Coronavirus hotel change and cancellation policies: What to know
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
If you have travel scheduled in the coming weeks and months, you’re probably wondering how to proceed as more people test positive for the novel coronavirus around the world.
Already, we’ve seen U.S. airlines scrambling to respond to both the coronavirus outbreak and the U.S. government’s ban on travel from Europe as COVID-19 continues to spread. Major hotel chains have also put change and cancellation policies in place, though some are more customer-friendly than others.
Here’s what you need to know about current hotel change and cancellation policies. We’ll keep this post updated as changes occur.
IHG updated its policy that waives all cancellation fees for hotel bookings worldwide made before April 6, 2020, for stays up to August 31, 2020. The original waiver was set to expire on June 30, 2020. It has also rolled out a new “Book Now, Pay Later” rate with discounts of 5% or more off of the best flexible rate, and the ability to cancel with no penalty up to 24 hours before your stay (excluding Greater China) for bookings made up to September 3, 2020, for stays until December 30, 2020.
That’s in addition to a previous policy where the hotel chain allowed travelers with reservations to mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan with stays between Jan. 23, 2020, and March 9, 2020, and Italy and South Korea between Feb. 28, 2020, and March 9, 2020, to cancel without penalty.
IHG also reduced required stays by 25% or more for elite members, whether measured by nights or by points. That means to get (or keep) IHG elite status, Gold Elite members will only need to complete seven qualifying nights or 7,000 points, 30 qualifying nights or 30,000 points for Platinum Elite or 55 nights or 55,000 points for Spire Elite.
“With more constrained travel plans and a shorter time period during which members can earn Elite tier status, we are reducing the Elite membership criteria required (nights or points) this year by 25% or more,” IHG said in an email to elite members.
Marriott’s policy is an update to a previously more restrictive one that only waived the cancellation fees for select countries in Asia and Italy, and not worldwide like IHG.
The current policy states that guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with prepaid rates, would be allowed to change or cancel without a charge up to 24 hours before arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by July 5, 2020.
For guests making new reservations (which includes prepaid rates) for any future arrival date through July 5, 2020, Marriott will allow the reservation to be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours. Note that any changes could be subject to rate differences.
On April 8, 2020, Marriott extended elite status expiration through February 2022 for those who qualified in 2019 and paused points expiration until February 2021 (previously Aug. 31, 2020). This is in addition to the earlier extension of Suite Night Awards expiration to Dec. 31, 2021. Marriott Bonvoy members with a Free Night Award expiring in 2020 can use it through Jan. 31, 2021.
Hilton has expanded its waiver to include all reservations – even nonrefundable or advanced purchase rates – that are scheduled for arrival before June 30, 2020. These can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before arrival.
Additionally, the hotel said it would pause the expiration of all points scheduled to expire between now and Dec. 31, 2020, and is extending the expiration date on all unexpired Weekend Night Rewards as of March 11, 2020, and those issued between March 11 and Aug. 30, 2020, until Aug. 31, 2021. There is no additional action required by Honors members.
Hilton also became the first major chain to offer extensions of elite status. Those who earned Hilton Honors elite status in 2019 that would have been downgraded on March 31, 2020, automatically received an extension of that elite status through March 31, 2021. Members who earn elite status in 2020 will now be extended until March 31, 2022.
World of Hyatt said on June 3, 2020, that all reservations made from July 1, 2020 for any stay through July 31 2021, can be changed or canceled for no charge -- with "limited exceptions" -- up to 24 hours before arrival. This policy includes the usually more-restrictive Advance Purchase Rate reservations. New reservations for travel you make between April 2, 2020, and June 30, 2020 – for any future arrival date – can also be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
As Hyatt's press release notes, hotels are allowed to adjust this policy during high-demand periods, and you should review the cancellation policy of the specific property you're looking at before confirming your booking.
If you make a change to your reservation, it will be subject to any rate change that may occur. Also note that reservations made with Hyatt-affiliated brands MGM resorts, Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Lindblad Expeditions may be different from Hyatt's own policy and can be found on those properties' booking pages.
Previously, Hyatt offered customers who booked nonrefundable, prepaid rates on or before March 8, 2020, 10,000 World of Hyatt points (worth about $170, according to TPG’s valuations) if they canceled their stay. The offer is still available for travel through the end of June, but if you choose this option, you won’t get a refund. In all cases, only bookings made directly through Hyatt are eligible.
The program is postponing award chart category changes (except for five properties) and will no longer implement peak and off-peak award pricing until 2021. These changes were initially slated to take effect on March 22, 2020. In addition, Hyatt is suspending points forfeiture until Dec. 31, 2020.
Unused upgrade certificates and free night awards (including those from World of Hyatt Credit Card) with an expiration date that falls between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020 — including those that haven’t been earned yet — will be automatically extended. They will have a new expiration date of Dec. 31, 2021.
