Travel Planning in the Time of Coronavirus

Insurance may not cover canceled vacations, but airlines and hotels may be flexible.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the coronavirus continues to race around the globe, travelers are reconsidering their vacation plans. But if you’re counting on travel insurance to cover the costs of canceling a trip you’ve already booked, you may be out of luck.

Generally, travel insurance won’t cover losses associated with epidemics or even pandemics, such as the coronavirus. And even if you’ve purchased a policy that covers epidemics, it probably won’t cover a trip booked after January 21, when the coronavirus became a “known event” (the exact cutoff ranges from January 21 to 27, depending on the insurer). Travel insurance plans generally exclude losses caused by events, such as hurricanes, that were known or fore­seeable at the time the plan was purchased.

If you purchased travel insurance for a trip you now want to cancel, it may still be worthwhile to file a claim. You may have coverage if you purchased a “cancel for any reason” policy, which typically costs 40% more than standard travel insurance and covers 75% of nonrefundable expenses. Read the terms and conditions of your insurance policy carefully. And when making a claim, use specific language about why you’re unable to travel, because coverage depends on the exact reason for cancellation.

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Flight forgiveness. You should also contact your tour operator and airline. In many cases, and especially for trips to China or other Asian destinations, tour operators are refunding trip deposits or waiving change fees. If your travel supplier allows you to change the dates of your trip, some travel insurance companies will also change the dates of your travel insurance policy.

Several major airlines have waived change fees for flights to places that have reported widespread outbreaks, including China, Hong Kong, South Korea and northern Italy. And most major U.S. airlines have said they will suspend change and cancel fees for travel up to a certain date, as long as the trip was booked within a specific time frame. For example, JetBlue has suspended change and cancel fees for all new flight bookings made between March 6 and March 31 for travel through September 8, 2020. American Airlines has waived change fees if you bought your ticket on or before March 16, 2020, for travel through May 31, 2020. New travel must start by December 31, 2020, or within a year of the date the ticket was issued, whichever comes earlier. Delta is waiving change fees for all travel departing in March or April, and for international flights departing in May. And deadlines for refundable bookings are likely to be extended, says Scott Keyes, founder of ScottsCheapFlights.com (opens in new tab).

Travel and tourism contribute more to U.S. gross domestic product than agriculture, mining or utilities.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
YearTotal revenue,
in billions
Percentage
of GDP
2010$15.02.52
201115.52.60
201216.22.69
201316.82.78
201417.52.79
201518.22.88
201618.72.88
201719.52.88
201820.62.90

If you decide to go ahead with your trip, travel insurance has other advantages that could come into play. Many policies will cover medical care and the cost of returning home early if you fall ill or become injured. Some policies pay for medically equipped flights to a hospital or, in extreme situations, back home. If you’re interested in buying travel insurance for a trip sometime in the future, you can compare coverage and rates at third-party sites such as www.insuremytrip.com (opens in new tab) or www.squaremouth.com (opens in new tab).

Linda Kane, a frequent traveler from New York City, says last year she and her husband purchased a travel insurance plan that would cover up to $50,000 in medical expenses for an upcoming trip overseas. But they reconsidered their plans, concerned about the coronavirus. “We were supposed to go to Morocco,” she says. “But eventually we decided not to go. And we were able to postpone.”

Emma Patch
Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Emma Patch joined Kiplinger in 2020. She previously interned for Kiplinger's Retirement Report and before that, for a boutique investment firm in New York City. She served as editor-at-large and features editor for Middlebury College's student newspaper, The Campus. She specializes in travel, student debt and a number of other personal finance topics. Born in London, Emma grew up in Connecticut and now lives in Washington, D.C.