As the omicron variant rises, here’s what to do if you need to cancel your trip
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.
Cases of the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant started rapidly rising around the world this summer. And just in time for the busy holiday travel season, we’re also seeing the rise of the omicron variant, which may be more contagious than others and contains several spike protein mutations that may make it less responsive to COVID-19 vaccines.
Earlier this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance and is recommending people in high-risk areas wear masks indoors again — vaccinated or not. Some states, local governments and even theme parks are again requiring it.
Luckily, many travel providers are letting you change or cancel your bookings for free, including ones that originally let their COVID-19-related flexible travel waivers expire. Even better, in most cases, these changes and cancellations can be made online. Some airlines that had reintroduced some more restrictive ‘Basic Economy’ fares that aren’t as flexible are adding some temporary waivers for those fares as pandemic-related cases spike up once again.
Today, we’re going to take a look at everything you need to know if you’re considering modifying your plans — again.
Airline change and cancellation policies
Trips booked between Feb. 27, 2020, and April 30, 2021, can be changed or canceled for no fee, as long as the new travel takes place within a year of the original travel date. Additionally, Alaska has permanently removed change and cancellation fees for new main cabin and first-class bookings. Newly booked Saver fares (basic economy) cannot be changed or canceled.
You must change or cancel your flight before departure to be eligible for flight credit. Apart from same-day confirmed changes, you will be liable for any fare difference if you choose to change a flight.
For more information: See the full Alaska policy.
Allegiant’s change and cancel fees have been temporarily reduced to $25 per person, per segment. However, any changes or cancellations must be made within seven days of departure unless you’ve purchased Trip Flex. This add-on, which can only be purchased at the time of booking, allows a one-time change or cancellation until one hour before departure.
For more information: See the full Allegiant policy.
American Airlines no longer charges change or cancellation fees for domestic U.S. flights, short-haul international flights or select long-haul international flights. You will only pay the fare difference when changing flights.
The one exception is Basic Economy tickets. Basic Economy fares bought on or after April 1, 2021, for travel originating in the U.S. cannot be changed or canceled unless a travel waiver is in place. As of now, there’s no travel waiver specifically for the delta or omicron variants.
For more information: See the full American policy.
Delta Air Lines
Delta no longer charges change or cancellation fees on flights within the U.S. or international itineraries starting in the U.S. You’re only liable for the fare difference if you change to a more expensive flight. While basic economy tickets usually don’t get this flexibility, Delta is temporarily allowing free changes on basic economy tickets for travel through Dec. 31, 2021.
For more information: See the full Delta policy.
Frontier only offers free itinerary changes when requested 60 days or more before departure. There’s a $49 change fee from 59 to seven days from departure ($39 for bookings made through 7/26/21). That climbs to a $79 fee within six days of departure ($59 for bookings made through 7/26/21). You can also get no change fees by purchasing the add-on option called The Works. All of these change fees are in addition to any fare differences.
For more information: See the full Frontier policy.
Hawaiian has discontinued change fees for all destinations on Main Cabin fares or higher. You’re only responsible for paying the fare difference if switching to a more expensive flight. If the airline cancels the flight, you can request a full refund to your original form of payment.
Although new Main Cabin Basic bookings cannot be changed, under the airline’s COVID-19 travel waivers, you can make free changes if you purchased your ticket before March 1, 2020, and through April 30, 2021.
For more information: See the full Hawaiian policy.
JetBlue normally doesn’t charge change or cancellation fees unless you’re booked in Blue Basic. These tickets can be changed or canceled for a $100 to $200 fee, based on the route. However, JetBlue waived these fees for Blue Basic bookings made between Aug. 25 and Oct. 31, 2021.
You’ll need to pay the fare difference if switching to a more expensive flight. Also, note that you will be charged a $25 fee if you process your change or cancellation over the phone. Further, same-day changes cost $75 and the fee is waived for Mosaic elite members.
For more information: See the full JetBlue policy.
Southwest has a long-standing policy of not charging change or cancellation fees. While you’ll usually have to make up for any difference in fares, there have been some reports of Southwest offering completely free changes if you keep your original routing. Also, note that the credit received for a canceled flight can only be used by the person whose name originally appeared on the ticket. Paid Wanna Get Away tickets must be canceled at least 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time.
For more information: See the full Southwest policy.
Spirit has a tiered fee structure for flight changes and cancellations. Changes made 60+ days from departure are free. Then, flights changed or canceled 15 to 59 days from departure are $39, 7 to 14 days are $59 and 0 to 6 days are $79. That said, flights booked before March 31, 2021, can be changed or canceled for free. Spirit elite members are also eligible for free same-day standby to an earlier flight.
