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Air Travel Passenger Rights

How COVID-19 Is Waging a New War on Air Passenger Rights

For decades, airlines just about everywhere have been resisting government-mandated passenger rights regulations. Despite the fact that the airlines brought on themselves many of the regulations they hate; they’ve had a remarkably deaf ear for customer pain points. That struggle has been ongoing for years both in the U.S. and abroad.

But now some airlines are using the financial squeeze of the global COVID-19 shutdown to ask for “relief” from those legal requirements like providing refunds for canceled flights, or compensation for lengthy delays. Those terms are mandated by the European Union, but impact flights operating elsewhere, too.

What the E.U. Has Long Required of Airlines

The primary current target is European Union’s Regulation EU 261/2004 for passenger compensation in case of delays. A rule called E.U. 261 has long required covered airlines to compensate travelers by cash payments of:

  • about $275 for a delay of two hours or more; on a flight of less than 930 miles
  • about $435 for a delay of three hours or more; on a flight of 930 to 5,600 miles
  • about $650 for a delay of four hours or more; on a flight of 2,175 miles or more

In addition, airlines are required to provide accommodations for overnight delays. And if a flight is delayed five hours or more, travelers have the option of a refund of all unused tickets and of tickets already used if the flight no longer serve’s any purpose. That’s on top of a no-cost return to the passenger’s origin point.

Airlines sometimes avoid some of the payments if they can provide proof that the delay or cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, but those exceptions are rare. E.U. 261 applies not just to flights within the E.U., but also flights from E.U. to and from points outside the E.U., regardless of where the given airline is based.

What E.U. Airlines Are Trying to Change Now

The current proposal is to lengthen the delay times that trigger compensation from two, three, and four hours to five, nine, and 12 hours, respectively, and to exclude some routes entirely. It’s also been reported that some airlines want more wiggle room to avoid payments. The latter proposal, submitted by Croatia, is viewed locally as a compromise.

Most travelers in the U.S. probably aren’t aware of the E.U. 261’s compensation requirements, or that it can apply to them. U.S. domestic air travelers have no comparable protections at at home: The only cash compensation rules in the U.S. cover the singular case of bumping due to overbooking. What U.S. travelers get in other delays and cancellations is determined by each line’s contract of carriage, and no airline offers cash compensation for delays. (The DOT does require refunds for canceled flights, however, for any flights operating to, from, or within the U.S.—as does the E.U.)

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the current proposal. But Brexit regulations still being laid out also raise the issue of whether the U.K. will continue to honor E.U. 261 in general.

Cash refunds for canceled flights during the pandemic and beyond is another skirmish in itself. Regulations in both the E.U. and U.S. require cash or credit-card refunds (credit vouchers do not suffice). But airlines in much of the world are fighting to overturn those requirements, too. The government of Canada recently said it will allow its airlines to forgo refunds for canceled flights.

So far, neither the U.S. nor the E.U. has granted airlines’ wishes. The U.S. issued an enforcement notice warning to airlines, and the E.U. stated that airlines currently still need to follow E.U. 261, and that: “In order to change any provision of this law, you would need wide support for an agreement from the other institutions.”

But never underestimate the power of high-priced lobbyists, and stay tuned for updates.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Passenger Rights Travel Tips & Advice

Should I Cancel My June Trip? Take a Flight Credit?

Should I cancel my June trip? We answer this question and ones on Disneyland refunds, social distancing on flights, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column, Check Your Baggage.

Q. “Should I cancel my trip? It’s to Europe in late June.” – CS

A. I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, and I wish that this answer were a definitive “No, don’t cancel.” What we know about COVID-19 changes by the hour, and it’s impossible to predict what the travel situation will look like by the end of June.

The state you live in could affect your answer—some states may be allowing travel by the end of June while others could still have shelter-in-place orders or mandatory quarantines for travelers. Consider whether you would be able to completely quarantine yourself for two weeks upon return from your trip, if necessary.

The European country you’re traveling to would also change the answer. Italy, one of the hardest hit countries, seems highly unlikely to be ready for tourists in June, but a less-impacted country might be. Think about whether you would still want to take your trip if a country is technically open to travelers, but attractions and restaurants were still closed.

Before you make your decision, take a close look at the terms and conditions of your trip. If you’re able to get a refund on your tickets/accommodations right up until your departure date, than there’s certainly no harm in waiting until closer to June to reevaluate. However, some companies may require you to cancel your trip before a certain date in order to receive a refund or credit, in which case you shouldn’t wait if you’re having doubts.

Remember, the decision may wind up being out of your hands anyway if the airline cancels your flight or if borders are still closed by June. If you can’t stand spending the next few months stressing over the uncertainty of your trip, go ahead and postpone or cancel. 

If you can postpone rather than cancel, I urge you to do so. The travel industry desperately needs your help, and, for many hotels, having bookings postponed rather than canceled can mean the difference between reopening and shuttering for good.

[st_related]The Dos and Don’ts of Cancelling a
Trip Due to COVID-19
[/st_related]

Q. “Should I fight with the airline for a refund on my canceled trip, or just take the flight credit?”– AR

A. If the airline canceled your flight, you are legally entitled to a cash refund rather than a credit. Having the cash in hand is always the better option, as you won’t be restricted to using the same airline if you rebook the trip, and you won’t have the time-crunch of an expiring credit.

However, hundreds of thousands of other flyers are fighting for refunds right now, and airline customer service teams are swamped. You’ll need to weigh whether you want to spend hours of your time waiting on hold/for a callback or repeatedly emailing the airline against the simplicity of accepting an automatic credit.

If you don’t need the money right now, and you’re certain you’ll use the flight credit before it expires, there’s certainly no harm in just taking the credit. If you do opt for the credit, set a reminder in your phone/on your calendar to use it before it expires.

[st_related]Travel in the Time of COVID-19—What
You Need to Know
[/st_related]

Q. “If I need to fly in the near future, are airlines practicing appropriate social distancing on flights?” – ST

A. Most airlines are encouraging social distancing on flights by taking steps such as blocking off middle or aisle seats, reducing the number of passengers on flights, and changing the boarding process.

Delta, for example, is changing its boarding process to load passengers from the back to the front, thereby minimizing the risk of flyers having to walk in a narrow aisle past those who are already seated. Boarding will happen in groups of ten.

Almost all airlines are now allowing flyers to switch seats in order to create more distance between passengers, if there is space available.

However, note that even if middle seats are blocked off, in economy class, it’s unlikely that there would be six feet of space between yourself and the person ahead of or behind you (especially if the person in front of you reclines), unless entire rows are empty. But, with most flights operating at minimal capacity for now, there should be enough space to stretch out. Airlines like Alaska Airlines are allowing customers to rebook or cancel their flight if they feel they aren’t able to practice proper social distancing.

