Do You Have Questions About Traveling During the Coronavirus Crisis?

From getting a cash refund for that canceled airline ticket to picking the safest post-coronavirus vacation destinations, NEA Member Benefits has the answers.

Do You Have Questions About Traveling During the Coronavirus Crisis - Couple and Young Child in the Back of a Car With a Picnic Basket

by NEA Member Benefits

Jul 08, 2020

Editor's Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel. And, while now isn’t the time for unnecessary trips, we’re here to help you plan future vacations with helpful travel guides and tips. That way, when the novel coronavirus is under control, you’ll have everything you need to get back on track and plan memorable trips for your family.

The world is slowly reopening after the novel coronavirus made its way across the world in early 2020. Everyone around the globe made changes to many aspects of daily life to help thwart the disease. This year has been stressful for everyone as we've learned to cope with new directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as federal, state and local governments.

While the most recent advice from the CDC is to avoid all nonessential travel and there are still shelter-in-place orders in some places in the U.S., summertime brings the hope of limited, close-to-home day trips or weekend getaways to the beach or the mountains.

There are still a lot of questions about the state of leisure travel so let's dig into what many people are asking about traveling in the age of coronavirus.

Can I travel right now?

Current CDC guidance asks Americans to avoid all nonessential travel. If you decide to adhere to that guidance, it means nixing a trip to attend a wedding out of state, canceling a hotel stay and forgoing any overseas travel that’s part of a leisure trip.

However, many Americans in regions of the country that are seeing declines in COVID-19 infection rates—or those in states that are in Phase 1 or 2 of reopening per federal guidance—are starting to emerge from mandatory stay-at-home orders. As national, state and local parks reopen, some people are deciding to take day trips or book vacations at a beach cottage or mountain cabin where they can still practice social distancing if they so choose.

When will I be able to travel and to where?

The answer depends on America’s success in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) by adhering to guidelines such as wearing face coverings and observing social-distancing protocols. When it’s safe to travel will depend on the conditions at home and at the region you plan to visit.

Hawaii, for example, has been one of the most conservative states that still has stay-at-home orders in place through July 31. California has a stay-at-home order that remains in force for the foreseeable future and Los Angeles County says it will likely extend its stay-home-order through the summer—though some other restrictions will be lifted.

Each state reports its COVID-19 cases to the CDC so you can check this map to gauge the severity of the outbreaks in different parts of the country. Just keep in mind that not all states are doing adequate testing so the data as provided to the CDC may not present an accurate picture of conditions on the ground.

Also note that some states, such as Maine, Vermont and Hawaii, currently require a mandatory self-quarantine upon arrival. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require individuals from states with high coronavirus rates to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to their states. If you do plan to travel, make sure there are no quarantine directives that can trip you up but also realize that new self-quarantine orders can be made at any time. Carefully consider if it’s worth planning a getaway with the possibility of an up to 14-day quarantine looming.

If you'd like to check state-by-state coronavirus restrictions and travel advisories, consult these resources:
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming

In Europe, members of the EU have decided to ban Americans from entry when their countries open to travel on July 1.

When travel does become possible again, are there types of vacations that may be safer than others?

Yes. That may mean that trips focused on outdoor activities are a better bet than traveling where crowds usually congregate, such as theme parks or music festivals. (While concerts and festivals have been cancelled for the summer, theme parks are reopening with additional precautions in place such as mandatory face masks, reduced capacity, social distancing while in line for attractions and closures of other attractions. Universal Orlando reopened in early June and Disney World starts its phased reopening in mid-July.)

For this summer and fall, some travelers are thinking about renting RVs, camping, booking cabins or home rentals in the mountains or near a beach, or finding other out-of-the way destinations where they can enjoy recreational pastimes without the crowds.

What’s going on with the cruise industry?

The CDC recommends that all travelers avoid cruise ship travel worldwide. And, in fact, the agency issued a “no sail” order for cruise ships operating out of U.S. ports. This order is in effect through most of July. Some cruise lines have proactively canceled additional sailings from U.S. ports through Sept. 15. Beyond the pause of operations at U.S. ports through mid-September, some cruise lines have additionally cancelled other select sailings. For example, Carnival Cruise Line canceled all sailings out of New York City and San Francisco for the rest of 2020. Princess Cruises and Holland American cancelled the rest of their New England/Canada, Alaska and Europe sailings this year, and Princess also cancelled its Caribbean itineraries though early November.

The “no sail” order doesn’t apply to ships that carry less than 250 people so certain cruise lines—such as UnCruise Adventures or Lindblad Expeditions—could offer cruises before the moratorium ends if safe conditions present themselves.

If you plan to book a cruise for a future date, carefully check the cancellation and refund policies in case you need to change your travel plans at the last minute due to further COVID-19 outbreaks.

Should I wear a face mask or take other precautions when I travel?

The CDC’s guidance on face masks is constantly evolving. While you don’t have to wear medical-grade N95 masks, a fabric mask is advised if you’re out in public right now. Some states, such as California, Maryland and New York, have implemented mandatory masks in public.

Many U.S. airlines now require passengers to wear a face covering from check in to disembarkation. Check with the airline on its policies before you fly. Also carry disinfectant wipes to clean any surfaces of airplane, bus or train seating areas and arm yourself with hand sanitizer and use it liberally. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands with soap and water as often as you can while in transit.

Will travel insurance protect me if I want to cancel a trip because of coronavirus fears?