Note that if you choose to cancel, the flight credit you will receive will only be valid for six months.
For more information: See the full Spirit policy.
United removed change and cancellation fees for all flights within the U.S. and Puerto Rico, between the U.S. and Mexico and the Caribbean and all international flights departing the U.S. Basic economy tickets are normally excluded from this flexibility.
However, in light of the current climate, United will allow customers to make free changes to basic economy tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2021. Beyond then, you’ll be able to “upgrade” these tickets to standard economy for a nonrefundable fee and then cancel your ticket. Keep in mind that you’re liable for any fare difference.
For more information: See the full United policy.
Hotel change and cancellation policies
Individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of the reservation will apply.
For more information: See the full Best Western policy.
All new reservations will follow the individual hotel’s policy that was in place at the time of booking.
For more information: See the full Choice policy.
Individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of the reservation will apply. That said, all hotels offer fully flexible booking options. Most hotels offer rates that give you the flexibility to change or cancel up to 24 hours before your arrival day.
For more information: See the full Hilton policy.
All reservations booked on or after July 1, 2020, are subject to the cancellation, deposit and/or refund policy disclosed at the time of reservation. Hotels are allowed to adjust their policies during high-demand periods, so you should always review the cancellation policy of the specific property you’re looking at before confirming your booking. That said, Hyatt shared that it remains committed to offering rates with flexible cancellation options at all hotels globally.
For more information: See the full Hyatt policy.
Individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of the reservation will apply.
For more information: See the full IHG policy.
For guests making new reservations for arrival dates on or after Sept. 1, 2021, individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of the reservation will apply. Note that changes to reservations are subject to any rate differences.
For more information: See the full Marriott policy.
For stays until Dec. 31, 2021, in any Radisson Hotel Group hotel in Europe, Middle East, Africa, India and Asia Pacific, the most flexible options allow free cancellation or modification of your reservation up to 24 hours before arrival. For other rates and/or promotional offers, you’ll need to consult their terms and conditions.
For stays in the U.S., Canada, Caribbean and Latin America, the individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of booking will apply.
For more information: See the full Radisson policy.
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
All new reservations will follow the individual hotel’s policy that was in place at the time of booking. While many rates have flexible cancellation policies, some rates are non-cancellable.
Guests who are prohibited from traveling to their booked hotel under applicable law will have their cancellation or change penalties waived on direct bookings.
For more information: See the full Wyndham policy.
Cruise change and cancellation policies
If you cancel a booking for a cruise scheduled during a declared emergency or must cancel your booking because you are prohibited from traveling to the vessel due to a governmental travel restriction, but the cruise is not canceled, you are entitled to a future cruise credit for the amount paid to Carnival. The standard cancellation policy will apply in all other cases, as outlined in the ticket contract for your cruise.
If you, your family members living with you in the same household or traveling companions assigned to the same stateroom cancel a cruise booking due to testing positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of embarkation, you and they are entitled to a future cruise credit for the amount paid to Carnival. You’re also eligible for a future cruise credit if you had close contact with a positive or suspected COVID-19 case within 14 days of embarkation and Carnival deems you are unfit to travel.
For more information: See the full Carnival policy.
You have up to 48 hours before you sail to cancel and receive 100% Future Cruise Credit to use by May 31, 2022, toward any sailing through December 31, 2022, or one year from your original sailing date, whichever is later.
For more information: See the full Celebrity policy.
Crystal is offering waived admin fees and relaxed cancellation schedules for cruises set to depart in 2021. You can cancel up to 60 days before sailing and receive a 100% credit that may be redeemed on any future voyage through the end of 2022. Meanwhile, for cancellations made at least 30 days in advance, you’ll get a 75% back for cancellations made 60-31 days in advance, 50% back for cancellations made 30-8 days prior and no refund for cancellations made 7 days in advance or less.
For more information: See the full Crystal Cruises policy.
Disney Cruise Line
For sailings through Dec. 31, 2021, the cancellation fee schedule has been temporarily relaxed from beginning as early as 119 days before sailing to 59 days before sailing for guests booked in non-suite and non-concierge categories. For guests booked in suite and concierge categories, cancellation fees over the deposit amount will temporarily begin 59 days before sailing. Reservations for inside, outside and verandah categories with restrictions remain nonrefundable and nontransferable.
Within 14 days of the sailing, booked guests with COVID-19-related health concerns (symptoms or exposure) can receive a full refund without Disney-imposed cancellation fees or apply their cruise fare toward a future sail date.
For more information: See the full Disney Cruise Line policy.
