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Need to cancel your holiday travel plans amid COVID? Here’s the latest on changes and refunds

People with masks on rolling their luggage at LAX.
A flight crew member at LAX on Nov. 23, just ahead of the Thanksgiving travel period.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

With California’s pandemic policies tightening, COVID-19 cases escalating and vaccines unlikely to reach most people until spring or later, many families are rethinking their holiday travel plans. “It’s time to cancel everything,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news conference Wednesday night.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of health and human services, said Thursday the state is, in effect, telling, not asking, Californians to stop all nonessential travel. That includes canceling holiday travel plans, Ghaly said. The new requirements, prompted by the dwindling number of available ICU beds in California, are to take effect late Sunday in Southern California, the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Other regions could follow soon if their hospitals’ ICU capacity falls beneath 15%.

Here’s a quick look at how airlines, lodgings and other travel suppliers are handling reservation changes and cancellations.

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Airlines

In late August and early September, several airlines dropped their ticket change fees at least through the end of this year. Among them: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

Southwest Airlines, which has had the most flexible major airline ticket policy for years, continues to allow passengers to rebook their flights for travel up to one year from the original purchase date.

It’s easier to get a credit or vouchers for future travel than it is to get your money back. As millions of travelers learned in the first months of the pandemic, many airlines refused to issue refunds unless they had canceled or significantly delayed a flight themselves. And even then, many did their best to nudge customers toward accepting travel credit rather than cash.

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But as the Federal Trade Commission noted, airlines are required to offer refunds for canceled or significantly delayed flights, even if the cause is beyond their control. If your airline resists, report it to the U.S. Department of Transportation — but be warned that the DOT can take months to process complaints and the process is far from a sure thing.

Gatherings with anyone other than household members is banned in new county and L.A. city protocols.

Trains

Amtrak has waived change fees for tickets bought by Dec. 31. You may be eligible for a credit voucher or a refund, depending on the type of ticket you bought.

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The cheapest Saver Fares give refunds only within 24 hours of booking; these tickets can’t be changed, either. Value Fares offer a refund or voucher if you cancel within 15 days of your departure. Canceling closer to your departure date may cost you 25% of the ticket price.

Flexible, Business and Premium fares will give you a full refund or voucher with no fees as long as you cancel in advance. If you don’t show up without canceling, you forfeit your ticket.

Buses

Greyhound is allowing bus riders to postpone their travel plans through Jan. 31. Requests for a credit voucher must be made at least a day before you are scheduled to leave. (This doesn’t apply to cash or Sezzle transactions.)

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FlixBus allows riders to cancel or postpone their travel plans free of charge as long as you let it know 14 days ahead of time.

Hotels

Cancellations and refunds at hotels vary from site to site and from chain to chain. Check with the hotel where you have a reservation and find out what its policies are.

Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, says broadly on its website: “In general, for guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, the policies that were in place at the time of reservation, or as previously communicated, will continue to be honored.” You may cancel or change reservations made after July 6 for arrivals through Dec. 30 at no charge. Prepaid and advance paid rooms may have different rules; the policies don’t apply to all Marriott properties.

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If the hotel is closed the night you want to stay, you will receive a refund. (These policies don’t apply to hotel bookings made through travel agents or third-party online retailers.)

At most properties, Hyatt Hotels reservations booked before July 1, including advance purchase rates, can be canceled without penalty up to 24 hours before you arrive. With some exceptions, reservations booked July 1 and beyond for stays through July 31, 2021, can be canceled at no charge up to 24 hours in advance.

With negative COVID-19 test results, travelers can visit several Hawaiian islands. Kauai’s rules are tighter, but with a bracelet monitor, a resort stay is possible.

Short-term rentals

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Airbnb cancellation policies “are set by hosts and can vary (flexible, moderate or strict),” the company’s website says. If an Airbnb host or guest “is currently sick with COVID-19,” the company’s “extenuating circumstances policy,” the company says on its website, “this is always covered.”

But if you are healthy and planning to cancel or reschedule because of the state’s new restrictions, that Airbnb’s policy is unlikely to help. As the company explains on one of its web pages (last updated in early October), the “extenuating circumstances” policy was designed to protect guests against unforeseen circumstances. Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, the company contends, “COVID-19 and its consequences are no longer unforeseen or unexpected.”

VRBO, another giant in the short-term vacation rental field, tells customers that if they bought the company’s travel insurance, they may be able to request a voucher for a future stay. (VRBO’s COVID-19 advice page is here.) But in most cases, VRBO hosts “determine the cancellation and refund policies for most homes in our marketplace” — which means guests and hosts will have to negotiate this situations themselves.

VRBO’s “Book with Confidence Guarantee” doesn’t cover events (like pandemics or state restrictions) that are beyond the control of the owner or property manager.

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Camping

Campgrounds and lodgings at national and state parks in California will temporarily close when the governor’s stay-at-home order goes into effect late Sunday in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. They will also close in the San Francisco Bay Area region, whose leaders decided to voluntarily move forward with restrictions even though their ICU bed situation was not as extreme.

Yosemite National Park will remain open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for day use, according to the website. Lodgings, such as the Ahwahnee hotel and campgrounds, will close Monday. Dining facilities will be limited as a result of the order. Trails, park roads and overlooks at Death Valley National Park are open but developed and back-country campgrounds as well as The Oasis at Death Valley’s ranch and inn will close Monday, its website says. Other national parks in impacted areas are expected to comply.

California State Parks will remain open for day use in impacted regions (including Southern California, the Central Valley and the Bay Area) but not for overnight stays, according to a park press release Friday. On the question of cancellations, state parks officials said this on their website:

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“Whether your specific reservation will be canceled depends on whether the selected campground is located within one of the impacted regions. If the campsite is within an impacted region, your reservation will be canceled. Affected reservation holders will be contacted by the state’s reservation system -- ReserveCalifornia -- via email and provided with a refund.”

Travel insurance

Travel insurance may or may not cover COVID-19-related cancellations, depending on the type of insurance you bought. Once the disease was declared a pandemic on March 11, it became a “foreseen event,” which made insurance coverage less likely. Here are some pandemic questions and answers from TravelGuard, one of the largest travel insurance companies.


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