Kona) can be cancelled for a refund|
|British Airways||16 March 2020||Date changes and travel credit are both available and valid up to 12 months from ticket issue||Up until departure||One||Yes, if you opt for the travel voucher||No|
|United Airlines||31 March 2020||Up to 12 months from ticket issue||Up until departure||One||Yes||Flights booked from 3-31 March can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit|
|Delta||31 March 2020||Travel must begin by 28 February 2021||Up until departure||One||No||Flights booked before or on 9 March can be cancelled in exchange for travel credit|
|American Airlines||30 April 2020||Up to 12 months from ticket issue||Up until departure||One||Yes||No|
|LATAM (international bookings only)||22 March 2020, for travel until 31 December 2020||Contact the airline directly||14 days prior to departure||One||Yes||No|
|Thai Airways||30 April 2020||Rebook by 15 December 2020||Prior to departure||One||Yes||No|
|KLM||Valid for flights booked on or before 21 April for travel on or before 31 August||Rebooked by 30 November 2020||Contact the airline||One||No||Yes. 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 Indonesia||Valid for flights purchased by 15 March for travel until 31 May 2020||Can extend ticket validity until 31 March 2021||48 hours prior to departure is recommended||One||Yes||Flights can be refunded via voucher, which must be used by 31 March 2021|
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
|Cruise||Which cruises are eligible?||When do I have to use my credit by?||When's the cut-off for free changes?|
|Royal Caribbean||Cruise bookings made by 1 August 2020 for sailings through to April 2022||Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through to April 2022||48 hours before departure|
|Princess Cruises||Cruises departing before 31 May 2020||Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through 1 May 2020|
|Celebrity Cruises||Cruise bookings made by 1 August 2020 for sailings through to April 2022||Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through to 4 May 2022||48 hours before departure|
|Silversea||Cruise bookings made by 1 August 2020 for sailings departing before 31 December 2020||Credit is valid for 24 months. Cash refund is also available.||48 hours before departure|
|Azamara||Cruise bookings made by 1 August 2020 for sailings through to April 2022||Credit can be used on any cruise that departs through to April 2022||48 hours before departure|
|MSC||Cruises departing before 31 July 2020||Credit can be used on any cruise that departs before 31 December 2021||48 hours before departure|
|Uniworld||Cruises departing before 1 May 2020||–||Cancel 14 days before departure for a reduced cancellation fee of $250|
|Viking||All sailings. Cancellations by 30 June 2020||Credit is valid for 24 months||24 hours before departure|
|Holland America Line||Option 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 days||Option 1: 48 hours before departure|
Option 2: 30 days before departure
|Norwegian Cruise Line||All 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 2022||48 hours before departure|
|Regent Seven Seas||Cruises booked by 30 April, departing on or before 30 September||Redeem credit within 12 months, sail before 21 December 2022||48 hours before departure|
|Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines||All sailings in 2020||Credit expires within 24 months. Refunds also available.||2 weeks before departure|
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 issued a temporary fee-free cancellation policy for bookings departing after 30 June 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. All tours until 30 June have already been cancelled and travellers should have been contacted for a credit.
Intrepid has cancelled all tours until 31 May and has issued travel crdits for anyone booked on these. If your tour departs on after 1 June, you can still cancel or delay it and travel anytime before 30 April 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, 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 company||Tour must depart||What's the cut-off for free changes?||Free cancellations allowed?|
|Contiki||Anytime||30 days prior to departure||Yes, your deposit is saved as travel credit|
|Intrepid||After 30 April 2020||No cut-off date||Yes, cancel for travel credit valid for departures before 30 April 2022|
|G Adventures||After 30 April 2020||30-59 days prior to departure||Yes, in exchange for travel credit|
|Trafalgar||After 1 April 2020||30 days prior to departure||No|
|Topdeck||By 1 September 2020||No cut-off date||Yes, in exchange for travel credit for travel before 31 December 2021|
|Insight Vacations||After 30 April 2020||30 days prior to departure||No|
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.
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 June 2020 and at least 24 hours prior to your stay.
New bookings made before 30 June 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 chain||Stay dates||What's the cut-off for free changes?||Free cancellations allowed?|
|Marriott||Before 30 June 2020||24 hours prior to your stay||Yes|
|Hilton (only for regions affected by travel restrictions)||Before 30 April 2020||24 hours||Yes|
|Avani Hotels||Book by 30 April, stay before 31 October||48 hours||No, date and destination changes only|
|Airbnb||Before 14 April||Contact Airbnb direct||Yes|
|Luxury Escapes (international bookings only)||Any dates||Up until the day of travel||Change 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 7 May 2020 to include cruise with confidence extensions by Royal Caribbean and its gloabl cruise brands.
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