Q. “Some travelers (me among them) have travel vouchers from airlines that we’re unable to use due to travel restrictions. Are any airlines extending the expiration dates on these?” – MG

A. Some airlines are automatically extending voucher expiration dates, some will if only you ask, and others are evaluating requests on a case-by-case basis. The Points Guy has a comprehensive list of voucher extension policies here. When in doubt, reach out to your airline directly for an extension.

Q. “I wonder if you have any thoughts or knowledge on reimbursements from Disneyland. We bought tickets but the park will be closed on our travel dates. I was not able to find anything about refunds.” – AW

A. Unfortunately, the Mouse has no sympathy for you on this one, and Disneyland is not offering refunds on tickets. Single day and multi-day tickets will remain valid until the expiration date indicated on the ticket.

Annual passholders may choose to receive a partial refund on their tickets, or have their passport expiration date extended.

If you booked a vacation package directly through Disney, Disney is waiving any charges and cancellation fees up to the date of check-in for arrivals through June 30, 2020.

Click here to read Disneyland’s complete policy on the park closure.

Q. “Where’s the first place that you’re going to travel with the lockdown is lifted?” – KC

A. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about this question. When restrictions start to ease, I’m going to book an impromptu trip as soon as possible—something easy and within driving distance. I’m picturing: booking a quaint cabin rental in the mountains, hopping in the car with my road-trip playlist blasting, and heading north to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. When I get there, I’m going to do a hike where I’ll see minimal people and spend the entire day outdoors, being active, and not looking at a single screen. In my dreams, the weather is a perfect 70 degrees, the sun is shining, and everyone is healthy.

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at editor@smartertravel.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.

Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

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At Home Booking Strategy Credit Cards Passenger Rights

2 Simple Tips for Getting a Refund When the Airline Only Offers a Credit

This post originally appeared on JohnnyJet.com. Sign up for the Johnny Jet Daily Travel Tip newsletter here for more.

Most of the questions I’ve been getting from readers lately concern how to get refunded for a canceled flight. As you may know by now, some of the U.S. airlines had been until recently playing games with passengers (ahem, United and JetBlue). The Department of Transportation (DOT) received so many complaints that it had to come out with an enforcement notice. If your canceled flight was operated by a U.S. carrier, the DOT notice applies to you.

In fact, if your flight was supposed to fly to, from, or within the U.S., it doesn’t matter where the operating airline is based: If it canceled your flight, it needs to give you a full refund, according to the DOT.

But what about flights within Europe? Reader Simon L. asked this question on our “A Trick to Get Your Money Back From Airlines That Canceled Your Flight” post:

“What is the situation with dealing with European airlines? We had one-way tickets from Dubrovnik to London Gatwick with EasyJet for early April. The flight has been canceled. I have requested a full refund from EasyJet citing European regulation 261 but on their website, they are saying they are giving credits only. The tickets were purchased more than 60 days ago so disputing the charge with my CC probably won’t work and, at this point, a voucher is not going to do much good if we don’t get back to Europe this year. Any suggestions?”

Can you get refunded for a canceled European flight? I have to say that I wasn’t 100-percent sure of the answer, so I went searching. I found that the latest on this question—how to get refunded for a canceled European flight—is encouraging.

As written in a recent Reuters story: “Airlines must reimburse customers for flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union transport chief said on Wednesday, rejecting calls by carriers to relax EU rules and allow an EU-wide waiver of refund obligations.”

It seems that the airlines are concerned that issuing so many refunds will drain them of money. For now, that isn’t enough to get them out of their obligation to refund (not issue credits to) passengers on flights that have been canceled due to the COVID-19 situation.

Have you tried to get refunded for a canceled European flight? Did the airline give you a hard time? Here’s JohnnyJet.com’s previous advice on pressing for a refund:

  1. If an airline cancels your flight, tries to give you a credit, and refuses to give you a refund, ask to speak to a supervisor. Read them this line on your rights from the DOT: “If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation–even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”
  2. If the representative still won’t budge, you can hang up and call your credit card company as long as you purchased your flight in the last 60 days. As Joe Brancatelli, a veteran business-travel expert, recently tweeted: “Credit cards WILL process refunds. Airline rules and DOT boilerplate are irrelevant now.”

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Airport Health & Wellness Passenger Rights

Travel in the Time of COVID-19—What You Need to Know

The 2020 coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic, has been a moving target when it comes to travel. Nobody knows how long it will continue, whether and which areas it might hit next, when and where it will plateau and start to ease off, or when the travel world might return to something like normal. The time frame for cases to begin diminishing is unknown. And even once a decrease occurs, it’s worth considering that the virus could return.

The first place travelers should look to for advice on the virus as it relates to travel plans is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) via this page on destinations with COVID-19 alerts or warnings in place. It’s a good idea to bookmark it for updates, as the situation changes frequently.

Governments and travel suppliers have reacted by imposing rolling responses, with new cancellations and rule changes often. And with the U.S. State Department assigning a Global Level 4 Health Advisory (do not travel), existing travel plans for the next several weeks (or possibly months) poses a major quandary for many consumers.

SmarterTravel.com and its sister sites are regularly updating the following resource guides to travel companies’ COVID-19 responses:

The Main COVID-19 Travel Dilemmas to Consider

Travelers face three main areas of risk to think about:

  • Getting quarantined: If you need to travel, you almost certainly face the possibility of immediate quarantine of up to 14 days. If you’re lucky, it could be at home. But it could also place you in a strange city. U.S. citizens returning home from affected areas are being funneled to 13 airports where they will be screened and then asked to self quarantine.

Many countries have halted at least some flights, or closed their borders entirely. There are no indications about when normal activities will resume. The U.S. State Department currently assigns a Global Level Four Health Advisory (do not travel) for all international travel. The State Department also said Americans “should not travel by cruise ship.”

Many areas have taken actions that effectively work to deter tourism. Large public gatherings have been canceled or postponed, including the Tokyo Olympics. In many places, 14-day quarantines have been mandated for anyone entering the country; some nations have halted all visa requests. The list could go on: Check the State Department alert for any country you have travel planned to, and enroll in State Department STEP Alerts to receive updated information often.

Travel Industry Responses to COVID-19

If an airline cancels your flight(s), no matter what the airline proposes you can get a full refund on any ticket (see our guide to air passenger rights here). But if you have a ticket for a future flight that is not canceled or you haven’t yet bought a ticket, most major domestic and international airlines are offering some combination of postponement and refund options. Again, see our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s breakdown of airlines’ waiver options during the pandemic for more.

