WRAL NEWS – Travel and the Pandemic

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I think it’s safe to say that people are not jumping to book trips for the immediate future, but the people still have a lot of questions. Travel Expert, Francesca Page, attempts to answer some of the bigger questions below.

At what point do you go ahead and pull the plug on an upcoming trip?  We can assume April and the early part of May but what about summer trips?

The travel industry is extremely shaken right now and no one can predict when this pandemic will pass.  What we do know is that non essential travel during the present time is NOT recommended. Since most of the country is ordered to shelter in place, I think it’s best to plan trips many months ahead towards at least the end of the summer rather than rushing to the airport as soon as the restrictions are lifted. Also keep in mind less exposed travel ideas, like a road trip to visit the family. It will give everyone something to look forward to after months apart from one another.

How are the airlines doing when it comes to responding to customers?  Is there a work flow you and other industry insiders are noticing is working better than others?

I think that most airlines are struggling to handle the mass amount of communication requests they are receiving from travelers regarding changes or cancellations to upcoming trips. A lot of people are complaining of not being able to reach airlines. But the good news is that many airlines like Delta, for instance, are aware of how jammed the call centers are and are automatically issuing refunds or credits on missed or cancelled flights. Of course, this policy varies by airline. Failing all this, The Federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute a charge for services not provided, SO if you cant reach anyone, contact your bank – who is required to protect you.

Reimbursement or travel credit?  Which are airlines offering and which should consumers go after?.

Remember that airlines want to keep your business. When a flight is cancelled, airline systems usually re-book you on the closest available flight  and assume you accept the changes, unless you state otherwise.  For noncommittal travelers, they’ll offer credit vouchers for future flights. While all of these options provide far more flexibility than the standard change and cancellation fees that customers are used to, REMEMBER that despite the added flexibility, these options are still in the best interest of airlines. By re-booking you or offering vouchers for future travel, airlines hold onto your business and keep your cash. Instead of accepting a voucher or date change now, I recommend to hold off until 72 hours before your trip, in case you eventually qualify for a refund.

What do you do if your flight is NOT canceled?

Cancellation and refund terms very much depend on the individual airline, with some being more consumer-friendly than others. Now as the number of COVID-19 cases rise, I would assume that the current travel waivers in place will continue to be extended, and offer more favorable terms. If you hold onto your reservation SO THAT the airline calls the cancellation BEFORE you do, this will increase your chances of being entitled to a refund. So if the current policy does not appeal to you, wait it out. 

Parents LA Magazine – Dreaming of travel after the coronavirus

Despite being in the thick of a global pandemic, many people are still thinking about travel. In fact, as we nostalgically look back on a time when a lazy beach vacation or summer trip to Europe was easy, I would argue that society is thinking about future travel plans more than ever.

Some of the questions I’ve heard include: When this is all over, what is going to happen to travel? Will it be cheaper than ever before? And if we have pre-existing travel plans, should we be canceling?

Read more at – https://www.laparent.com/travel-after-coronavirus/

Airlines and Cruise Lines – Incentives for not canceling?

It seems that airlines are now cruise lines are offering incentives for not canceling tickets but what should we know about this?

Remember that airlines want to keep your business – when a flight is cancelled, airline systems usually rebook you on the closest available alternative schedule and assume you accept the changes unless you state otherwise. When that’s not possible (or not acceptable) to the traveler, airlines encourage you to make other free changes to the date or destination, even if that travel is far into the future. 

For noncommittal travelers, they’ll offer credit vouchers for future flights. For instance, one report out there says that American Airlines is offering at least some passengers a 20% bonus when they opt for a future travel credit with the airline instead of a cash refund for the flight.

Airlines are also making it easy to change or cancel reservations, with self-service options online and automated voucher issuance. Compared to calling in and sitting on hold for hours, it’s easy to understand why customers settle for these offers. Frontier Airlines previously offered a limited-time waiver policy that incentivized passengers with an extra $50 credit if they voluntarily canceled an itinerary for travel between March 22 and June 17.

