Changing your travel plans without paying a penalty has never been easier than it’s been in 2020.
The holiday period can be more rigid in terms of cancellation policies, but if you’ve booked a holiday getaway and are having second thoughts about the trip, you may still be able to either get your money back or apply your investment to future travel.
“Thanks to the pandemic, the travel industry being flexible to the consumer is a theme that’s here to stay,” says Josh Alexander, a travel adviser with Protravel International in New York City.
Given the growing number of coronavirus cases around the country, Alexander says that he has a handful of clients who are getting cold feet about going on their holiday getaways. In the past, he says, hotels were rigid about their cancellation terms, especially during peak periods such as the week between Christmas and New Year’s; they also had minimum night stay requirements.
“That money was essentially gone, but now, hotels and airlines are much more accommodating,” he says. “I’ve been able to get refunds or credits for all of my clients.”
Chelsea Martin, the owner of the luxury travel advisory Passport to Friday, agrees that the travel industry is far more flexible overall today than it was pre-Covid. However, she has had a more mixed experience when trying to get money back for her clients who no longer want to travel over the holidays.
“I have a couple who booked Aspen for Christmas, but then they found out that indoor dining is limited [the city’s limit is 25%] and that reservations were hard to come by. Plus, they were nervous about the rising cases,” says Martin. “The hotel said that the only way they would refund their money is if there was a travel ban or one of them had Covid.”
Reluctant to lose the several thousand dollars they paid for the trip, her clients are going to Aspen after all.
Policies vary and there are still holiday exceptions, so inquire now about any bookings you’re rethinking.
Here is a roundup of the latest US airline and hotel cancellation policies for the holidays and beyond.
Major US airlines
You probably can’t get a refund on airline tickets, but most carriers are allowing people to cancel and apply those funds to future travel.
American Airlines: American is waiving change fees for tickets through December 31. In addition, the airline is waiving change fees on most domestic and international tickets going forward. According to American’s web site, “You’re allowed to make a change to your trip once, and the change fee will be waived.” Ticket holders get a credit for the value of the ticket but may need to pay a fare difference when they rebook their trips. Refunds are given only for refundable tickets or if the airline canceled the flight.
Delta Air Lines: Delta has no change fees to alter a ticket at any time and for any reason. Spokesman Anthony Black says that ticket holders don’t even have to cancel their flights. “You can just not show up,” he says. The ticket’s value is valid for one year from the date of ticketing and can be applied to a different flight. If that flight costs more, you pay the difference in cost. If it’s less, you can get the difference as a credit or refund. If the ticket was purchased with miles, the miles get credited back into your account.
JetBlue: JetBlue is waiving change and cancellation fees for all tickets purchased by February 28, 2021, if the changes are made online. There is a $25 nonrefundable fee per person for changing or canceling tickets by phone.
Southwest Airlines: Irrespective of Covid-19, Southwest does not have a penalty to change or cancel flights. Non-refundable and refundable tickets can be applied to future flights. In addition, for refundable tickets, fliers can get their money back as long as they cancel their flight more than 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
United Airlines: United has eliminated change fees, including Basic Economy tickets purchased through March 31, 2021. This policy will also apply to all international tickets originating in the United States. Ticket holders can change their flights as many times as they want but may need to pay fare differences each time. The flight credit is valid for one year from the date the ticket was first issued.
According to Amtrak’s site, the rail service “is waiving all change fees for reservations made by December 31, 2020.” You may need to pay a fare difference for the new trip.
Yes, hotels are giving travelers unprecedented flexibility when it comes to cancellations and changes, but there are caveats – namely during peak periods such as the holidays.
In general, luxury hotels tend to be more rigid on peak dates while more budget-friendly hotels stick with their short-notice policies year-round.
Check with the property you’ve booked as soon as possible about any desired changes.
Marriott: Marriott International has just extended its 24-hour global cancellation policy through March 31, 2021. However, there are some exclusions especially during peak periods and with some resort properties. For new reservations for arrival dates on or after April 1, 2021, guests are subject to that individual hotel’s cancellation policy.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts: All Hilton properties are flexible about changes and cancellations. Most locations allow both up to 24 hours before arrival date, even for the holiday period.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts: Reservations booked July 1 and beyond for any future arrival date through July 31, 2021, can be canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival. But there are exceptions to this policy during peak periods such as the holidays. Be sure to check with your property for specific holiday dates.
Auberge Resorts Collection: Chief marketing officer Mike Minchin says that Auberge Resorts Collection is trying to be as flexible as possible with its cancellation policies, both for the holiday season as well as overall. “Before Covid, we used have a three month cancellation policy at some of our locations for the week between Christmas and New Year’s and at other busy times,” he says. “Currently, it’s between two to 14 days depending on the property.”
Auberge’s locations in Anguilla and Hawaii, as an example, now require seven-day cancellations. Minchin says that the brand has also dropped the number of night stays required during peak periods. Anguilla, for one, used to have a 10-night minimum stay; now it’s three.
Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts: Guests with existing reservations can change or cancel their bookings 24 hours before arrival up until the end of this year. This policy also applies to guests who make a new reservation between now and the end of the year. However, exceptions may apply during peak periods.
The Four Seasons Orlando, for example, is generally sold out over the December holidays. For arrivals between December 21 and January 2, 2021, the property requires a full pre-payment that’s non-refundable. However, even for this holiday period, guests can change their stay dates through June 30, 2021, if their travel plans are impacted by Covid.
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts: Rosewood has a 24-hour cancellation policy for new reservations booked as of March 14 for stays through June 30, 2021. However, this does not apply to holiday periods and other blackout dates.
Individual properties have different cancellation policies during the holidays. The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel is honoring a 24-hour cancellation policy, for instance, while Rosewood Little Dix Bay’s holiday period cancellation policy is seven days.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: For direct bookings made on or after June 6, 2020, guests need to check the rate details. Some have flexible cancellation policies while others are not cancelable.
Guests who booked reservations before June 6, 2020, can move the dates on non-cancelable rate reservations, but the request must be received 48 hours prior to arrival.