Generally, the options for canceling airfare will include:

  • Waiving change penalties for existing tickets—but in many cases, only for flights scheduled within a few weeks.
  • Waiving change penalties for newly booked tickets, with booking time frames ranging from a few weeks to a full year.
  • Rebooking a ticketed itinerary with no change in fares, but usually for rescheduled departures within a month or two.
  • Rebooking a ticketed itinerary with no change penalty, but at then-current fares, for up to a year.

Deadlines for making such changes are rolling; they’ll change from week to week and month to month depending on how the pandemic progresses. See our sister site Cruise Critic’s guide to cancellations for more.

Major hotel chains Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Choice, and Wyndham are refunding travelers and waiving change fees. Travelers who booked through third-party online travel agencies (OTAs) will likely need to go through those agencies’ websites or help lines for refunds. Travelers who booked through independent hotel-type properties will need to go to those properties for refunds. See our guide to which hotels (and airlines) are changing their points and loyalty membership terms to accommodate the pandemic.

What to Do About Travel Plans During COVID-19

If you haven’t yet made any payments and set up any firm arrangements for a spring or summer trip, one obvious choice is to refrain. Given the elevated chance of complications for older COVID-19 victims, if you’re 65 or over and/or have an existing medical condition, according to the CDC it’s smart to wait out new COVID-19 developments at home.

If you need to travel, even domestically, despite the pandemic, you can protect yourself physically by taking CDC advice about hand washing, wearing a mask, employing general hygiene like washing your hands often, and avoiding crowds. You can protect yourself financially by:

  • Avoiding as many nonrefundable bookings as possible—or at least making sure that any such bookings are with suppliers that have agreed to waive change penalties. Among other things, that means book direct rather than through agencies. That strategy works pretty well for hotels, but not air tickets. Refundable fares are usually a lot more costly than nonrefundable ones these days.
  • Considering the possibility of a 14-day quarantine: Take enough of your necessary medications to cover an unexpected/extended time away from home, or at least arrange for somebody at home to be able to send you what you need if you’re delayed.

If you can’t use or don’t like the refund/reschedule options your suppliers offer, your rights to legal recourse are limited:  

  • Airline: If your airline’s offer doesn’t work for you, but your flight is still currently scheduled to operate, wait until a week or so before scheduled departure. If the airline cancels any ticketed flight, you’re entitled to a full refund.
  • Hotels: If you have a prepaid hotel, your best bet is to wait for the hotel to set a policy. You have essentially no legal and easily enforceable right.
  • Cruises: As with hotels, cruise passengers have very few enforceable legal rights. You’re pretty much limited by what the cruise lines offer.
  • Travel insurance: If you bought travel insurance before your insurance company’s stated date for the outbreak—January 21 through 27, for most companies—you’re probably due the full benefits of your policy. If not, your recovery is likely to be limited. Check your policy to see just what it covers, and figure you won’t get any more than that.

In general, any refund you’re due should typically come from the agency where you made your arrangements. Getting refunds from some suppliers may be tough—especially those in foreign countries that don’t have a presence in the U.S. or Canada. Don’t be surprised if you lose some money when you cancel; that loss might be better than the risk of traveling.

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Editor’s note: This story is updating as new information becomes available and is current as of the publish date.

Categories
Passenger Rights

Travelers Are Owed Swift Refunds for Canceled Flights, Department of Transportation Warns Airlines

The Department of Transportation (DOT) just reminded everyone that travelers are entitled to a refund (not airline credits) for canceled flights. Why? Because some airlines have recently parted from longstanding U.S. regulations that require those refunds.

On April 3, the DOT of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings issued an Enforcement Notice firmly supporting the federal requirement that airlines issue cash refunds when they cancel flights. The notice affirms that issuing a future credit or voucher does not satisfy the DOT requirement. Failure to comply, says the notice, “could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.”

Because there is an ongoing global health emergency, DOT says, the Aviation Enforcement Office will exercise “prosecutorial discretion” and allow airlines to become compliant before taking action. Presumably, however, DOT will take action against airlines if they continue to refuse required refunds. This is great news for travelers: If you’re arguing with an airline about a refund, be sure to cite this notice.

The House version of the most recent $2 trillion government stimulus bill initially included mention of some important consumer protections for travelers. But those contested protections didn’t make it into the final version, which ultimately awarded airlines and airports $50 billion in loans and grants for short-term costs. And that means some big problems for travelers remain, especially as certain airlines try to cling to bookings.

The U.S. / Domestic Flights and Airlines

Currently, the biggest problem in consumer rights is refunds for tickets on flights canceled by an airline: Some are simply refusing to do it. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require that when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, it owes you a full-money refund of any ticket—even “nonrefundable” ones—within seven business days for credit card transaction, 20 days if you paid by a cash card.

Instead, some airlines—most notably United, along with several giant international lines—are refusing to issue the refunds within the legally required period. Instead, they’re issuing only vouchers/credit toward future travel, which some lines say they will refund fully only if not used within one year. Still, refusal to make full refunds is a clear violation of longstanding rules. It’s also worth noting that customers who accept a voucher from an airline do risk that the airline could go bankrupt in one year’s time. The DOT told USA Today it is reviewing complaints about the offending airlines, and murmurs of any bailout money going to airline executives were denied this week by ranking senators.

International Flights / Airlines

But the problem is worse outside the U.S., and amounting to something similar to a bail out: Canada’s government has said that it will allow airlines to issue vouchers/credits, even where rules require cash refunds. The French government has announced the same policy for Air France, and possibly other French airlines. And European airlines, as a group, are asking that E.U. suspend its refund rules for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unclear if these foreign-government policies would affect U.S. rules for U.S. travelers.

For now, if you hold a ticket for a canceled flight you don’t want to reschedule, the first step is to check with the airline to see if it is complying with the refund law: You can check our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s guide to COVID-19 responses by airline here.

I just submitted a refund request on a canceled flight that Delta seems to be honoring; at least one SmarterTravel editor has been told by Turkish Air that it will refund her ticket for a canceled flight (though the refund hasn’t yet been made). But if your chosen airline is ignoring the law, you’re better off accepting a voucher you don’t really want than doing nothing and possibly losing your money completely. Whatever you do, though, you’ll have to act before the original departure date of the flight.

You can also prod DOT into possible action by filing a complaint here. The complaint needn’t be an extended dissertation on everything about your trip; DOT is mainly motivated by a large total number of complaints.

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How Hotels and Airlines Are Helping During the Pandemic

I sometimes get so used to bashing travel suppliers—especially airlines—for the many ways they abuse travelers’ rights, that I often overlook the good they do. Especially during this global pandemic, travel suppliers are doing a lot of good.

From providing free hotel stays for health workers to donating huge sums of money, here are some of the ones we’re seeing step up.

