The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus currently exceeds 165,000 confirmed cases across more than 100 countries. The virus originated in central China in late 2019, and its spread has crippled the travel and event industries. A ban on most travel from continental Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland) begins March 13, 2020, at midnight, but does not apply to American citizens or permanent legal residents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continuously updated its travel advisories for flights, cruises and international travel. It has also created recommendations to fight the spread of coronavirus in local communities. (U.S. News is keeping an updated list of the confirmed cases across the United States.) The cancellation or postponement of high-profile events, such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Ultra Music Festival in Miami, has upended many travel plans.
The CDC breaks its warning levels into three categories:
- Warning Level 3: Avoid all nonessential travel.
- Alert Level 2: Talk to a healthcare provider and consider postponing travel.
- Watch Level 1: Exercise increased caution during travel.
The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel (Warning Level 3) to the following destinations: China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. The CDC also advises against cruise travel, which puts people from around the world in close contact with one another.
Avoiding Coronavirus While Traveling
To reduce the spread of coronavirus while traveling, the CDC recommends travelers take the following precautions:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Practice routine handwashing: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.)
- If traveling on a cruise, stay in your cabin when you are sick and let the onboard medical center know immediately if you develop a fever (100.4°F or higher), begin to feel feverish, or have other symptoms (such as cough, runny nose, shortness of breath or sore throat).
What Areas are Most Affected By the Coronavirus Outbreak
The coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market in the area. Person-to-person spread is possible and accounts for the quick proliferation of the virus. Subsequently, many of the initial regions most affected by the coronavirus outbreak are near mainland China. The outbreak has spread to Europe and North America as well, with Italy, Iran and South Korea reporting the most confirmed cases. The CDC is reporting many instances in the United States, with multiple confirmed cases on both coasts, as well as numerous cases in the country’s interior.
Asia: The CDC currently lists China and South Korea as Warning Level 3 and recommends that travelers avoid nonessential travel. It also lists Japan under Alert Level 2, meaning that travelers should undertake special precautions, especially high-risk travelers including, older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. Hong Kong is listed as a Watch Level 1, so travelers visiting there should practice usual precautions.
Europe: Trump announced a 30-day suspension of most travel from Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland). The suspension began March 13, 2020, at midnight. It will apply to most foreign nationals who have been in Europe in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the U.S., but will not apply to permanent U.S. residents or immediate family members of U.S. citizens. The CDC currently lists all of Europe under Warning Level 3 and recommends that travelers avoid nonessential travel. Italy and Spain are under lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
North America: Nowhere in North America is listed under a CDC travel notice for coronavirus, although numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.
Central America and the Caribbean: Nowhere in Central America and the Caribbean is listed under a CDC travel notice for coronavirus, although numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean have implemented travel bans.
South America: Nowhere in South America is listed under a CDC travel notice for coronavirus, although numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout South America have implemented travel bans.
Australia and the South Pacific: Nowhere in Australia is listed under a CDC travel notice for coronavirus, although numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Travelers arriving in Australia are subject to a 14-day period of self-isolation.
Africa: Nowhere in Africa is listed under a CDC travel notice for coronavirus, although numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.
For updated information on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by country, check the COVID-19 Interactive Map created by Johns Hopkins University.
Coronavirus and Air Travel
The CDC says that the risk of infection on an airplane is low due to how air circulates and is filtered. Many airlines have also adopted more thorough cleaning measures between flights, and several airlines have canceled flights to and from outbreak areas like mainland China. Additionally, Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from continental Europe. The ban began March 13, 2020, at midnight and does not apply to American citizens or permanent legal residents and their families. American, United and Delta airlines have capped fares between the U.S. and Europe to help impacted travelers.
High-risk travelers may want to rethink their plans. To accommodate, many airlines are waiving change and cancellation fees. Keep in mind that travelers still have to make up the difference in rates for rebooked flights, and many of these policies have strict deadlines for when travel must be rescheduled.
Below are the most recent cancellation policies for the top U.S. airlines:
American Airlines Coronavirus Update: Any ticket purchased on or before March 1, 2020, for all travel scheduled through April 30, 2020, will not be subject to change fees. Additionally, tickets purchased on or before March 15, 2020, for scheduled travel through multiple European airports will not be subject to change fees through May 31, 2020. New tickets must be reissued on or before December 31, 2020, or 12 months from the original ticket date (whichever is earlier).
Alaska Airlines Coronavirus Update: Fares purchased between Feb. 27 and March 31, 2020, as well as flights booked through April 30, 2020, can cancel their trip for credit or change their flights for no cancellation or change fees. Rebooked travel must begin by Feb. 28, 2021.
