Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, travel providers like airlines and hotels have been offering waivers of change or cancellation fees for travel to affected areas.
If you have upcoming travel plans, it’s good to keep abreast of the latest developments, so you know your rights and entitlements, and go ahead with modification of your itinerary if necessary.
In this post, we’ll consolidate the travel waiver policies of major airline and hotel chains, and discuss some FAQs in the section below. Because of the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 situation, the information below is subject to change. Always be sure to consult the airlines’ official website when in doubt.
Here are the corresponding policies for hotel chains. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to the live site so that you can always access the latest information. However, some hotels have displayed their waiver policies as a non-clickable pop-up, so I’ve copied those here. Be sure to double-check this against the live website.
|Airbnb||Coronavirus information and extenuating circumstances policy|
|Scoot||Update on 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation|
|Hilton||Hilton is closely monitoring the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan and other cities. At Hilton, the wellbeing and safety of our guests and staff is of paramount importance to us. Hilton has updated its cancellation policy following the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China.
1. For all guests who plan to travel to any destinations with Hilton-branded hotels in China, modification and cancellation penalties may be waived for stays with arrivals before Saturday, February 29, 2020, regardless of booking channel.
2. For any guests who plan to travel from China to any destinations with Hilton-branded hotels globally, modification and cancellation penalties may be waived for stays with arrivals before Saturday, February 29, 2020, regardless of booking channel.
We will follow the requirements from related government organizations and provide support to our guests. If you need any support, please contact 400-820-3011. Outside China please dial +86-21-2326-8554. If your booking is from a third-party Online Travel Agency, you may contact them to cancel.
|Marriott||Marriott’s Statement on the Novel Coronavirus|
|Shangri-La||In view of the current novel coronavirus situation, for guests travelling to any of our hotels in Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan, and for guests who plan to travel from Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan to any of our hotels globally, on or before 29 February 2020, cancellation charges will be waived regardless of booking channel|
|Wyndham Hotels||Cancellation and/or change penalties will be waived for guests traveling to or from China with direct bookings for stays in any of our hotels from Jan. 22–Feb. 29. For bookings made by a travel agent or online booking platform, please contact the agent or booking platform directly.|
As the first step when you plan your upcoming travels, get yourself a travel insurance. If you have a hard time choosing one, here’s our comparison tool to help make your decision easier.
FAQs regarding travel during this period
Which countries are covered by travel waiver policies?
At the moment, most travel waiver policies cover flights to or stays in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Taiwan is included by some, but not all airlines/hotels.
What if I’m not travelling to an affected area but still want to cancel my trip?
Hotels and airlines are not officially extending waivers to unaffected areas. However, if you have extenuating circumstances preventing you from travelling, you should contact their customer service hotline to make an appeal. Anecdotally, Singapore Airlines appears to be permitting cancellations on Spontaneous Escapes tickets (normally strictly not refundable) even to unaffected areas.
If you’ve purchased ‘cancel for any reason’ (CFAR) travel insurance prior to buying your air tickets and booking your hotels, you’ll also be able to make a claim. Do note that these policies usually will not cover 100% of your costs.
What happens if I’ve booked a ticket with miles?
If your ticket is to a destination covered by the travel waiver policy, it doesn’t matter if you’ve booked an award ticket — you’ll enjoy the same waiver of cancellation fees.
However, if you’ve booked a non-refundable award ticket to a destination outside the travel waiver policy, you’ll need to follow the steps above and contact the airline’s customer service hotline to make an appeal for a refund.
If the airline refuses to refund your ticket, you should see if a claim is possible under your travel insurance policy. Do note that only Chubb, Sompo and Aviva travel insurance compensate policyholders for the loss of frequent flyer miles. If you’re planning to use miles for your holiday, be sure to get one of these policies.
What happens if Singapore passport holders are hit with travel restrictions?
At the moment, no country has announced any restrictions on Singapore passport holders. However, it is possible that restrictions may be imposed if the situation worsens. For example, The Philippines is reportedly considering adding Singapore to its list of barred countries.
If entry restrictions are imposed on Singapore passport holders, travellers should be able to re-route, re-book or receive a 100% refund for their ticket to the country in question.
Update: Israel has banned all foreign travellers who have been to Singapore, Thailand, Macau and Hong Kong in the past 14 days.
Most travel waivers only cover travel up till end March/early April. What if I’m travelling to an affected area after those dates?
Airlines are understandably cautious about issuing travel waivers, given that the COVID-19 situation is fluid and constantly evolving. The last thing they want to do is extend waivers for the whole of 2020, only for the virus to disappear in the next few months.
Therefore, travel waiver extensions are likely to happen periodically, as the situation dictates. If you’re booked to fly later in the year, don’t panic yet. If the outbreak isn’t resolved closer to your travel dates, you can be sure that you’ll have the option to cancel or change your flight.
I’m not travelling to a country on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) travel advisory list. Should I still cancel my plans?
Although healthy travellers without pre-existing conditions are not particularly at risk, there’s no point going on a vacation if you’re going to spend the whole time worrying. Travelling with the elderly or young children also presents complications of its own, and everyone will ultimately have to make this decision for themselves.
What precautions can I take when I’m overseas?
Apart from maintaining good personal hygiene, it’s also advisable to register yourself with the MFA’s eRegister system. This allows the MFA to contact you and provide assistance should the need arise.
Does flying in an airplane increase my risk of exposure?
Yes and no. The air inside an aircraft is as clean as it comes. Cabin air is circulated through a HEPA filter that removes more than 99.97% of airborne microbes, including viruses and bacteria. The entire cabin’s air supply is refreshed every 2-3 minutes through this filter, and cabin air is a mixture of 50% filtered air and 50% air from outside the aircraft. It’s unlikely you need to be worried about the air supply per se.
However, should you happen to be seated near an infected person, you could still catch the virus from objects the person touches, or from droplets transmitted through coughing and sneezing. That said, you could equally say the same about riding on the bus or MRT, or being in any other public place.
So, flying in an aircraft does not expose you to any more risk than you’d normally encounter by being in a public place.
Read these next:
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By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.