Hotels Stepping Up During the Pandemic

Hotels are offering free or low-charge rooms to communities for housing both caregivers and non-COVID patients. Standout individual hotel offers in hard-hit New York City include those from the Four Seasons Hotel, which was the first hotel in New York City to begin providing free stays to healthcare workers responding to the pandemic.

The Plaza Hotel, Room Mate Grace Hotel, Palace Hotel, St. Regis Hotel, and Yotel are now counted among the hotels hosting health care workers and non-critical patients free of charge. More broadly, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), a major hotel trade association, notes that more than 6,500 hotel properties that are adjacent to medical facilities across the country are offering temporary housing for health care workers, noncritical patients, and/or the homeless:

“To help match and streamline the process, the [AHLA] is working to create a Hotels for Hope database at the federal level with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as at the local level with industry partner state associations. Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location.”

Very few are doing it for free, but many are doing it at very-discounted rates. Some are providing food or other support to medical communities. Examples include:

  • The Sophy Hyde Park Hotel in Chicago has opened its rooms at no charge to medical staff respondiong to the pandemic at nearby University of Chicago Medical Center.
  • Caesars Entertainment has donated more than 250,000 pounds of food to a variety of food banks and charities, along with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizers.
  • The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air have provided hundreds of meals to first responders and medical personnel.
  • The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon has arranged with Multnomah County to serve as a homeless shelter.

Airlines Doing Good During the Pandemic

Airlines are also doing their part in fighting the pandemic. As befits their status as the generally top-rated U.S. airlines, Delta has offered free transportation to Georgia, Louisiana, and Michigan for medical professionals, and JetBlue has offered free transport for medical personnel and some stranded college students. JetBlue has also donated a million frequent-flyer points to the Red Cross for travel to support its vital work. United is offering free travel to health workers heading to New York. Airlines around the world have removed seats from regular passenger planes, providing added cargo capacity to ship medical supplies where they are needed.

Airlines around the world have also notably intensified their cleaning and disinfecting procedures to keep their fewer operating planes free of the virus. They’re also rightfully ensuring travelers maintain safe physical distances from each other: A few lines, including American, have stopped assigning middle or every-other seat to maintain social distancing.

And keep in mind that the travel industry is taking a big financial hit from the pandemic. Much of what individual suppliers are doing to minimize effect is as much public relations as it is a public benefit. But, in a difficult time, travel companies are clearly stepping up to help the effort. Kudos to them.

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14 Booking Sites’ COVID-19 Cancellation Responses

If you booked a trip between the mid-March start of the epidemic (now pandemic) and sometime later this spring, current travel bans and shutdowns mean you face the requirement to reschedule or cancel your trips. And future trips later in the year still might meet the same fate of a COVID-19 cancellation.

SmarterTravel has already shared the major airline and hotel players waiving fees for travelers who booked directly—but what if you booked through a third-party online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia? The general recommendation is typically that you contact the OTA for rescheduling. But the situation is a bit more nuanced than that.

Two major parent companies, Booking Holdings (also known as Booking.com) and Expedia, control around 86 percent of the worldwide OTA business through their many subsidiaries. Here’s which company ultimately owns each of the following third-party booking sites:

COVID-19 Cancellation Policies by OTA

Here’s a rundown of policy statements from OTAs that focus mainly on air travel and accommodations regarding a COVID-19 cancellation. Most start out with instructions to go to the OTA’s app or website and select the trip(s) you are canceling for more information about the conditions. Whether or not you’re eligible for a refund or credit will typically depend on both the third-party site in question and the company that the stay or service is with.

Agoda (Booking)

According to Agoda: “If your booking is eligible for free cancellation, you will see the message: ‘This booking may be affected by a current emergency or developing situation. Due to these exceptional circumstances, Agoda will waive all fees on cancellation for your affected booking.’ You may then proceed to cancel through this self-service option without contacting customer service.”

Booking.com

Booking.com states: “We understand you may need to change your travel plans. To get the latest info, contact the property you booked to check if they can accommodate you. You can also visit our Help Center for support with making changes to your booking.” The posted statement applies to accommodations bookings only; selecting “airfare” redirects users to Priceline (see more below).

Cheapflights (Booking)

Cheapflights says only that: “Airlines and travel providers are continually updating their policies and will be a go-to resource for up-to-date information regarding changing upcoming travel plans. Please contact them directly for the latest information. Many are waiving cancellations fees.” You can find a detailed airline-by-airline summary of COVID-19 cancellation policies here via Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

Expedia

For air tickets, Expedia suggests that you first try to cancel online from within your trip record. If a fee applies, the website provides two airline dropdown menus: (1) links to the airlines you’re most likely to use and on which you can cancel through Expedia, and (2) a longer list of airlines less used that you have to contact directly.

Expedia contacted SmarterTravel with the following updated hotel cancellation policy on April 2: “For customers that booked and paid for a non-refundable rate prior to March 19, 2020 using Expedia for a stay between March 20 and April 30th 2020, an email will be sent their way providing them with an option to keep or cancel their existing booking. If the customer decides to cancel, they will be eligible for a full refund, or in some cases, a voucher allowing them to rebook the original property at later dates. There is no need to call Expedia, however you must cancel your booking a least 24-hours before check-in to be eligible for this offer. For customers who booked a property with a refundable rate, they can visit our customer service portal to change or cancel a reservation.”

HomeAway and VRBO (Expedia)

The Expedia-owned rental sites state: “To cancel or change an upcoming reservation due to travel restrictions, you can do so right from your traveler account. If you are making changes outside the cancellation policy window, please contact the property owner or manager to discuss their cancellation and refund policies. If you don’t see a button to cancel your reservation, please contact the property owner or manager directly for assistance.”

Hotwire (Expedia)

Hotwire states: “The fastest path to canceling your booking is through one of our self-serve tools” which can be found here. “Hotwire follows the policies of our partners, which means any credit, refund or change is at the discretion of the airline, hotel, cruise line or other travel provider. The quickest way to find out if travel plans can be changed without a penalty will generally be to check the airline, car, or hotel website directly.”

The site goes on: “Many of our partners are updating their policies to align with changing travel restrictions, so make sure to check back regularly. Note: Some suppliers, like American Airlines, are also providing self-serve capabilities on their website. If your booking qualifies and you are able to submit a self-serve claim through a supplier directly, you will not need to also cancel your booking through Hotwire.”

Hotels.com (Expedia)

The Hotels.com COVID-19 “travel advice” page states “we are waiving change fees for many hotels based on where you are traveling to or from. For international bookings in the following countries (and domestic bookings, where noted), you are eligible for a full refund. Please click the blue Contact Us button above to speak to an agent … Except for travel to/from the destinations listed below, we follow the policies of our travel partners.” The listed destination countries are many, and available here.