Allegiant Air Coronavirus Update: Travelers can make a one-time change to their travel plans without change or cancellation fees by contacting customer service via phone, email or social media.
Delta Air Lines Coronavirus Update: Tickets for travel during March and April 2020, as well as tickets purchased in March 2020, can be changed one time to an alternate itinerary. Additionally, all flights through May 31, 2020, to Shanghai and Beijing, China; Seoul, South Korea; and Europe and the United Kingdom can be changed one time to an alternate itinerary. Unused value can be transferred to the purchase of a new ticket, but rebooked travel must begin by Feb. 28, 2021.
Frontier Airlines Coronavirus Update: Bookings made between March 10 and March 31, 2020, as well as travel through April 30, 2020, can be changed without fees. The new flights must be completed by Nov. 9, 2020, and must be booked within 90 days of the initial cancellation.
Hawaiian Airlines Coronavirus Update: Tickets purchased between March 1 and March 31, 2020, and flights booked prior to March 9, 2020, for travel between March 1 and April 30, 2020, receive a waiver for a one-time change per ticket without fees.
JetBlue Airways Coronavirus Update: Bookings made from Feb. 27 to March 5, 2020, for travel through June 1, 2020, and bookings made between March 6 and March 31, 2020, for travel by Sept. 8, 2020, can be refunded for a credit that’s valid for one year.
Southwest Airlines Coronavirus Update: Funds used to pay for a flight can be applied to future flights as long as a reservation is canceled at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. The funds are valid for up to one year from the original purchase date.
Spirit Airlines Coronavirus Update: Travelers who must alter their travel plans due to coronavirus can make a one-time free modification or receive a reservation credit for the full value of their purchase. The credit must be used within six months to book any flight currently available.
United Airlines Coronavirus Update: Tickets issued between March 3 and March 31, 2020, as well as flights scheduled through April 30, 2020, can have the value of the ticket applied to a new ticket without a fee for up to one year from the original ticket issue date.
Numerous airlines have also canceled or altered their itineraries to avoid travel to China.
Note: The above waivers and flexible travel options only apply if you booked directly with the airline. If you booked with a third-party site, such as Expedia or Booking.com, you’ll need to get in touch with the third-party service to ask about a refund or flight credit.
Coronavirus and Hotels
Most hotel chains are waiving rebooking and cancellation fees for guests traveling to, through or from China and Italy. They are also updating their rewards programs to accommodate members in impacted areas.
Marriott Hotels Coronavirus Update: Cancellation fees will be waived for existing reservations for stays before April 30, 2020, as well as new reservations made between March 13 and April 30, 2020, for any future date. Cancellations must be made at least 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
IHG Hotels & Resorts Coronavirus Update: Cancellation fees will be waived for existing and new booking at all IHG hotels globally for stays between March 9 and April 30, 2020.
Hyatt Hotels Coronavirus Update: All reservations made before March 13 that are for arrivals between March 14 and April 30, 2020, as well as all reservations made between March 13 and April 30, 2020, for any future arrival date can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. Additionally, World of Hyatt members who made nonrefundable reservations at any hotel on or before March 8 for travel through June 2020 can cancel their reservation and opt to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt bonus points.
Hilton Hotels Coronavirus Update: All reservations scheduled before April 30, 2020, and new bookings made before April 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Coronavirus Update: All existing direct bookings can be changed to the same number of nights for a future stay if the request is received at least two days prior to arrival. Guests traveling to or from China, South Korea or Italy will have their cancellation or change penalties waived for stays through March 31, 2020.
Choice Hotels: For stays until March 31, 2020, guests traveling from China, South Korea Japan and Italy to the United States or Canada receive penalty-free cancellations, as well as guests traveling to China, Japan and Italy. For reservations within the United States or Canada made on or before March 10 for travel through April 30, 2020, guests can cancel their travel in exchange for Choice Privileges points (amount of points varies by the value of the reservation).
Coronavirus and Vacation Rentals
Airbnb Coronavirus Update: Reservations made on or before March 14, 2020, for stays and Airbnb Experiences between March 14 and April 14, 2020, may be canceled for a full refund. Airbnb will refund all service fees for covered cancellations. The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual for reservations made after March 14, 2020, and for stays with check-in dates after April 14, 2020.
HomeAway Coronavirus Update: Cancellation policies are at the discretion of each rental owner, but HomeAway encourages owners to issue full refunds. HomeAway will refund the Travelers Service Fees for canceled stays.