Unfortunately, many travelers found out the hard way that most travel insurance policies don’t cover pandemics and epidemics. (Always read the fine print before buying an insurance policy to find out about exclusions like this.) So, even if you had insurance for an upcoming trip, it likely won’t cover you unless you purchased a “cancel for any reason” add-on. CFAR, as it’s known in the industry, adds about 40% to the cost of a traditional trip insurance policy but it allows you to cancel your trip for any reason—including fear of getting COVID-19. CFAR isn’t perfect though. The coverage usually only reimburses you for 50% to 75% of your trip costs. But, that’s still a good deal if you’re planning an expensive trip-of-a-lifetime and can’t afford to lose your money should something like this happen again.

Can I get my money back for a trip I scheduled before the novel coronavirus became a problem?

Many of us have had to cancel travel plans due to the coronavirus. Whether we can get our money back or need to accept a travel credit/voucher for future travel depends on the policies of the travel suppliers we booked with.

NEA Vacations—which offers savings of up to 50% on hotels and resorts, cruises and guided vacations—has been proactively contacting members with planned travel (watch your email for its Peace of Mind Travel Update). Some vendors, such as cruise lines, are offering future travel incentives and credits and that information will be communicated as it’s available. If you’d like to cancel your travel plans booked with NEA Vacations, representatives are ready to help. Check out this helpful trip cancellation FAQ with more details.

If you booked travel plans on your own, here are some tips that may help you navigate the cancellation/rebooking process.

Airline tickets: Most people buy nonrefundable airline tickets for one reason: They are much less expensive than the most flexible, refundable fares. Normally, you can’t get a cash refund if you don’t use a nonrefundable airline ticket—though many airlines will give you a partial credit for future travel.

Right now, though, it is possible to get a refund for a flight as long as the airline canceled it—and they are canceling a lot of flights right now. According to the Department of Transportation, an airline (for a domestic flight or an international one departing or arriving in the U.S.) is required to refund your entire fare to your original form of payment if they cancel the flight for any reason.

If you have an airline ticket booked for a flight in the next few weeks or months, wait to see if the airline cancels the flight. If it does, you are legally entitled to a full refund. The airline may offer you a credit for future travel. Do not take it and reference the DOT requirement that the airline refund your money.

Just remember that if you proactively call the airline and cancel your reservation before the airline cancels the flight, you aren’t entitled to a cash refund. It’s then up to the airline’s current policy to determine if you’ll get any sort of refund or future travel credit. Airlines are adjusting their cancellation and rebooking policies to be more consumer-friendly right now but you’ll need to read the fine print to understand your rights.

Hotel stays: It’s easy to cancel most hotel stays. Some reservation policies allow you to cancel right up to the day before or even day of travel. Others have a one-night deposit penalty if you cancel a stay. Most hotel reservation outline cancelation policies at the time of booking, so look for this information before committing to staying at a hotel. Be aware that some countries, such as Italy and Greece, are adjusting laws so hotels do not have to offer a cash refund for deposits or prepaid travel. In those cases, the best you can get may be a voucher for a future stay or the ability to change your travel dates.

If you’ve paid upfront for accommodations—often for in-demand events such as the Summer Olympics in Tokyo or for smaller boutique properties—you’ll need to reach out to the property manager to negotiate a solution. In the case of the Olympics postponement, many hotels are allowing guests to move their reservations to the rescheduled dates.

Cruises: With the current moratorium on cruises, many months of cruise itineraries have been canceled. If you booked directly with the cruise line, contact them to find out your options. If you booked with a travel agent, he or she will be your point of contact. Many lines are offering a cash refund for canceled cruises or 100% to 150% cruise credit to rebook a future voyage. If you had scheduled a cruise through NEA Vacations, you are eligible to receive three bonus offers when you rebook, such as bonus onboard credits, $100 pre- and post-hotel credit and Up to $150 Shore Excursion Credit.

Packaged tours: Each tour packager is handling cancellations differently, so you’ll need to reach out to the supplier you picked for your trip. Trafalgar, for instance, that offers NEA members a 10% discount off tours, has suspended all trips through November 30, 2020. The company is offering a travel credit for the full value of the land portion of the trip to use before December 31, 2022. The travel credit can be applied to a Trafalgar tour or to any other TTC brand, such as Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Brendan Vacations, Costsaver, Uniworld or U by Uniworld. This gives the traveler many more options when it comes to rebooking their vacation. For members with 2020 departures on or after September 1, 2020, your trip is scheduled to operate at this time, with enhanced hygiene and distancing protocol that meet new requirements put forth by world health and local authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO). You also have the flexibility to change your trip until 30 days prior to departure, without penalty on the land portion.

Are travel companies taking steps to protect travelers from coronavirus, or helping with the effort to stamp out the disease?

It’s heartening to see so many individuals and companies stepping up to help in whatever way they can during this pandemic. In an effort to inform customers about new procedures, Hertz—which offers up to a 25% discount to NEA members—announced enhanced cleaning methods of its rental cars, rental counters and shuttle buses. The company has also installed more hand sanitizers throughout its rental locations.

Hertz has also strengthened its policies to help customers. In the U.S. and Canada, the company has temporarily waived young renter fees and lowered the renter age from 20 to 18 to help college students and young drivers needing transportation. For prepaid reservations, Hertz is waiving cancellation and change fees for travel to restricted areas, and all prepaid reservations booked before March 13 can now be extended toward reservations used within 24 months. Hertz is also extending current members' Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® statuses through January 31, 2022.  

Hoteliers across the world—such as Red Roof (that offers a 20% discount to NEA members), Four Seasons, Marriott and Hilton—are offering free accommodations for frontline healthcare workers and first responders.

And, airlines, such as JetBlue and Delta, are providing free flights to medical workers relocating to work in heavily affected locations.

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