KAYAK (Booking)

KAYAK’s COVID-19 page generally points travelers to the individual airline or hotel where they have bookings. It also posts links to policies by individual airlines, hotels, and car rental companies.

Momondo (Booking)

The Momondo website simply states, “The COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak may impact your trip. Look for alerts on our site indicating certain destination-specific travel warnings.” The Momondo help page is here.

Orbitz (Expedia)

The Orbitz website duplicates the information posted by Expedia (see above).

Priceline (Booking)

For flights, Priceline urges you to complete your COVID-19 cancellation online if you can. “Your ability to change or cancel your ticket depends on the type of ticket you purchased and varies by airline. If a cancellation is permitted, you will see a link within your itinerary. Express Deals-Priceline deals, in which the full itinerary is revealed only after you book, are non-changeable and non-refundable.”

“Other reservations may be more flexible. You can view your flight’s fare rules on the contract before you book, and on your itinerary after you book. You can find your itinerary by going to check status on the Priceline homepage. If your flight’s fare rules allow changes and you’re ready to make a change, please refer to Exchange Guidance for additional information.”

Priceline provides further information here.

Travelocity (Expedia)

The Travelocity website duplicates the information posted by Expedia (see above).

Trivago (Expedia)

As a metasearch provider that only provides price comparisons and not bookings, Trivago advises users to check with the OTA that actually handled your booking. The same general wisdom goes for other price-comparison OTAs that don’t handle bookings, including Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company).

General Information on OTAs and COVID-19 Cancellation Policies

Clearly, the general advice to get a refund through the OTA is not always correct. Although the final money transfer might come through the OTA, they urge travelers to use whatever online COVID-19 cancellation systems they have to deal directly with hotels and airlines.

If you’re booking a future trip rather than adjusting existing bookings, most major OTAs direct you to airlines and hotels with flexible refund policies. Keep in mind, however, that if you book a nonrefundable service (even with a company that has a liberal refund policy) the supplier has your money and the full-value refund or credit may limit your future choices.

All the OTAs suggest that anyone traveling within 72 hours can use the agency’s phone; other travelers should refrain from calling for now, and stick to the Internet or an app to get information and make changes. All OTAs also seem to recognize that the travel restrictions are a moving target, and travelers should therefore check often to make sure they have the latest information.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Air Travel Credit Cards Money Passenger Rights Popular Travel Tips & Advice

7 Questions You Should Ask Before Accepting an Airline Voucher

Unless you’re really lucky, sometime during your travels you will find yourself in a situation where an airline owes you something. Maybe it’s because of a delay, lost baggage, a rescheduled flight, whatever. When that day comes, the airline will almost surely try to settle by issuing you airline vouchers for future travel rather than cutting you a check. At worst, the airline loses the cost of the seat rather than the posted fare; at best, you’ll somehow not get around to using the airline voucher, and the carrier will face no cost at all.

What to Know Before Giving up Your Seat for an Airline Voucher

To decrease their risk, airlines incorporate gotchas into vouchers to increase the chances that you won’t be able to use them. So before you accept any airline vouchers, you need to ask seven questions.

How Long Are Airline Vouchers Valid?

A tight validity limit is one of the oldest voucher gotchas in the book. An airline offers a generous voucher, but you have to use it within six months. Clearly, many travelers are uninterested in or unable to schedule another flight within that short a time. This ploy is more prevalent with cruise lines than with airlines, but you still have to be careful.

Who Can Use an Airline Voucher?

Is the value of the travel voucher limited to you, or can you use it to buy a ticket for someone else? Many airline vouchers may be used only by the person who initially received it for his or her own travel. Depending on your flexibility, that might or might not be a deal-breaker.


Related: What Are My Rights if My Flight is Cancelled?


Will an Airline Voucher Cover the Whole Cost of a Ticket?

Airline vouchers seldom include the full cost of a future trip; often, you must pay the government taxes and fees separately. But I’ve heard reports of a much worse limitation: an airline voucher covering only the “base” fare and not the very stiff “carrier-imposed fee,” essentially a renamed fuel surcharge, which on some airlines can be more than the base fare.

Can You Use an Airline Voucher for Multiple Flights?

Some vouchers are valid for only a single transaction, even when the value of that transaction is less than the face value of the voucher. For example, if you use a $500 airline voucher to buy a $400 ticket, you might not be able to use the remaining $100 for second ticket. Instead, you lose that value outright.

Are There Any Fare Limitations for Airline Vouchers?

I haven’t seen much of this one, but an airline could place some fare buckets off-limits to voucher-based tickets—not applicable to “flash sale” prices, for example, or for business class.


Related: Why is using airline vouchers so hard?


How Much Are Airline Vouchers Worth to You?

Given the limitations on how you can use it, a voucher is effectively worth a lot less to you than its face cash value. Many experts estimate that a voucher is worth somewhere between a third and a half of its face value. If you ask for cash but an airline offers a voucher, take the voucher only if the face value is at least double the cash offer. When cash isn’t an option, if the voucher value seems to be inadequate, bargain for more or consider your alternatives.

Can You Get Cash Instead on an Airline Voucher?

When a flight is oversold, an airline almost always resorts to offering travel vouchers to passengers who agree to get off and take a later flight. Usually, that works, and someone takes the offer. But if nobody bites, and the airline has to select someone to get off, government regulations specify cash payments, not vouchers, for “involuntary” bumping. You can get up to $1,350 in the U.S., depending on the circumstance, but only in the case of overbooking. European rules call for higher payments as well as payments for delays. Take the voucher only if it’s worth to you is a lot more than the cash.

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Passenger Rights

OP-ED: You’re Entitled to a Refund for Any Canceled Flight, Even During a Pandemic

Editor’s note: On April 3, the DOT of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings issued an Enforcement Notice firmly supporting the federal requirement that airlines issue cash refunds when they cancel flights. The notice affirms that issuing a future credit or voucher does not satisfy the DOT requirement. Failure to comply, says the notice, “could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.” You can read more here.

Airlines like to charge for everything—bags, boarding groups, seats, seat selection. But they rarely get so brazen as to refuse refunds for simple things like a canceled flight, probably because it’s squarely illegal in the United States.

Why, then, has one airline has been denying customers refunds on flights it has canceled amid the global pandemic? The Department of Transportation (DOT) says it is aware of customer complaints that United is offering only airline credits to passengers on flights that have been canceled outright. Multiple U.S. senators are also now calling on airlines to provide refunds.

According to USA Today, United has tried to say it will only provide airline credit, not cash refunds, for canceled domestic flights: “United is not issuing refunds unless the new flight their computer system automatically put you on delays your departure or arrival by more than six hours. If it doesn’t, and you don’t want to travel, you’ll receive a travel credit for the value of the ticket.”