Coronavirus and Cruises
The Cruise Lines International Association has announced that cruise lines will be voluntarily and temporarily suspending cruise ship operations from U.S. ports of call for 30 days as public health officials and the U.S. government continue to address COVID-19.
The U.S. Department of State warned that Americans, especially those with underlying conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. This is due to the increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment, according to the CDC.
The following cruise lines have announced modifications to their cancellation and refund policies:
Azamara Coronavirus Update: All cruises scheduled to sail before April 11, 2020 have been canceled. Travelers who booked these cruises can choose between a 125% credit. Guests booked on a cruise through July 31, 2020, can cancel up to 48 hours before departure and receive future cruise credit. The credits must be used by Dec. 31, 2021.
Carnival Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: Travelers booked on sailings leaving between March 9 and 31, 2020, can rebook for a future date up to three days before sailing. Guests booked on cruises that depart between April 1 and May 31, 2020, can move their bookings to a future date by March 31, 2020. Guests booked on cruises that depart between May and September 2020 may move their bookings to a future date as long as they cancel at least 30 days in advance. Travelers who keep their itineraries will receive an onboard credit up to $3200, depending on the cruise length.
Celebrity Cruises Coronavirus Update: Cruises set to embark before April 11, 2020, have been canceled.Cruisers can cancel trips up to 48 hours before sailing and receive a credit for a future cruise. This applies to any itineraries that depart through July 31, 2020.
Crystal Cruises Coronavirus Update: Cruises set to embark before April 11, 2020, have been canceled. Guests who are currently booked on a cruise, and anyone who books a new cruise through 2020, are able to cancel up to seven days before sailing for a full credit for a future cruise through the end of 2022.
Disney Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: All cruises from March 14 to April 12, 2020, are canceled. Guests impacted by the cancellations are offered a full cruise credit or refund.
Norwegian Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: Cruises with embarkation dates from March 13 to April 11, 2020, have been canceled. Guests with embarkation dates between March 13 and March 17, 2020 will receive a credit for 150% of their original rate, while those with embarkation dates between March 18 and April 11, 2020 will receive a credit for 125% of their original rate. Guests can also opt to receive a full refund instead. Any new or existing bookings departing before Sept. 30, 2020, can be canceled up to 48 hours prior to sailing for a 100% credit on a future cruise. The credit can be used for any cruise on or before Dec. 31, 2022.
Princess Cruises Coronavirus Update: All cruises are canceled until May 11, 2020. Travelers who booked a now-canceled cruise can choose between a refund and a credit worth more than the value of their initial cruise fare. The credit can be used on all voyages departing before May 1, 2022.
Regent Seven Seas Coronavirus Update: All cruises set to depart before April 11, 2020, have been canceled. Guests have the option of a credit for 125% of their original cost or a full refund. Cruisers booked on a trip through Sept. 30, 2020, can cancel up to 48 hours before departure and receive a 100% credit toward a future cruise.
Royal Caribbean Coronavirus Update: All cruises set to depart before April 11, 2020, have been canceled. Guests have the option of a credit for 125% of their original cost or a full refund. Travelers can cancel up to 48 hours before they sail and get credit toward a future cruise. This applies for cruises through July 31, 2020, and the cruise credit is valid through Dec. 31, 2021.
Viking Coronavirus Update: All cruises between March 12 and April 30, 2020, will be canceled. Guests whose cruises fell between these dates have the option of a full refund or a travel voucher for 125% of their original cruise rate. All reservations made before April 30, 2020, for future cruises can be canceled up to 24 hours before scheduled departure for a full refund.
Numerous cruise lines have also canceled or altered their itineraries to avoid travel and shore excursions to China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Italy.
Coronavirus Travel Insurance
Travel insurance related to delays and cancellations of trips due to the coronavirus outbreak is complicated. Typically, travel insurance will not cover problems related to the coronavirus outbreak because it has been dubbed a “known event.” It received that designation on Jan. 22, 2020. Additionally, many travel insurance policies often exclude coverage for issues that come up as a result of pandemics or epidemics.
However, if you’ve purchased “cancel for any reason” coverage you may be in luck. This type of add-on insurance typically guarantees that a traveler will receive at least 50% to 75% of their insured nonrefundable and prepaid trip costs and deposits should the vacation be canceled for any reason not already covered. Keep in mind, this type of insurance must be purchased within a set number of days from the first payment (usually 21 days or less). So, if you booked a trip in January for travel in May, you are unable to go back and add that type of coverage to your trip. The trip must also be canceled at least two days prior to departure to take advantage of the cancel for any reason coverage.
In some cases, your credit card may provide travel insurance and cover trip cancellations. Read more about if your credit card travel insurance covers the coronavirus here.
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