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Israel: Can you avoid financial penalty if you cancel your trip?

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Rocket attack prompts cancellation of flights to Israel. Are travelers protected financially?

On the heels of a new State Department warning on travel to Israel, a rocket that landed near the Tel Aviv airport on Tuesday prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel U.S. flights to the country.

Tourists may be able to rebook their airline tickets without a change fee, but whether travel insurance covers the latest attack is still a question.

Whether travelers can get refunds for, say, a tour if they wish to cancel a trip depends largely on the travel insurance policy, said Megan Singh, marketing manager at SquareMouth, which compares travel insurance policies.

Travelers need to have read their policies and understand what constitutes a covered reason that would allow refunds for cancellations, Singh said. The situation is fluid, she noted, and the resolution is often differs case by case.

But generally, she added, those who have a trip planned for the future will be covered if they have what's known as "cancel-for-any-reason" insurance, she said. Concern about what may happen often isn't covered on standard policies, but cancel-for-any-reason insurance is just that.

The downside: You probably won't recoup the full price, and the insurance tends to cost more.

The FAA action Tuesday was the latest blow to a country that counts tourism as its second-largest industry, pumping as much as $8 billion annually into the economy.

But Eliezer Hod, counsel for tourism and the director of the Western region of the United States for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, thinks tourism will bounce back.

“We believe this [cessation of flights] will be very temporary, and very soon the flights will resume again,” Hod said Tuesday morning. He believes that religious travel to Israel may be postponed but will not be canceled.

On Monday, the State Department issued a new travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It says U.S. citizens should consider deferring “nonessential travel to Israel and the West Bank"  and it "reaffirms the long-standing strong warning to U.S. citizens against any travel to the Gaza Strip."

“Long-range rockets launched from Gaza since July 8, 2014, have reached many locations in Israel, including Tel Aviv, cities farther north, and throughout the south of the country,” the warning says. “Some rockets have reached Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, including Bethlehem and Hebron. While many rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, there have been impacts that have caused damage and injury.

“In light of the ongoing rocket attacks, U.S. citizen visitors to and U.S. citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank should familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest bomb shelter or other hardened site, if available.”

On its website, Delta Airlines announced the suspension of service to Israel “until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV) and its New York-JFK hub.”

Travelers will be allowed to change their tickets without a change fee if they are “scheduled to travel to, from or through Tel Aviv on Delta, Delta Connection or Delta-coded flights.”

Tickets must be reissued  on or before Aug. 15, its website says, which adds: “When rescheduled travel occurs beyond August 15, 2014, the change fee will be waived. However, a difference in fare may apply. Final travel must be completed by end of ticket validity, one year from date of original issue.”

If there is good news for travelers and travel providers, it’s in the prices.

“Israel is expensive,” Hod notes. TripAdvisor’s top-rated Tel Aviv hotel, the Rothschild, listed room rates for a seven-night stay beginning Aug. 13 at $271 a night, its website said Tuesday.

To spur tourism, prices for travel products and services probably will drop when calm is restored, Hod said.

Follow Hamm on Twitter at @CatHamm and follow L.A. Times Travel @latimestravel.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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