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COVID-19 Travel Q&A

With 91% of the world population living in countries with temporary movement and travel restrictions, the world is at a stand-still. If you have trips planned for the summer, you are now facing difficult decisions and are probably feeling confused by the restrictions and cancellation policies that are changing daily. Our team answers 5 key questions that travelers are asking right now. 
 

Click on a question to find out more.
 

When will it be possible to travel?

This is a tricky question with many moving parts, and we are really at the mercy of the virus and how things progress – which can vary by region. Each expert has a different opinion on when it will be possible to travel again and there does not seem to be a solid answer. Some say that they expect us to be able to travel rather freely this summer while others say we will not be able to travel until 2021 or after (with many answers in between the two!).

A writer for The Points Guy website had the opportunity to ask leaders in the hotel, cruise and airline spaces to share their thoughts on the future, including their predictions for when and how we’ll travel again. Below are some of their answers to the question: “When do you think we will be able to travel again – regionally and internationally?”

David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue: Isn’t that the 64-million-dollar question! I think 2020 is probably going to be the year of the car – for at least the next few months anyway. It might be to be like the ’50s again — “See the USA in your Chevrolet” — until we work out what travel is going to look like in a post-coronavirus world. I do think domestic airline travel will pick up again in the second half of this year. As for international travel, that comes down to customs and border controls in each country.

Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which owns and operates Pittsburgh International Airport: I think it’s going to be slow, and I think it’s going to have a lot to do with when people feel comfortable from a health perspective. That could be longer than we originally anticipated. We at the airport authority in Pittsburgh aren’t expecting any meaningful growth at least until the summer is over.

Jamie Baker, airline analyst: At some point, businesses are going to ask employees to start returning to the office. Shortly thereafter, they’ll tell employees to get back out on the road. But families may not initially share that same confidence. I expect short-haul business demand to recover first, while short-haul leisure demand will recover next. International recovery should lag, given those itineraries typically get planned pretty far in advance. Given uncertainty as to whether COVID-19 returns, initial trips are likely to be relatively short and close to home.

Ben Baldanza, former CEO of Spirit Airlines, board member of JetBlue and Six Flags: I expect domestic travel will return for leisure traffic in summer 2021 but business travel will take longer. I also think that people will be more comfortable on shorter flights than longer flights. I don’t expect pre-COVID volume and rate for all travel to be back until 2023 or later.

Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s: The most honest response: Who knows? What’s been so frightening about this situation is that so much of what we must do depends on a submicroscopic entity we can’t even see. That being said, I have a guess that people will start traveling again domestically and regionally in mid- to late summer. There are rumblings that Europe may not let Americans in until September, since the virus is so widespread here and our testing is still almost nonexistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if other areas of the world adopt the same stance.

Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso: Regional travel is poised to come back first. When shelter-in-place restrictions begin to lift, people will look to escape from the reality they’ve been facing. We anticipate they won’t want to venture far from home, preferring long weekend stays to drive-to destinations and the corona-cation will be born. As for international trips, Virtuoso travel advisors feel optimistic about pent-up consumer demand and they expect new bookings to resume in the next six to eight weeks. Nine months out seems to be the sweet spot for these bookings, which means people have their eye on holiday travel and early 2021 getaways.

Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer at Brand USA: There is no clear answer yet as to when travel will resume. When it does, I am confident that it will spool up steadily and that the market will quickly return to pre-virus global tourism levels. People want to travel, and the time we have spent isolated in our homes only makes this yearning grow.

Jennifer Hawkins, owner of Hawkins International PR: People are going to gravitate to open spaces and national parks, beachfronts and lakes. Airlines need to be leaders in getting people back to international travel – they need to have more flexible cancellation and change fees and rules. Travelers won’t want to invest in international travel planning if they don’t feel that they have flexibility.

Maud Bailly, chief digital officer at Accor Hotels: It seems like China is slowly returning to normal – we are reopening our hotels there and have seen a lot of positive bounce-back. However, it is far too early to say when other regions will be able to follow. I hope that people will be able to travel to some extent this summer, probably domestically for most, but it’s important to take things one step at a time. We are optimistic but not naive, so we will carefully follow advice from governments and the international community to make sure we set the pace right and reopen our hotels in a way that is safe for all our guests and staff.