Hyatt became the second major chain to extend World of Hyatt elite status. If you held Globalist, Explorist or Discoverist status with Hyatt as of March 31, 2020, your status would be automatically extended through all of 2021. These extensions should be reflected in your account by April 15, 2020. Previously, Hyatt had only extended elite status and benefits for those in the Asia-Pacific region.
Guests with existing Choice reservations, including noncancelable, prepaid rates made directly with the chain on or after July 10, 2020, can cancel or change their booking without penalty up to 24 hours before arrival through September 30, 2020.
Guests with new reservations made on or after July 10, 2020, for arrival dates on or after October 1, 2020, will follow the individual hotel’s policy that was in place at the time of booking. Choice has also suspended its points expiration for all Choice Privileges members until Dec. 31, 2021.
Travelers who made reservations with Best Western for any future travel date may cancel without penalty until June 30, 2020, as long as cancellation occurs at least 24 hours before arrival. This policy applies to hotel reservations in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Outside of these regions, the cancellation policies may vary and Best Western advises you contact the hotel directly.
A more restrictive cancellation policy may apply to a limited number of high-demand dates at individual hotels. Finally, Best Western Rewards members who booked their stay with points will receive the points refunded to their account when canceling a reservation.
Best Western is allowing all members of the Best Western Rewards program to maintain their current status through Jan. 31, 2022, regardless of their future stays. This change will be automatically reflected in all eligible Best Western accounts. This includes Best Western members who were downgraded to a lower status tier at the end of 2019; their previous status will be reinstated through this date.
“Our valued guests are an important part of our community and I am proud to extend relief to those affected by the virus,” David Kong, president and CEO, said in a statement. “Amending our cancellation policy to afford increased flexibility and protecting elite status for our loyalty members are simple but significant examples of our commitment to our guests.”
You can cancel or change Radisson Rewards reservations for stays through June 30, 2020, with no penalty (with changes, you’ll have to pay the difference in rate if applicable). New reservations made between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020, for any future travel date can also be canceled or modified at no charge, including nonrefundable reservations. This applies only to bookings made directly with Radisson and not through third-party sites.
Radisson Rewards has extended elite status through February 2022 for members who would have expired in February 2021. In addition, the program has suspended its points expiration for six months, starting March 1, 2020. Travelers with e-certs that are set to expire through June 30, 2020, will now be able to redeem them for stays through June 30, 2021.
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
You can change or cancel new or existing direct bookings with Wyndham through June 30, 2020, with no penalty up to 24 hours before arrival. For arrival dates after June 30, Wyndham will accommodate noncancelable reservation changes as long as the request is made more than 48 hours before arrival, and the same number of room nights or more are booked for a future stay.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has extended Wyndham Rewards elite status for all members in the Greater China and Southeast Asia Pacific regions through the end of 2021. The hotel released the following statement in an email to Wyndham Rewards members on March 20, 2020: “We are actively exploring additional steps that we can take to help all Wyndham Rewards members globally, including relaxed Member Level earning requirements, among other options.”
Additionally, points expiration is paused for points scheduled to expire between now and Sept. 30, 2020.
Airbnb updated its “extenuating circumstances” policy to allow free cancellations of reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences booked on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date through July 31, 2020. There are different policies for reservations in Mainland China.
Under the policy, you will have cancellation and refund options. Hosts are covered, too, and can cancel reservations for no fee, and any cancellation will not affect their Superhost status.
If you have to make a change or cancellation, you will have to be able to provide documentation to prove your extenuating circumstance.
VRBO has extended its COVID-19 emergency policy and will ask property owners and managers to offer a full credit for the amount already paid if you are outside of the cancellation window.The company is strongly encouraging property owners and managers to issue at least a partial refund for situations in which a flexible credit cannot be accommodated, and it is refunding the money it makes through its Traveler Service Fee on qualified cancellations.In instances where a trip must be canceled due to COVID-19 for reservations booked before March 13, with a stay night between March 13 and June 30, VRBO is urging property owners and managers to consider offering guests full credit for the amount they’ve already paid if they are outside the cancellation policy window for receiving a full refund.
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)
Several OTAs are also trying to manage the flow of rebookings and cancellations, as Expedia and Orbitz instructed customers with bookings more than seven days away to “wait before contacting us.” A TPG reader who contacted Expedia to modify a reservation received a wait time of 14 hours.
Hotels.com says those who booked a nonrefundable rate before March 19, 2020, for stays between March 20 and June 30, 2020, will be eligible for either a full refund or a voucher for future travel at the same hotel, depending on the property. For stays after May 31, the company says, “with the situation continuing to evolve, we will continue to work with travel partners as necessary to implement flexible policies.”
Another OTA, Trip.com, has said that it would expand coverage of the initiative to individuals “directly and unavoidably affected by the outbreak,” such as those who test positive for the virus. The site said those who test positive would be eligible for a guaranteed full refund as well as healthcare workers “devoted to efforts directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
With additional reporting by Nick Ellis, Liz Hund and Jasmin Baron.
Featured photo by Rima Brindamour/Getty Images.