For international flights (almost all of which are now canceled due to a Global Level 4 Health Advisory), “United is effectively delaying any passenger refunds for up to a year” and giving customers a credit that’s good for a year. If they don’t use it within a year of the ticket purchase date, the airline says the customer can then get their money back.

Most other airlines have been amiable—even helpful—in canceling flights and guaranteeing the refunds travelers are, in fact, owed. And they should be: In uncertain times like these, you probably need that money you spent months ago on a flight you’ll now not take. And consumer rights advocates are accordingly admonishing United and other airlines trying this, which also include JetBlue and British Airways.

Here’s how the DOT lays out your rights in a cancellation (emphasis mine):

“If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportationeven for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”

These are trying times for airlines and people alike. But when a billion-dollar company like an airline is skirting solid consumer regulations meant to protect average people, something is awry.

It might come as no surprise that the major offending airline is United, which in the early days of this pandemic overhauled its schedule-change policy (and then backtracked) from allowing two-hour delays to attempting to allow whopping 25-hour changes without refunds.

If you’re questioning whether or not you’re allowed to ask (politely) for a refund when your flight’s status becomes “canceled,” the answer is yes. And anyone who’s told no by an airline should consider filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation here.

Editor’s note: This story contains opinions of the writer and does not reflect those of SmarterTravel or TripAdvisor (our parent company).

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What ‘Force Majeure’ Means, and Why You Need to Know

When you purchase travel from an airline or another operator, you enter into a contract for a service or goods. And if some unforeseen calamity prevents the seller from delivering the promised goods or services, the seller can claim “force majeure” as a basis for terminating the contract without incurring any liability for breach of contract.

The term is a dubious one taken from the 1804 Code Napoleon, and refers to occurrences beyond the reasonable control of a party to a contract that prevents fulfillment. It’s similar to “acts of God” and “frustration of purpose.” As such, the concept extends back centuries in common law.

It usually refers to natural disasters, and most would consider the COVID-19 pandemic a force majeure. So if the pandemic prevents an airline, hotel, or some other travel supplier from fulfilling a contract with you, you can’t really file a legal claim for breach of contract: That’s a fair and traditional use of force majeure.

But, some dishonest suppliers claim that force majeure means they don’t have to refund the money you’ve paid them when they can’t fulfill their end of the contract. So far there has been nothing upholding that position; if there’s force majeure, you’re still entitled to your money back. Don’t fall for it if some supplier tries to get out of refunding your money by claiming force majeure, but also don’t assume you have any right to the service or to file a claim against an airline.

As we recently reported in our guide to canceling a trip during the pandemic: The airline companies are not directly liable for disruptions caused by COVID-19; therefore, passenger-rights groups like AirHelp have said they will not be pursuing additional compensation for affected flights.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Health & Wellness Passenger Rights

Why TSA Is Accepting Expired Licenses

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended for one year the deadline after which TSA will accept only drivers licenses or state ID cards with REAL ID as valid to fly domestically. The former October 2020 deadline is now October 1, 2021.

Until then, TSA will continue to accept conventional state ID as adequate ID for domestic air travel. TSA will also accept a conventional license or state ID that expired on or after March 1, for a year after expiration or 60 days after the duration of the emergency, whichever is longer. These changes are due to the impact of coronavirus shutdowns affecting the ability of state DMV office to process REAL ID applications.

If you still need a REAL ID driver’s license, all 50 states are now issuing them (if DMVs are still open). The basic idea behind REAL ID is to provide TSA with an improved basis for screening travelers, so you have to provide more background information than you do for a regular license—much of what you provide for a passport. And you pay extra: My state of Oregon, for example, charges both a $30 re-issue fee and a $30 REAL ID fee. Check with your state’s DMV or equivalent for details.

Even after that final deadline, not everyone will necessarily need a REAL-ID license. Passports, passport cards, permanent resident cards, and Trusted Traveler cards (which come with Trusted Traveler programs like Global Entry) will continue to be adequate identification for domestic flights. Also adequate are “enhanced” drivers licenses issued by border states Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

On top of the REAL ID standards, one more thing that’s suspended due to the pandemic is Global Entry renewal, which you can read more about here.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Canceling a Trip Due to COVID-19

The state of the world is currently at the mercy of COVID-19, with travelers grounded indefinitely and canceling trips. The majority of us are only traveling within the walls of our home now, and many have bigger things to worry about than when our next trip will be.

But many who have booked trips abroad are rightfully concerned about penalties they could face for canceling or rescheduling. An unprecedented global pandemic is a stressful time to navigate hidden stipulations, but many airlines and travel-related agencies have been incredibly understanding due to the circumstances.

I spoke with Christian Nielsen, board member of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) and Chief Legal Officer at air passenger rights advocacy group AirHelp to address what travelers’ rights are in a pandemic when it comes to canceling or postponing.

What’s the current state of travel?

Nielsen says that the situation is frequently in flux, with countries imposing their own travel restrictions and even closing borders to non-citizens. But generally “we’re seeing fewer and fewer people traveling—not only in Asia and Europe, but also within the United States for domestic flights. Also, many airlines are limiting where their flights are going and how often flights are available in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.”

Is it safe to travel anywhere right now? If not, when is an ideal timeframe to re-book flights?

For updates and status of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s best to check the U.S. Department of State (which has issued a global “Do Not Travel” health alert) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nielsen explains that in order to curb the spread, “many companies in the hospitality/tourism industries are putting events on hold until May to be cautious.”

Do: If you’re seeking to postpone rather than cancel, only opt for flexible bookings that can be canceled if they need to be. No one can say yet when it will be safe to travel again.

In regard to flight cancellations, what are my rights as a passenger?

“If your trip is canceled due to coronavirus travel restrictions, you have the right to a full refund on your ticket,” Nielsen said.

Seeking compensation (which is deemed as additional funds separate of a refunded airline ticket) is another issue: “In usual circumstances, travelers have a right to compensation, but collectively at AirHelp and APRA, we understand that the scope of this crisis has expanded beyond the airlines’ control and therefore, we have decided not to put these related claims forward to the airlines.”

The pandemic has been classified as an “extraordinary circumstance.” So the airline companies are not directly liable for disruptions caused by COVID-19; therefore, AirHelp will not be pursuing additional compensation for affected flights.

Overall, though, airlines are still responsible for caring for their passengers and are largely waiving cancellation and rebooking fees. Moreover, it’s in everyone’s best interest to be reasonable, patient, and realistic: Nielsen explains that “we are here to defend passenger rights, provide legal clarity and certainty—but we are now assessing all claims on a case-by-case basis. Proceeding in this manner assists travelers while keeping the stress/workload levels of airlines manageable.”

