Can I cancel or change a ticket booked through the Amex or Chase Travel Portal due to coronavirus?

Mar 23, 2020

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The worldwide coronavirus outbreak has put the travel world into a frenzy — and it’s showing no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. The week started with airlines cutting capacity on many flights, Kuwait suspending all air travel, and the Italian government putting the entire country under a mandatory quarantine. The biggest news, though, came last night when the U.S. government announced that the country is restricting travel to the U.S. from Europe for the next 30 days.

For the latest travel updates, bookmark TPG’s coronavirus hub page

Dozens of airlines worldwide have already announced blanket travel waivers that let travelers change or cancel tickets with no fee. But each airline handles cancellations and rebookings differently. Further complicating matters, how you booked your ticket can have an impact — especially if you used some types of points and miles.

Those with existing travel plans will undoubtedly be disrupted by these restrictions, and many TPG readers have asked what to do if you used American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a flight to Europe or another area affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

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Travel waivers for award tickets booked through travel portals

American Express and Chase have their own policies regarding the coronavirus outbreak. However after two days of asking questions of both issuers, there are still unanswered questions. Here’s a quick overview of what each company said and some of our questions that remain without an answer.

American Express Travel

American Express Travel has issued a statement on its website discussing travel cancellations due to the coronavirus outbreak. In short, it hasn’t put any special travel waivers into place — instead, it’s relying on the airlines to issue fee waivers.

All airline cancellation policies are listed on the American Express Travel website — just navigate to the page and select your airline from the drop-down menu at the center of the screen. American Express Travel has also listed hotel cancellation policies for major hotel chains further down the page.

These waivers are all subject to change, so make sure to keep an eye on our travel waiver roundup for more info. You’re still subject to change or cancellation fees imposed by the carrier if you’re not covered by an existing airline or hotel fee waiver.

Note that if you cancel a ticket purchased through American Express Travel, you’ll receive your refund in the form of a statement credit, even if you paid with points. This is also the case if you cancel a ticket in the 24-hour grace period after you booked a flight. We have, however, heard reader reports of American Express issuing Membership Rewards refunds upon request.

If you cancel a ticket not covered by an existing waiver, you’ll be subject to standard cancellation and change fees from the airline. This will be subtracted from the refund issued to your American Express account.

American Express recently updated its coronavirus travel page to note that flights booked on Delta Air Lines and United Airlines can now be canceled through the Delta and United websites respectively. Additionally, flights booked on other airlines through Amex Travel can be canceled online using this form.

There are a couple of things to be aware of when using the online cancellation form, though. Unfortunately, you can only use this form if there are more than five days until your flight is set to depart and if you booked your flight more than 24 hours ago. You must call Amex Travel to cancel flights set to depart in the next five days or that have been booked in the last 24 hours.

This is especially important for flights booked within the past 24 hours. By law, airlines must issue a full refund for all tickets canceled within 24 hours of booking, so long as the flight is set to depart seven days or more from booking. Using the form may cause your flight to be canceled after this grace period, leaving you with a smaller refund or a flight credit in place of a full refund.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

In an email to cardholders, Chase noted that bookings made through the Chase Travel Portal are subject to the airline or hotel operator’s change and cancellation policies. This means that — like American Express — Chase is not offering any type of travel waiver of its own.

The customer service lines are jammed right now, but Chase said “We’re working with our Ultimate Rewards travel partner Expedia on self-service cancellation options that will launch very soon. We are addressing individual cases and will work with customers who can’t reach us right now.” If your trip is within three days, you should call them; otherwise, they advise reaching out to the travel provider for current information.

Chase told TPG that in the event of a refund, “(you would be) refunded in your original form of payment. So if you booked with points you would be credited back in points.”