In short, there really is no answer to this question, other than “only time will tell.” It is dependent upon many factors and varies by region. What everyone can agree on is that we hope we’ll all be able to get back out there and travel sooner rather than later!

Source: https://thepointsguy.com/news/experts-future-of-travel-coronavirus


What are the cancellation policies for travel tickets? 

With travel bans currently in effect across the globe and the many cancellations due to COVID-19, you might wonder what your options are if you have a trip scheduled in the next few weeks or months. Here’s everything you need to know about travel cancellation policies for airlines, cruise lines, car rentals and more.
 
AIR TRAVEL
 
Airlines each have their own modification and cancellation policies. Depending on their country of origin, carriers will also be regulated differently. For instance, U.S.-based airlines are subject to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s instructions while European airlines must comply with the European Union Regulation 261.
 
After reports of airlines refusing to reimburse their passengers for canceled flights, both the DOT and the European Commission intervened to require airlines to offer full refunds to travelers. Airlines have the right to offer reimbursements in the form of a voucher, as long as customers agree to it. The airlines must provide a full cash refund if requested by the passengers. The EU further clarified that other rules such as compensation payments for canceled flights will not apply to COVID-19 cancellations, however, passengers are entitled to a full refund of the fare they paid.
 
To maintain their cash flow, many airlines have implemented incentives to encourage passengers to choose vouchers over cash reimbursements. For example, American Airlines is offering a 20% bonus and Turkish Airlines is currently promoting a 15% bonus for those who chose the voucher option. For a complete list of change and cancellation policies per airline, click here.

CRUISE TRAVEL
 
Most cruise lines are proactively canceling departures on a rolling basis. In early March, all major lines canceled at least a month’s worth of sailings, and in recent weeks, many lines have extended their shutdowns into the early summer. Some lines have canceled cruises as far out as October. For departures scheduled later in the year, nearly all cruise lines have greatly eased their cancellation policies.
 
Most companies allow travelers to cancel a cruise just a day or two before departure for a full refund. To encourage travelers to consider a cruise tour in the future, some cruise lines are offering two types of refund, a cash refund for the full fare or a cruise credit in the amount of up to 125% of the fare paid for the canceled trip. Finally, depending on the cruise line, the cruise credit must be used by the end of 2021 or the end of 2022. Check this article by The Points Guy for or a line-by-line guide to cancellation policies
Car Rentals 
 
To ensure the safety of their customers, many global car rental companies including Enterprise, Sixt, Budget, Hertz and Avis have established curbside car pick up and drop off procedures and even offer to deliver the vehicle to the traveler in select locations. These companies have also modified their cleaning processes to ensure cars are sanitized between each rental.
Rescheduling and cancellation policies have also been extended to give more flexibility to customers who wish to postpone or cancel their trip. For pre-paid reservations, cancellation fees may apply depending on the rental company. Before calling customer service, check your online reservation to modify or cancel your rental. Most rental companies are allowing customers to manage their trips without the need of speaking to a representative.
 
TRAIN TRAVEL
 
Most rail companies around the world have opted to waive their change fees through the end of May or June. Customers who wish to change their reservations can usually do so online. Note that there might be a fare difference when rescheduling a trip. For credit vouchers or full reimbursements, travelers usually need to call the customer service and speak with an agent or complete an online form. The turnaround time for these requests is much longer. Many rail companies are also allowing a grace period, from 30 to 60 days, for those who were not able to modify or cancel their trip before the actual time of departure. For detailed and specific measures regarding your upcoming train reservation, visit your rail company’s website.

BUS TRAVEL
 
To limit the number of phone calls to their customer service centers, many bus companies have communicated to their customers that they will proactively inform them by email of any changes affecting their scheduled ride. Similar to other modes of transportation, bus companies are pushing for their customers to reschedule their trip to a later time in the year. Full reimbursements are possible, although often in the form of a voucher, if travelers wish to cancel their trip altogether or if the ride is canceled by the bus company.

What are the cancellation policies for hotel stays and other accommodation?


Like most sectors in the travel industries, hotels and vacation rental websites have adopted flexible cancellations and rescheduling policies in light of the pandemic. 

