If You Have to Cancel Your Travel Plans, Here's What to Do Next

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an end to most vacation plans, and we've got some expert advice about canceling and rescheduling—and if you really have to go somewhere, how to travel safely

By Natalie Finn, Beth Sobol, Spencer Lubitz Mar 26, 2020 8:00 PMTags
Cancelled Travel, Frustrated Travelerkieferpix/Getty Images

Going somewhere?

For most people right now, even the jet-setting celebrity crowd, the answer is a resounding no. People all over the world are being encouraged to stay home as much as possible, public schools are closed, non-essential businesses have been ordered to shut their doors, and if by chance your favorite restaurant is still open, delivery and takeout are your only options.

While daily lives have been upended everywhere, you may feel especially put upon if as recently as just a couple weeks ago you had any type of travel plans that involved flights, hotels, theme parks, sporting events, museums, other countries... well, most anything, unless you planned on heading into the woods alone. In which case, you're probably already there.

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No one needs extra stress right now, including the kind that arrives hand in hand with postponing, canceling or rescheduling a trip. Or, perhaps just as dicey, maybe you have to go somewhere, and you really wish you didn't.

If any of that includes you, and you're unsure of what to do next, or what your first step should be, we've got some advice, courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler contributing editor Mark Ellwood and travel expert Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy:

(These interviews have been edited for content and clarity.)

Mike Pont/Getty Images for The Points Guy

E! News: What recommendations do you have for travelers who have been impacted by coronavirus to salvage their plans if they need to reschedule or replan their trip altogether?

Brian Kelly: Don't panic. The good news is that most major domestic airline carriers and hotels have implemented incredibly broad travel waivers, so you most likely do not have to worry about losing money if you cancel or change plans.

Be patient. Check directly with your airline or hotel and, if your destination or itinerary isn't covered by a waiver at this time, be patient as the situation is changing so rapidly.

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E! News: What are the best tips when approaching a hotel and airline to reschedule or cancel plans?

Kelly: If travel is imminent, try and get a hold of the airline or hotel before travel is scheduled to take place. It is much easier for an airline or hotel to issue a refund for travel that has yet to take place. That said, if you still have time before your trip, wait to reach out to a customer service representative to avoid waiting on hold longer than you have to.

If you are having trouble getting through to a customer service agent over the phone, try reaching out via social media. Most brands are very responsive to customers reaching out via methods such as Twitter.

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E! News: Is it more advantageous to cancel the trip and try to recover the lost costs, or to reschedule your trip for a future date? 

Kelly: Because no one knows where this situation will end up, we recommend recovering lost costs rather than trying to reschedule. Companies are offering broad cancellation policies at the moment, but those may end at some point.

If you decide to reschedule, consider purchasing a cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) add-on travel insurance policy. Although most bare-bones plans come with eligibility restrictions for trip cancellation coverage, there are pricier CFAR plans that offer a lot more flexibility.

E! News: Is now a good time to book travel for the future?  If so, how far into the future should travelers look to book? 

Kelly: We do not recommend booking future travel right now given the uncertainty of the situation. If you see a deal you can't turn down, book with the understanding that you may be out that money when the time comes. Or, consider purchasing travel insurance. Typically, you'll get back 75 percent of your trip [expenditures] and you can cancel for any reason within a set time frame. Just know these can be pricey policies.

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E! News: Is there guidance, currently, as to when people might want to start re-planning to travel?

Mark Ellwood: We're not trying to say to people "get back on the horse" because the government has said, right now, you need to pull your travel plans...What you'll find is most hotels, cruise lines, airlines are being very lenient with their penalties. They're being very flexible. They're working with people.

So I would say to people, get in touch with your provider, or the airline, [etc.] and say "When can I rebook this, what are you advising me?" and let them roll with it. You are going to find they want to keep you as a customer. They recognize that this is a really, really difficult time, and I think they realize that if they behave well towards you, you'll remember that when you are able to travel more easily.

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E! News: Are you finding in your experience, generally, the travel agents, the hotels are being accommodating about cancellations and refunds?

Ellwood: Yes, they are being very accommodating. I could tell you where they stand at the moment and then tomorrow it could all change. For now, everything, cruise lines especially, are being super flexible. They are letting people rebook, because it's a major challenge for the industry. But in general, all the policies are breaking.

E! News: Where do you stand on rebooking vs. refunds?  

Ellwood: Rebook if you want to support the travel industry right now, which is great. When we're on vacation, we forget that so many other people work on [our trips], because vacations are really fun. You want to keep them in business. You can buy those vouchers and say, "I'm going to help your cash flow right now."

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E! News: If you have to travel now, whether it's family reasons, there's something pressing in your life professionally, what are your top tips?

Ellwood: Again, you have to follow instructions, we are being advised against non-essential travel. I think there's a lot of [people seeing] Naomi Campbell in the hazmat suit. [Campbell chose to wear a full suit and mask on a flight recently.] That's not what we are telling people to do. It it is about keeping your hands clean. My travels ,for example, I'm just getting back from Europe, and I had a little bottle of hand sanitizer that I kept in my pocket that I wouldn't usually have, and so periodically on the plane I washed my hands then I washed my hands again.

Everything else, if you've got to travel, it's about approaching it the way we're approaching everyday life at the moment which is just really with cleanliness.

E! News: Do you see the travel industry recovering from this eventually?

Ellwood: Look, we all love travel. It's a very important part of our economy. It's got to rebound. So, the travel industry will rebound, because it has to. Again, we do have to be aware, we have to contribute too [to the efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus], and when it is wise to go traveling again, we have to be brave enough to go, "Hey, I'm going to take that trip."

When it's OK to return to some normalcy, then take that trip or vacation to your favorite place.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic and for tips on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, please visit The Center for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov. To plan your vaccine, head to NBC's Plan Your Vaccine site at PlanYourVaccine.com.