Omicron Warning for Travel Cancellations — How To Get Your Money Back

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Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before: The rapidly spreading Omicron variant is threatening to wreak havoc on travel plans in the United States, and many would-be travelers must decide whether or not to cancel their plans — and how to recoup their money if they do.

For now, it looks like most travelers intend to stay the course rather than cancel, even as health experts expect record coronavirus numbers this winter. Many of those same experts have voiced cautious optimism about travel conditions.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, said over the weekend that people with vaccinations and boosters can proceed with their travel plans as long as they follow precautions, the Washington Post reported. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told CBS he wouldn’t advise against travel, but that people who do so should proceed “very carefully.”

Meanwhile, as GOBankingRates recently reported, the Transportation Security Administration expects “near pre-pandemic travel volumes” to continue through the Christmas season.

At the same time, some agencies advise certain travelers to forego certain trips. The Centers for Disease Control advised against international travel until a person is fully vaccinated, The New York Times reported. The World Health Organization recommended that people who are not fully vaccinated, have not previously been infected, are 60 years or older or have certain medical conditions should postpone trips to regions with community transmission.

If you are forced to cancel a trip, here are some pointers outlined by the Washington Post on how to get your money back, or at least not face a total financial loss:

  • Flights: It’s unlikely you’ll get a cash refund if you cancel a flight yourself, but you should be able to get a voucher or credit for future flights. One strategy is to delay canceling as long as possible to see if the airline cancels first. If the airline cancels or significantly delays the flight, Department of Transportation regulations say you are entitled to ask for a refund.
  • Hotels: Unlike airlines, hotels typically make it much easier to cancel reservations without losing your money — unless you cancel at the last minute. Since different hotels have different policies, and even those policies can vary depending on the dates you booked, it’s a good idea to go back over your reservation agreement before canceling. If your cancellation runs afoul of the hotel’s normal rules, contact the hotel and negotiate a refund based on the fact that Omicron forced you to change plans. If that fails, you can call your credit card company and see if they can get a refund.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb loosened up its cancellation policies earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean a COVID-19 surge will result in a refund. Under normal circumstances, you would negotiate a refund with the host. But after the pandemic first hit, Airbnb adjusted its rules so that most listings allow for full refunds of the nightly rate for cancellations made at least five days prior to check-in, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Rental cars: Most rental car companies offer refunds on canceled reservations, but you might get hit with a cancellation fee.
  • Cruises: The pandemic led to new rules, making it easier to cancel cruise ship reservations. This means you might get refunds on everything but the deposit, though some cruise companies will offer a voucher for that.  It is also easier to make changes with being charged extra fees.
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