Holland America Line
For bookings made by Sept. 30, 2021 (that depart through Dec. 31, 2021), you can cancel for any reason up to 30 days before departure and automatically receive a future cruise credit. You may cancel up to your sailing date if you, or someone in your immediate travel party, test positive for COVID-19.
For more information: See the full Holland America Line policy.
For new bookings made by Sept. 30, 2021 (for departures through March 31, 2022), you can cancel your expedition at least 14 days before departure and receive 100% future travel credit for expedition fare paid to be used on any future 2021 or 2022 expedition.
For more information: See the full Lindblad Expeditions policy.
Bookings made through Sept. 30, 2021, for cruises departing through Sept. 30, 2022, can be canceled for a credit up to 48 hours before departure. If you would like to change your cruise plans, you must call the contact center and advise them you would like to take advantage of Total CruiseFlex 48 hours before your cruise by 5 p.m. EST.
For more information: See the full MSC Cruises policy.
Norwegian Cruise Line
For all cruises departing through March 31, 2022, cancel up to 61 days prior for a full refund.
For more information: See the full Norwegian Cruise Line policy.
For bookings made through Sept. 30, 2021, for voyages departing through Dec. 31, 2021, you can cancel up to 30 days before you sail and get your cancellation fees back as a future cruise credit. Within 30 days of your sail date, you will receive a future cruise credit for the amount of non-refundable unused services and a refund to the original form of payment for all taxes, fees, port expenses and pre-paid onboard experiences and shore excursions purchased through Princess, if you or your immediate travel party in the same stateroom tests positive for COVID-19.
For more information: See the full Princess Cruises policy.
If you’re booked or plan to book Antarctica 2021/2022 or Arctic 2022 by Aug. 31, 2021, you can easily rebook your trip for any reason up to 30 days before your voyage. If you have to cancel due to COVID-19 reasons, you can easily rebook your trip within 29 to one day of the voyage.
If Quark Expeditions cancels a voyage due to COVID restrictions, you have the option to get a cash refund.
For more information: See the full Quark Expeditions policy.
Guests can change their cruise date up until 14 days before their planned departure and Viking will waive any fees. This offer covers all Viking reservations made between Dec. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2021, on any 2021 or 2022 voyage.
For more information: See the full Viking Cruises policy.
-You have the most flexibility outside of 120 days prior to your voyage. If you’re booking at this time, you have a 7-day grace period to request a full refund on your deposit and any other payments made. Refunds will be issued to your original form of payment. After the grace period — but still before the 120-day mark — you get a full refund on any payments, not including your deposit. For your deposit, you will receive a future voyage credit.
Between 119 and 45 days, any funds paid will be converted to a future voyage credit, good to use on any voyage one year from the original voyage start date. Within 44 days of your voyage, all funds paid are final. But you do have the option to send someone else in your place up to 48 hours before your voyage.
For more information: See the full Virgin Voyages policy.
Travelers who cancel a 2021 cruise booking at least 48 hours before departure will receive a future cruise credit in the amount of the cancellation fees collected, excluding fees collected for air, transportation, and hotels. All future cruise credits must be used within 24 months of issuance on another Windstar departure.
For more information: See the full Windstar Cruises policy.
Train change and cancellation policies
Amtrak is waiving all change fees for reservations made by April 30, 2022, including reservations made with points. It is also removing some restrictions on Multi-Ride tickets on the Northeast Corridor through that date. Changes to reservations can easily be made directly through Amtrak’s website or app.
For more information: See the full Amtrak policy.
Things to keep in mind
Why you might want to wait to change or cancel your flight or cruise
In most cases, when you voluntarily change or cancel a flight or cruise, you’ll receive a credit for future use with the company — not a refund. However, if the company ends up canceling your flight or cruise or making a schedule change, then you are entitled to your money back. Airlines typically wait until the last minute to process flight cancellations, so it could pay for you to also wait until the last minute to make any changes.
You can cancel bookings made through travel portals
Travel portals such as American Express Travel, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Travel Center and Capital One Travel let you make changes to your bookings per the policies of the individual airline, hotel or car rental agency. If you’re eligible for a refund, you’ll typically be refunded in your original form of payment. This means that if you paid with points, you should be credited back with points. That said, data points have suggested this isn’t always the case. Your best bet would be to call in before canceling and confirming how your refund will be issued before canceling.
Pay with a credit card that offers trip protection
Several of the top travel rewards credit cards come with travel insurance benefits, including trip cancellation and interruption protection. This can help you get your money back for nonrefundable travel expenses when you need to cancel a trip for a covered reason (though many pandemic-related reasons are excluded). Cards that offer trip cancellation and interruption benefits include the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson
Featured photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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