Do: Be patient with airlines as they handle your cancellation or rebooking. However, if travelers still feel as though they’ve been wronged and want to pursue additional compensation to their refund, Nielsen advises that they consult resources on AirHelp.

What about travel insurance? Can it assist me in regards to trip cancellations?

Nielsen says that “although travelers may be tempted to get travel insurance now because the pandemic is a global issue, it is unlikely that policies would cover changes or cancelations to travel plans.”

Additionally, each insurance company has their own policy types and guidelines, so consumers who did already purchase travel insurance should check with those individual entities to clarify the fine print and what assistance is available (e.g. refunds for planned activities). At the moment, as per the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, many insurers will only cover coronavirus related issues if the policies were purchased before January 21, 2020.

Do: Reach out to your insurance provider; don’t assume anything is automatically covered if you’re buying now.

Should I involve my credit card company (which is often the way one pays for and insures trips)? Due to my card’s ancillary benefits (e.g. trip cancellation insurance, delayed baggage insurance, lost baggage insurance, and trip delay protection), is my credit card company able to assist me in any way?

The best approach here is to first contact the travel provider (the airline you were supposed to fly with). Considering the circumstances, the majority of airlines have implemented generous cancelation/change policies. However, if you’re encountering difficulties and/or delays, Nielsen says that it doesn’t hurt to check-in with your credit card company.

Do: Nielsen says to “keep in mind that in the end, each issue will likely be judged on a case-by-case basis depending on whether or not the airline has refunded the ticket price.”

Do: Contact the airline for help first, with your credit card insurance being a back-up plan.

What if I booked a package deal through a third-party travel site? What are the refund and/or re-booking practices to be mindful of here?

“Every agency may have their own policy, but given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and global health emergency, travelers may be able to get a refund for their plans if they need to cancel,” explains Nielsen.

In fact, three of the largest booking sites in the world, ExpediaBooking.com, and Orbitz are offering to waive cancellation and/or rebooking fees associated due to coronavirus.

Do: Due to higher-than-normal phone call volumes, one practical tip (to avoid headaches for everyone) is to go through digital customer service channels if available, such as Expedia’s virtual assistant, Booking.com’s customer service page, Orbitz’s travel refund request, and/or via email—but not social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Websites are ideal because they will frequently provide up-to-date information, supplying travelers with useful advice and best practices.

Final Thoughts

“Airlines are currently in a difficult position, and should not be held responsible for cancellations due to COVID-19,” Nielsen says. “They are working to give refunds to travelers for canceled flights, and are helping passengers change planned trips without penalty, which is not a perk that is typically offered.”

Do: Nielsen gently reminds everyone to have patience and empathy.

Products to Keep You Safe and Healthy While Traveling:

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Tiffany Leigh is a freelance journalist whose bylines have included Vogue, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Trip Savvy, Food & Wine Magazine, and more. Follow Tiffany @leightiffany_.

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Booking Strategy Miles & Points Passenger Rights

Is It Smart to Use Miles During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The below is a question from a reader that many might be wondering during these turbulent times.

“Is it better to use miles or money when booking a flight during uncertain times? Is it good to use up some miles right now? Thanks for the input.”—JN

Right now, during uncertain times when you might need to cancel, money is less risky. Airlines are waiving future change fees, but they often still charge fees to redeposit miles.

Long-term, however, airlines will continue to devalue miles. So using them sooner, if you find a good rate, is better than sitting on them overall.

Here are some resources on canceling during COVID-19, for airfare and more:

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Airport Booking Strategy Passenger Rights

England Passport Requirements: Do I Need a Passport to Go to England?

Are you ready to cross the Pond? England passport requirements state that you must have a U.S. passport that is valid with at least one blank page for the duration of your stay in England in order to enter the country. Be sure to check your passport’s expiration date and make sure it extends beyond your return ticket home.

If you plan on visiting other countries in Europe from England, you might need your passport to be valid for six months beyond your departure date, according to the Schengen Agreement. See the requirements for the other places you may travel to, here.

England Passport Requirements

England passport requirements state that a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp is required for the duration of your stay in the country. Check your expiration date to ensure it extends beyond your return date home. Do this as soon as you have your ticket in hand to allow for plenty of time to renew, if needed.

If traveling to other countries in continental Europe, your passport may need a six-month validity beyond your departure date for certain destinations in the Schengen area.

[st_related]U.S. Passport Changes Are Coming: Here’s What You Need to Know[/st_related]

How to Get a Passport Book for Travel to England

Apply for a passport as soon as international travel is confirmed. The cost will be greater if applying for a passport within two weeks of travel time, because you will need an expedited application. You can learn more about the requirements and documents needed to obtain a U.S. passport here.

What to Do if You Lose Your Passport in England

Take every precaution to keep your passport secure, such as carrying it in a hidden passport holder, keeping it locked in a safe, and emailing copies to yourself or a loved one before traveling.

If you do lose your passport, report the loss immediately to the U.S. Embassy London.

Other England Travel Requirements

Visa: No for U.S. citizens, up to 90 days

Vaccinations: No

So, Do I Need a Passport to Visit England?

In summary: Yes. England passport requirements state that a passport is required to go to England, and must be valid during the entire length of stay. Other passport requirements may be necessary if you plan on visiting other countries in continental Europe as well.

More Information When Visiting England

The U.S. Department of State provides detailed information, including travel advisories and passport validity requirements, to your destination.

For information on how to apply or renew a passport, visit here.

Visit Britain is a great resource for things to do and places to stay, as well as everything you need to know before you go when planning a trip to England.

Protect Your Passport

We recommend investing in a passport cover or wallet to protect your pages from bends, tears and spills. It’s important to keep your passport in good condition for easy inspection. 

On travel days, only take your passport out during inspection. Otherwise, keep it stowed away in a dedicated section of your bag (if you keep it in the same place every time, you won’t ever scramble to locate it). Once you arrive at your destination, find a way to stow it securely. In-room safes or safe deposit boxes at the hotel front desk are generally good options, but if neither is available, you’ll need to decide how to keep your passport secure. You might consider keeping it in an under-clothing money belt that you wear, or leaving it in the hotel or vacation rental but locking it in your suitcase with a TSA-approved lock.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Travel Insurance Coverage: 18 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover

When you purchase travel insurance, it’s not unreasonable to assume that you are, well, insured for all aspects of your trip. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Travelers are frequently frustrated to find that their travel insurance coverage is full of holes—with exclusions that are typically stated in the fine print but nonetheless confusing and sometimes counterintuitive.

For example, whether there’s a pandemic or a natural disaster out of your control, trip cancellation insurance doesn’t cover cancellation under every possible circumstance: To qualify for those, you must purchase a “cancel for any reason” add-on.

