I’m a travel professional with a heavy travel schedule over the next few months. As news was breaking about the spread of the Coronavirus worldwide, I quickly started researching my options. Could I safely cancel my flights? Who’s responsible for the costs? Is travel insurance worth it? Does travel insurance even cover Coronavirus?
While I was ready to ask those hard-hitting questions, I wasn’t quite prepared for the answer.
Travel insurance does not cover pandemics and epidemics, even if a travel ban is put in place by your home country.
So what does this mean for people like me that have thousands of dollars in nonrefundable trips already booked? Well, after a ton of research, I found that there are a few options.
What are the options for cancelling my trip due to Coronavirus?
Most travel insurance providers offer an additional benefit, at an additional cost, called “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR). When purchasing CFAR coverage, you should be partially covered for cancelling or changing your travel plans due to the growing cases of Coronavirus worldwide.
However, there are some important things to know—things that I learned the hard way— about purchasing CFAR.
With most carriers, you must purchase the CFAR benefit within 14-21 days from when you made the original payment for your trip.
For instance, if the first payment you made towards your trip was the flight, the date of purchase would need to be within 14-21 days from when you decided to purchase travel insurance.
You will not receive 100% of your money back in the event that you cancel because of the Coronavirus.
Most plans offer 50-75% back, depending on the type of coverage you signed up for. In times like these, if you are going to spend the extra money for CFAR, I recommend paying for the most comprehensive plan which will cover 75% of the trip.
You typically need to file your claim to cancel your trip at least 48 hours before the trip commences.
That’s right folks, no last minute cancellations.
What about the airlines? Aren’t they waiving change and cancellation fees?
Many airlines started to waive change and cancellation fees because of the Coronavirus outbreak. That said, many are not. I was supposed to fly to Berlin for a speaking engagement and the conference was cancelled due to Coronavirus concerns. Turkish Airlines offered no options for me to cancel or change my flight. Luckily, I had purchased CFAR through Travel Guard within the 14 day window so I was partially covered.
For the airlines that are loosening their policies, the refunds often come with strict stipulations. For instance, Lufthansa is offering refunds and re-bookings for no charge for flights impacted by government imposed travel restrictions or flight cancellations. In other words, if they canceled the flight, they will refund the money. If you have been placed on a travel restriction, they will refund the money. Otherwise, their standard policies apply.
As of March 5, 2020, most airlines are only waiving fees for the most affected regions of the world, such as mainland China and Northern Italy.
Are there any other alternatives?
Book refundable tickets
Yes, they will cost you more, but in the era of Coronavirus, it is a good idea and in many cases will cost less than purchasing the CFAR benefit through your insurance provider.
Pay the airline change fees
Assuming you don’t book the super duper budget airline, most airlines will change your flight for a change fee which varies greatly (typically $100-$250 per ticket).
Which Travel Insurance is right for me?
Given the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak and its impact, travel insurance with the CFAR benefit remains the most flexible option.
For up-to-date travel advisories, check with your home country. In the US, this information can be found at travel.gov.
For up-to-date Coronavirus cases by country, worldometer.com is a great resource.