Related: Check in on the TPG Lounge with your experiences canceling Chase Ultimate Rewards bookings

That said, not all data points paint the picture of that always being the case in practice. TPG is aware of a recent situation when a flight booked with a mix of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and dollars via Chase Travel could only be ‘refunded’ via Alaska Airlines for an Alaska Airlines credit to be used on a future flight. Meanwhile, TPG Senior Writer Ethan Steinberg received a full refund in points last week for a Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal booking he made on Cathay Pacific.

On March 16, 2020, Chase emailed customers with Chase Travel Portal bookings stating that customers can now cancel bookings made through the portal using an online form. You can access this form through the Ultimate Rewards Travel FAQ page. Once submitted, you give Chase authorization to cancel and refund your booking.

Chase will make its “best effort” to process your cancellation request in seven business days or less, so submit your form soon if you’re set to travel in the next week or so. Further, the email states that you’re still subject to any cancellation fees imposed by the airline, hotel, or rental car company. Thankfully, these fees will be waived if your travel company has issued a travel fee waiver — Chase will reach out to you if you’re not guaranteed a refund of your booking.

You may be able to change your flight on the airline’s website

We’ve heard reader reports of being able to change tickets directly through the airline’s website if the airline in question is offering a waiver. TPG reader Ny commented that they were able to change a United ticket booked on the Chase Travel Portal on the airline’s website. This may be possible with other airlines too — check your reservation on the airline’s website for more info.

This data point is in line with United’s coronavirus travel waiver. The airline notes that all new bookings made between March 3 and March 31, 2020 can be changed for free. Additionally, all existing tickets with travel dates between March 9 and April 30, 2020 can be changed without penalty. United notes that these changes can be made on its website.

Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for ticket cancellations. Most airlines require that tickets be canceled through the agency that originally issued the ticket. In the case of a ticket booked with Amex or Chase points, the bank’s travel agency is the one responsible for canceling the ticket for you.

Again, being able to change tickets through the airline largely depends on the airline you’re flying and if your ticket is covered by a travel waiver. We’ll update this post with more data points as we get them.

Travel waivers for tickets booked through transfer partners

Tickets booked through transfer partners are generally subject to the same cancellation policies as the airline you transferred points to, not the airline operating the flight. For example, if you booked an Air France flight using Delta SkyMiles, you can cancel your ticket and have miles redeposited for free per Delta’s travel notice.

Related: Can I cancel or change my award ticket due to coronavirus travel waivers?

Be sure to double check with the transfer partner you used to book the ticket, though, as this policy varies from airline to airline. Further, points cannot be returned all the way to American Express or Chase if you cancel an award ticket or hotel stay booked via a transfer made to a hotel or airline partner — instead, the miles or points will be refunded to the partner you booked through.

There’s no harm in asking

There’s no doubt that this situation will continue evolving over the coming weeks and perhaps even months, so we may see more fee waivers issued in the near future. Further, some phone and social media representatives may be more sympathetic than others, so we highly recommend calling in to cancel a nonrefundable award ticket before you cancel online with a penalty — you may be able to get the change or cancellation fee waived.

d3sign / Getty Images.
(Photo by d3sign/Getty Images.)

Due to the scale of this outbreak, there’s a good chance you’ll be subject to long hold times. Consider using the airline or issuer’s automated callback service if offered — these services will call you back when it’s your turn to speak to a representative. Likewise, call the airline’s elite status line if you have elite status. These are prioritized over standard calls and can get you to a representative faster.

Related: How to get through to airline representatives faster

There’s no guarantee that the phone agent will be able to waive your change or cancellation fee if you’re asking for an exception to the published policy. It’s best practice to remain calm and respectful, especially when you consider just how many calls these phone representatives are handling during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bottom line

We’ll likely see more waivers put into place as the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow and evolve. So if you’re waiting to cancel a nonrefundable ticket, we highly recommend that you keep an eye on the travel waiver policy for your airline or hotel. Regardless, only travel if you know the risks and feel comfortable — you can use our coronavirus hub page to stay up to date on the disease and its impact on the travel industry as a whole.

Featured photo by Chalabala/Getty Images.

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