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No coronavirus waiver? Some airlines have you more covered than others

March 05, 2020
5 min read
No coronavirus waiver? Some airlines have you more covered than others
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Editor's Note

This post was current when it first published, but some information has become out of date as the coronavirus outbreak has spread and airline policies have changed as the situation has evolved.

For the latest on the subject, see these updated TPG posts for more information: U.S. airline coronavirus guide | Airlines scramble to respond to new European travel restrictions

ORIGINAL POST: As coronavirus spreads, and fears about contracting the disease grow, airlines are increasingly giving passengers a chance to re-tool their travel plans by waiving change fees or allowing their customers to cancel even non-refundable tickets.

In many cases though, these opportunities come with some major restrictions. Most of the airlines that have issued waivers have only done so for specific city pairs, with further limitations on changes based on when the ticket was purchased and when travel is set to take place.

Related: Check out the latest updates on airlines' coronavirus-related waivers, cancellations and route suspensions.

“Airlines that are not being flexible with customers are just asking for trouble. This is not the time for an airline to stick to policies that are designed for a time when circumstances are normal," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research. He added that right now, conditions in the industry are "not even in the same universe as normal."

The decision to keep waivers more restricted is largely business-related for airlines. It allows them to encourage new bookings for passengers who might be worried about making reservations amid the rising coronavirus fears. But, that leaves some customers who made reservations months ago out of luck for potential changes.

“Some people are going to be inconvenienced, but that’s the nature of the beast. People are inconvenienced all the time. I believe the airlines are OK with inconveniencing a certain number of people, so long as it doesn’t become problematic for their bottom line," said Ernest White II, host of Fly Brother on PBS and creator of the Fly Brother travel blog.

Still, Harteveldt said now is not the time for companies to be inflexible with customers who are worried about a spreading epidemic.

"If an airline is sticking to its policies, they’ll lose in the long run," he said.

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White said he understands the airlines' business needs, but agreed with Harteveldt that the companies need to have compassion for their passengers. He suggested that airlines take each booking on a case-by-case basis, which many carriers seem to be doing.

“When companies go the extra mile to try and be empathetic or recognize customer issues, it brings a lot of positive energy around the brand, people remember that," White said.

Related: Everything you need to know about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.

For travelers, the array of different official and unwritten policies from each airline can be a confusing jumble, and that ultimately hurts airlines, too, Harteveldt said.

“Nobody likes being nickel-and-dimed and nobody likes being taken advantage of," he said. "Consumers remember when companies are decent and fair to them, and they also remember when companies are not.”

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Harteveldt believes most airlines will eventually issue system-wide waivers on change fees and cancellations while coronavirus remains an issue at the top of travelers' minds. For his part, White wasn't as sure. He said it's important for airlines to be decent to their customers, but added that companies have some responsibility to protect their bottom line.

“It’s important for all sides to remember everyone is losing in this situation," he said.

In the meantime, here's what major U.S. airlines have said travelers can expect as of March 4 if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver:

American: No specific policy. Curtis Blessing, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that passengers "can contact reservations if they have additional concerns."

Delta: No specific policy. Anthony Black, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that Delta offers "situational flexibility," which, he said, "is always in play when there is not a policy to address a specific travel situation."

United: Passengers who booked tickets before March 3 are not eligible to change or cancel their reservations if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver.

Southwest: The airline has a long-standing policy of never charging change or cancellation fees on any booking. "If a customer’s plans change, or they decide they no longer want to travel, the funds used to pay for their flight can be applied to future travel – as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure," Ro Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for the airline told TPG in a statement.

Alaska: No specific policy, but Cailee Olson, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in a statement to TPG that for itineraries booked prior to Feb. 27, "our agents are assisting guests on a case-by-case basis."

JetBlue: The airline referred TPG to an online coronavirus post and did not provide a statement about bookings that fall outside of the published policy.

Hawaiian: No specific policy, but Alex Da Silva, a spokesman for the airline, said in a statement that "we understand guests with travel beyond current waiver periods could be concerned about their plans potentially changing due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, and we encourage them to contact our reservations team for assistance."

For more on the coronavirus outbreak, see:

Featured image by The US had nearly triple the flights of its closest rival in 2014. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.