 

Hotels: Hotels around the world are offering flexibility in response to the virus if you have already made your bookings ahead of time. Many hotels and resorts are waiving cancellation fees provided that the bookings are canceled 24 hours before arrival. Know your rights as a customer and stay updated about cancellation policies by checking the company’s website or contact the third party that you had made your bookings through in order to make cancellations and receive your refund. For a list of the cancellation policies implemented by some leading hotel chains, click here

 

Online Travel Agents (OTAs): If you booked your hotel with an online travel booking site like Expedia, Kayak, Hotels.com or Booking.com, you will need to contact them directly. Most OTAs are adhering to the cancellation policies of individual hotels and airlines, so it will vary depending on your exact itinerary and booking. Travelers should contact the customer service center of the website used to book their trip to find out more about specific cancelation policies. 

 

Vacation Rental Websites: When it comes to vacation rentals, the rules aren’t so cut and dry; in factAirbnb is the only vacation rental company guaranteeing full refunds at this time. Indeed, the company modified its  extenuating circumstances policy to include COVID-19. If you have previously made reservations on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020, to May 31, 2020, you will be allowed to request cancellations without any additional charges. You can find cancellation and refund options by navigating to the “Trips” page and choosing your trip. Any reservations made after March 14, 2020, will follow normal cancellation policies unless the guest or host is sick with COVID-19. 

 

VRBO has also extended its COVID-19 emergency policy and will ask property owners and managers to refund the flexible credits. Though refunds are not guaranteed, the company has set up a three-point system to make it easier for travelers who may need to cancel. In situations where full credit cannot be issued, the company is strongly encouraging property owners and managers to issue partial refunds and will also be refunding the fees the website charges through Traveler Service Fee on stays on or before May 31. If a trip must be canceled because of local governments enacting laws that restrict travel or prohibit stay in vacation homes for leisure, the COVID-19 emergency policy will cover the trips from May 1 to May 31. 

 

Other vacation rental websites including and FlipKey, TripAdvisor Rental and TurnKey have left it up to the property owners to agree on refunding the travelers. Travelers are instructed to email the owners to request a free modification or a full refund. Read this article for more details on cancellation policies for the leading vacation rental websites in the industry. 

 


What will happen to my frequent flier miles or other travel loyalty points set to expire?

Each airline is taking a different approach to expiring loyalty points and frequent flier miles, while some have chosen to remain completely silent. Some policy changes are better than others, but many airlines are continuously adapting, so be sure to check frequently with your carrier. Below is a list of some of the more popular airlines as cited by the CNBC article, “See which airlines are doing the most — and the least — to protect your elite status”:

Aer Lingus is said to be emailing members of its elite flyer program, AerClub, with news of automatic credits ranging from 25 to 350 points, depending on the membership tier level. Estimates suggest bonus points are equal to approximately 33% of the points needed to maintain yearly status.

British Airways is reducing status point thresholds by 30% for members up for renewal in April, May and June. Certain vouchers, earned through BA credit cards, are also being automatically extended for six months. The concessions were sent via email to select customers.

In an email to members, Turkish Airlines announced a six-month extension for all elite status holders. Members can also purchase double the amount of miles this year. Details are scarce though passengers are reportedly able to view the updated expiration dates by logging into their Miles & Smiles accounts.

While embroiled in a high-profile struggle to stay afloat, Virgin Atlantic is extending the status of Silver and Gold Flying Club members by six months. Qualifying companion, upgrade and clubhouse vouchers are also being extended by half a year.

Emirates Skywards Silver, Gold and Platinum members (but notably not Blue) whose membership reviews come before September of this year will have their status extended until Dec. 31, 2020. Members with reviews before March 1, 2021 receive 12-month status extensions with a caveat; they must meet 80% of the usual travel requirements. Additionally, miles expiring at any point in 2020 are being extended until year end.

Updated: In addition to giving monthly allotments of Tier miles to all members from March to May, Etihad Airways announced an extension policy similar to Emirates in that members will see their statuses extended by 12 months if they’ve earned 80% of their required miles. Those who fall short of that percentage will receive a three-month status extension.

Two additional perks? The airline is giving double Tier miles for all flights taken between March 1 and July 31, 2020 and up to 5,000 bonus Guest miles and $400 for those who opt for credit for flights canceled during this time.