This strategy has also become popular in the cruise industry- Cruise lines are offering incentives to passengers to get them to accept travel credits instead of cash refunds, airlines are copying a strategy that has become widespread in the cruise industry. Most major cruise lines in recent weeks have begun offering passengers on canceled sailings a bonus credit of 15% to 25% if they choose a credit instead of a cash refund.

On Royal Caribbean, for instance, passengers on canceled trips can choose between a full refund or a future cruise credit in the amount of 125% of the fare paid for the canceled trip. The credit can be applied to any voyage through Dec. 31, 2021. Royal Caribbean has canceled all departures worldwide through April 10, as have all other major cruise lines. Some lines have canceled sailings even further out.

Other cruise lines offering a 25% bonus credit to passengers who forgo a cash refund include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Windstar and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. River line AmaWaterways is offering a 15% bonus. Greek Islands cruise specialist Celestyal Cruises is giving out a 20% bonus.

What if you booked through a third party agency? – If  you booked through an online travel agency such as Expedia or Priceline, your first point of contact should be the agency. They will process your refund since they were the company who collected your original payment. There are a few exceptions – particularly with air travel-  if your flights is operated by a low-cost carrier, the travel agent will redirect you. If your flight qualifies for reimbursement but a refund isn’t offered, customers have another option. The federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute a charge for services not provided if you purchased the airfare with a credit card. Typically you’re required to make a good-faith effort to resolve a problem directly with the merchant first. Be sure to call the airline before initiating a chargeback and document your efforts.

Overall –Couple main takeaway points – It’s nice to see that at least some airlines are providing an incentive for taking a travel credit instead of refund. However, keep in mind that if you do take an airline up one one of these offers and your new flight gets canceled, the airline will not provide a cash refund down the line. – It’s also important to take note of when your travel credit will expire as ticket credits are often only valid for a year from the date that the ticket was originally issued.

Travel and the coronavirus – staying safe…

Coronavirus cases have now jumped by more than 2 dozen – bringing us to 89 cases and two deaths. Internationally speaking, travelers will face new restrictions and cancellations focused on more recent high risk destinations including Iran, Italy and South Korea. American Airlines, Delta and United amongst others have all announced the suspension of certain flights in and out of the US to highly impacted countries. Most are waiving cancellation fees and are issuing refunds for affected flights.

But what about domestic travel? Public health experts say that the biggest risk for domestic travel is actually still the flu and that nationally speaking travelers in the US are a low risk. However that doesn’t mean don’t take precautions. So, if you’re planning a trip in or outside the U.S. here area few ways to protect yourself!

— Reconsider traveling to affected areas, and realize you may not be able to return home if quarantined. There are still a safer options where you can have a fantastic spring break. If you really want to be careful – drive, train or look at destinations you can get to on shorter flights. Also destinations that promote being outside is a plus, like an open beach or the mountains, rather than a busy theme park or cruise ship.  There are some logical ways to make an informed choice about travel – use the CDC’s three level warning system to judge your travel plans.

— Get a flu shot and necessary vaccinations, rest, stay hydrated, eat well, exercise and stay healthy before traveling. Also make sure you talk with doctors and pediatricians regarding any pre-existing conditions you may have that would make you or your children more susceptible to the virus.  Also don’t travel sick – if you have a fever – even if it isn’t related to the virus, you may be subject to quarantine anyway to determine that you are not affected. Also get a flu shot and necessary vaccinations, rest, stay hydrated, eat well, exercise and stay healthy before traveling.

— Consider refundable rates whenever possible when making reservations at hotels and for rental cars. They may be more expensive, but worth it if your plans change. Read the fine print. And note the cancellation window on your hotel booking.Travel insurance policies are no longer covering the coronavirus…just like cannot buy fire insurance as wildfires approach your house. So it’s up to you to make an informed decision about travel.

— While flights themselves are not considered high risk, the proximity of people in a confined space does make a difference…wipe down tray tables, seat-belts etc use hand sanitizer and note that paper masks do not stop you from catching the virus.