CDC recommends staying home for the holidays -- Here's what to do if you may cancel your travel plans
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While we have all been counting down to the holidays, another count is increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days.
After seeing case counts fall for several months a little earlier in the year, perhaps you booked a trip for the holiday season to get away or see friends and family you've missed all year. But now, with the holidays rapidly approaching, COVID-19 cases increasing and lockdowns returning, and you may find yourself deciding to cancel your travel plans -- again.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website now states, "Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year." The CDC recommends virtual holiday gatherings this year over traditional gatherings as get-togethers "with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19."
In light of all of that, if you've decided it's not a good time to go home (or away) for the holidays after all, here's a checklist of things to consider and ultimately take action on.
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Check your travel insurance policy, if you have one
If you purchased a travel insurance policy, it's time to re-read the fine print.
Those with a "cancel for any reason" plan should be covered. Just keep in mind that even with those more comprehensive plans, you typically only get a percentage of your nonrefundable travel expenses back.
Most other travel insurance policies, including those that come with using certain credit cards you may have used to book travel, won't cover your expenses if you simply decide you'd prefer not to travel. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserves' benefits guide states that a non-covered reason is, "Your disinclination to travel due to an epidemic or pandemic." That means, just changing your mind won't cut it.
However, if you or an eligible member of your family is directly affected by illness, quarantine or similar, then that's a different scenario and more traditional travel insurance plans may kick-in for those documented reasons.
Check cancellation dates
Check the rules of your travel to see the latest date you can change or cancel without further penalty.
This cut-off date will vary dramatically based on the type of travel you've booked. Some travel is nonrefundable and non-changeable from the moment it is booked, while other travel can at least be changed until shortly before the stay or departure is set to occur.
But as soon as you start having doubts about your plans, double-check all of your relevant change and cancellation deadlines so you don't accidentally miss a window to back out without a penalty.
There may be no benefit to going ahead and pulling the ripcord on your future travel plans in advance if you aren't yet 100% sure you don't want to go, but sometimes it can be easier to avoid fees or get refunds sooner rather than later.
Did you have a schedule change?
Airlines have been adjusting schedules even more than normal this year to try and pace with fluctuating demand.
It's entirely possible your holiday flight reservation has experienced a major schedule or routing change since you booked. If you've experienced a truly large schedule or routing change that would have a material impact on your travel, you may be eligible for a refund if you request one from the airline.
If all else fails, you can wait to cancel your flights until almost the last minute. If your flight is canceled for some reason (weather, mechanical problems, etc.), you may also then be eligible for a refund. Just don't forget to cancel or change your plans before the scheduled departure.
Reach out and ask -- nicely
Even if you don't have relevant travel insurance and you aren't technically allowed to change or cancel a portion of your plans, it doesn't hurt to ask. Many travel companies and Airbnb owners get that we are all in unchartered territory. A trip that sounded like an OK idea even just a few weeks ago, may now present a very different risk proposition.
Or, the place you are set to travel to or from may have introduced new guidelines or restrictions on who can enter without a quarantine. That's been happening with states and counties across the country at an increasingly rapid rate these past couple of weeks.
While you aren't owed more flexibility than what you originally agreed to, it is worth reaching out to your travel provider and asking for assistance if you will no longer be making the trip. You could always politely ask if it is possible to receive a credit to travel at a later date, even if a refund isn't a viable option.
Talk to your family
If you were going to visit friends or family, have a real conversation with them as soon as you start doubting your plans, if not before. Different people are approaching this phase of the pandemic differently, and what seems like inadequate protection or precautions to one family member, may seem like massive overkill to another.
Whether you can together come up with a plan everyone feels safe with (the CDC website has recommendations to reduce risk if you do gather), or you simply need to break the news that you can't go forward with traveling right now, communicate as soon as you know it may not happen. If you were going to split lodging or other expenses, be ready to work through that part of the discussion, too.
It may not be a fun conversation if involved parties have different viewpoints on current risks, but putting it off generally won't make it any easier.
Money and miles aren't everything
I know this is easier said than done, but if you don't feel comfortable taking the trip you planned for this holiday season -- simply don't travel.
Recoup what you can in refunds or future credits and communicate with those impacted by the change, but know prioritizing health is never a waste. Yes, you may lose some cash or even temporarily cause some disappointment in the process, but don't let that stop you from making the choice you feel is best for your family.
Plan something else to look forward to
2020 has been a lot, and it can truly sting to shelve your holiday travel plans.
While it may not be an even exchange, plan something else fun for when you were going to travel. Perhaps that will mean local hiking with your immediate family, finally creating that Shutterfly book of old travel photos, spending time going all-out bananas with holiday decorations or booking something to really look forward to for the 2021 holiday season.
Figure out a way to safely fill that available time with something that will bring you at least a bit of joy.
Most decisions are hard right now. We are approaching the point when many haven't seen their families in a year, and while COVID-19 case trends appeared somewhat stabilized when travelers were making tentative holiday plans a month or two ago, the situation has again changed.
There's reason to be hopeful for widespread available vaccines in 2021, but for 2020, if you have decided to follow the CDC recommendations and sit tight at home for the holidays, now you have a checklist to run through if that happens.