After initially offering free monthly bonus points, Cathay Pacific one-upped itself and is now granting a simple 12-month status extension to memberships expiring this year. Lounge passes and other similar benefits are being extended for 12 months too.

After initially announcing reduced tier thresholds, Flying Blue — the loyalty program for Air France, KLM and a number of smaller airlines — reversed course and is now extending members’ elite status by 12 months. The extension applies to memberships set to expire before February 2021. Explorer members’ miles are being extended through the end of 2020 too.

One of the first carriers to issue status extensions, Qantas is automatically granting 12-month extensions to elite memberships that expire before February 2021. Fliers do not need to take four flights per year, as is the usual rule, to receive it. Qantas stated it will not send new physical membership cards, though elite members can find the updated expiration dates on their digital cards.

Like Qantas, Qatar Airways’ loyalty program, Privilege Club, is “extending or reinstating” tier statuses for 12 months for memberships that expire before Jan. 31, 2021. Additional privileges, such as preferred seating guarantees and extensions on upgrades, extra baggage and lounge access, are being rolled out for elite members too.

Singapore Airlines is renewing elite memberships for one year and PPS and Elite Gold Rewards (that expire in the second half of this year) are being extended to March 31, 2020. Krisflyer miles that expire between now and August are being extended by six months. Comprehensive details — the most of any airline listed — are available on the company’s website.

Air Canada is automatically extending all Altitude statuses to the end of 2021, which technically is one day short of 2022. But the blanket offer is so generous, we are including it here. Members who have already achieved status for the next year (or who do so by the end of 2020) can give it to a friend or family member. Plus, the airline’s loyalty program, Aeroplan, launched a “Travel at Home” program which allows members to earn miles and status by making purchases at Apple Music, Bose and eBay, to name a few, or through donations made to coronavirus-related charities (the latter through April 30).

As the first U.S. airline to announce program status extensions, Delta Air Lines elite members can retain their current status through Jan. 31, 2022. Medallion Qualification Miles from 2020 can be rolled into 2021, and select memberships, upgrade certificates and $200 travel vouchers are being extended, among a number of other updates to its program.

Similar to Delta, United Airlines is extending elite status for all Premier members through Jan. 31, 2022. The airline is also reducing threshold qualifications for 2021 by a full 50% making it easier for flyers to reach higher tiers. Qualifying PlusPoints, annual membership and subscription benefits are being extended by six months. Electronic travel certificates can be used for up to 24 months from the date of issue, making this one of, if not the most generous program announcements to date.

American Airlines’ announcement came a bit late for some, but when it did it was ample. In lockstep with Delta and United, the airline is automatically extending the status of all elite members until Jan. 31, 2022. The airline is also reducing requirements to meet elite status tiers — not quite as much as United but still an appreciable amount — while throwing in vacation package credits and a number of other perks.

Lufthansa has not made any status announcements to date, though one appears to be coming. The website for the company’s Miles & More frequent flier program states: “The Lufthansa Group airlines will be offering goodwill gestures for retaining status over the course of the year and will keep all frequent flyers informed.”
Additionally, the company has announced that the Miles & More program, which also services passengers on Austrian
Airlines
and Swiss International Air Lines, is changing its status program effective Jan.1, 2021 to a simplified, more transparent points-based system.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/27/see-what-major-airlines-are-doing-to-protect-miles-and-elite-statuses.html


I can't get a hold of customer service, what should I do?

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the ensuing travel restrictions, call centers have been flooded, unable to handle the unusually high call volumes. If you cannot get a hold of a representative, try one of these tips:  

  • Avoid the phone lines altogether: Prior to calling customer service, see if you can cancel or make the modifications you need online. Turning to social media for simple requests is also an effective way to getting your questions answered. Most travel companies now have customer service teams dedicated to assist customers via social media platforms.
  • Don’t call too soon: Many airlines and other travel companies are urging their customers to wait until 72 hours before their actual trip to contact their customer service number. The reason? Immigration and travel restrictions are changing daily, thus are cancelation and rescheduling policies. Waiting until then will allow to leave phone lines opened for travelers requiring immediate assistance.
  • Try any other number:  Most travel companies have multiple phone numbers to handle different customer groups. Try locating a loyalty program phone number or a foreign number. For example, many savvy travelers have reported they had had more luck when calling airline offices in Singapore.