If there’s ever a time to read the fine print, purchasing travel insurance is it. Don’t take my word for any of the following, or the word of the person selling you the policy, or the sales page of the insurance company’s website—read the contract for yourself. It will be an enlightening experience.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” tends to apply here. Less expensive insurance packages typically include less comprehensive coverage.

Below are 18 things travel insurance coverage usually doesn’t include. For purposes of clarity, most apply to the highest tiers offered by most insurance companies; that is, most of these travel insurance exclusions apply to even the most comprehensive policies. In some cases you can purchase special add-ons to cover these exclusions. Ask when purchasing.

[st_related]Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know[/st_related]

Health Crises (Like Pandemics) That Begin Before You Purchase

As with natural disasters, trip insurance may generally cover losses due to global health emergencies, but you must make the purchase before the crisis is a “known event.” According to SmarterTravel’s Ed Perkins: “Your best bet for recouping costs is ‘cancel for any reason’ insurance purchased before [the pandemic] was a known event.” The date from which the event is “known” varies depending on the insurance company; for COVID-19 it’s largely been January 21 through 27. Most travel insurance policies won’t cover cancellation due to fear of a pandemic, so if you want to use insurance to protect your payments—particularly nonrefundable airfares—make sure it’s a “cancel for any reason” policy.

With nonrefundable air tickets, your recourse is either to rely on the airline’s generosity (some do waive fees in times of emergency) or buying cancel-for-any-reason insurance. Most policies exclude “foreseeable” contingencies, or existing threats like already-known pandemics.

Losses Due to Pre-Existing Conditions

Travel insurance coverage does not extend to most pre-existing medical conditions, and the definition of “pre-existing” often depends on the timing of when you are diagnosed and when you purchase your travel insurance—with a so-called “look-back period” that is usually 60, 90, or 180 days prior to the day you purchase your insurance.

In short, your travel insurance does not cover losses due to conditions for which there were either symptoms or treatment during the look-back period. You will be covered for losses due to so-called “stable” conditions for which no change in treatment or symptoms has occurred.

Say you’ve had arthritis for several years, with no major flare-ups or medication changes in the past six months. In this case you would likely be covered if you had an intense, debilitating flare-up during your trip. But if you had been having trouble with the condition in the months leading up to your vacation, your trip insurance would be unlikely to cover any losses related to your arthritis unless you purchased a specific add-on.

Natural Disasters That Begin Before You Purchase Insurance

Trip insurance generally covers losses due to hurricanes or tropical storms, but you must make the purchase before the storm is named. Similar conditions typically apply to other natural disasters; if you buy a policy after a volcano starts erupting, for example, you won’t be covered for any losses related to that volcano’s activity.

[st_related]Hurricanes and Travel: What Your Options Are When One Hits[/st_related]

Dental Care

Routine dental care is not included in travel insurance coverage, although dental trauma may be under some circumstances. One policy I reviewed provides coverage only for damage to “sound natural teeth,” for example.

Losses Due to Mental or Emotional Disorders

Most travel insurance policies do not cover claims involving psychiatric or emotional disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression. (In rare cases policies may cover these conditions if hospitalization is required.)

[st_related]Is Travel Insurance a Waste of Money?[/st_related]

Travel for Medical Procedures

Most trip insurance will not cover issues that arise for those traveling specifically to get medical treatment (such as procedures available overseas that are not available or are too expensive at home).

Pregnancy and Childbirth

If you are pregnant and give birth while traveling, your travel insurance coverage generally will not include childbirth expenses. You might, however, have coverage for complications associated with pregnancy or childbirth. This is one to check carefully in advance if you’re planning to travel while pregnant.

Risky Activities and Sports

Active travelers, take note: Many travel insurance policies exclude losses due to adventure sports such as bungee jumping, backcountry skiing, snowboarding, rafting, caving, sky diving, scuba diving … you get the idea. Some policies take this even further, applying exemptions for any sports involving bodily contact. (That means your kid’s football tournament might not be covered.) If you’re planning an active vacation, carefully check the terms of your policy before committing.

Some of Your Favorite Stuff

Baggage delay, damage, and loss policies don’t cover everything in your bags. Common travel insurance exclusions include glasses, hearing aids, dental bridges, tickets, passports, keys, cash, and cell phones. In some cases these items are covered but only up to a certain dollar limit, so if you have multiple expensive electronic items (such as a laptop, a tablet, and a cell phone), you might not have enough coverage to pay for the loss of all such items.

Bad Weather

Travel insurance tends not to cover weather that limits your activities on a trip. For example, you’re covered if the weather is bad enough to delay or cancel your flight, but not if it pours during a jungle hike. And unless you bought a “cancel for any reason” rider, you can’t call off your beach vacation just because the forecast calls for rain and clouds.

Flights Purchased with Miles

Most policies do not cover flights purchased with miles or points. They may cover associated fees if you decide to cancel or change an award fare, however.

[st_related]8 Vital Things to Know About Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Security Delays or Overbooked Flights

According to travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth, your policy typically won’t protect you if you miss a flight due to long airport security lines, or if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight and miss a subsequent connection or cruise departure.

Lost Reservations or Double-Booked Accommodations

Squaremouth also notes that travel insurance coverage doesn’t include certain lodging snafus. A lost hotel reservation will have to be taken up with the company or travel agent that lost it. And if you find someone else in the vacation rental you reserved, you’ll have to take it up with the site through which you booked.

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Accommodations That Aren’t as Expected

An accommodation that’s a lot less desirable when you arrive than it looked to be online generally isn’t covered by travel insurance. Researching accommodations on review sites like TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) falls on you. The exception is if your hotel or vacation rental is uninhabitable due to a natural disaster, structural damage, or the like.

Ticket Scams

If you find your event or sightseeing excursion ticket turns out to be fake, typical travel insurance won’t cover you, says Squaremouth. Make sure you’re using a trusted ticket or tour outlet.

Last-Minute Changes

If your cruise line or tour operator makes a last-minute itinerary or excursion change, travel insurance typically won’t cover any travel issues caused by it, unless it involves complete curtailment. You can try contacting the operator responsible for the changes about compensation.

Anything for Which You Lack Documentation

If you don’t have a solid paper trail for all causes and costs involved in your claim, your chances of reimbursement plummet. Keep records like your wallet depends on it.

Anything NOT in the List of Covered Items

Travel insurance works largely by inclusion of items specifically noted to be covered, and anything not mentioned is likely not covered. If you have a concern that you don’t see listed in the fine print, contact the travel insurance company to see if you can purchase an appropriate add-on.

Did I skip other important things travel insurance coverage doesn’t include? Post your thoughts in the comments.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ed Perkins contributed to this story.