The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus currently exceeds 1.3 million confirmed cases across more than 150 countries. The virus originated in central China in late 2019, and its spread has crippled the travel and event industries. There are now confirmed coronavirus cases across all 50 states in the United States. A ban on most travel from continental Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland) began March 13, 2020, at midnight, but does not apply to American citizens or permanent legal residents. Additionally, the Department of State announced a Global Level 4 Health Advisory on March 19, 2020, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel and for U.S. citizens currently abroad to return home if flights are still available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continuously updated its travel advisories for flights, cruises and international travel. It has also created recommendations to fight the spread of coronavirus in local communities. The cancellation or postponement of high-profile events, such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Ultra Music Festival in Miami, has upended many travel plans.
The CDC breaks its warning levels into three categories:
- Warning Level 3: Avoid all nonessential travel.
- Alert Level 2: Talk to a healthcare provider and consider postponing travel.
- Watch Level 1: Exercise increased caution during travel.
The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel (Warning Level 3) to all global destinations. The CDC also advises against cruise travel, which puts people from around the world in close contact with one another.
Avoiding Coronavirus While Traveling
To reduce the spread of coronavirus while traveling, the CDC recommends travelers take the following precautions:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Practice routine handwashing: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.)
- If traveling on a cruise, stay in your cabin when you are sick and let the onboard medical center know immediately if you develop a fever (100.4°F or higher), begin to feel feverish, or have other symptoms (such as cough, runny nose, shortness of breath or sore throat).
What Areas are Most Affected By the Coronavirus Outbreak and Where to Avoid Traveling
The coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market in the area. Person-to-person spread is possible and accounts for the quick proliferation of the virus. Subsequently, many of the initial regions most affected by the coronavirus outbreak are near mainland China. The outbreak has spread to Europe and North America as well, with the United States, Spain and Italy reporting the most confirmed cases. The CDC is reporting many instances in the United States, with numerous cases throughout the country. The Department of State announced a Global Level 4 Health Advisory on March 19, 2020, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel and return home if they’re currently abroad and flights are still available.
Asia: Asia is listed as Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout Asia have implemented travel bans.
Europe: Trump announced a 30-day suspension of most travel from Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland). The suspension began March 13, 2020, at midnight. It will apply to most foreign nationals who have been in Europe in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the U.S., but will not apply to permanent U.S. residents or immediate family members of U.S. citizens. The CDC currently lists all of Europe under Warning Level 3 and recommends that travelers avoid nonessential travel. Italy and Spain are under lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The CDC warning specifically covers the following countries:
- Czech Republic
- San Marino
- Vatican City
The CDC also lists the United Kingdom and Ireland as Warning Level 3.
North America: The majority of people in the United States are under stay-at-home orders from state governors. Stay-at-home orders typically ask citizens to avoid leaving their place of residence unless they need to leave for essential activities, such as going to the grocery store to buy food. The United States, Canada and Mexico are all reporting thousands of confirmed coronavirus cases.
Central America and the Caribbean: Central America and the Caribbean are listed as a Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean have implemented travel bans.
South America: South America is listed as a Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout South America have implemented travel bans.
Australia and the South Pacific: Australia is listed as a Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Travelers arriving in Australia are subject to a 14-day period of self-isolation.
Africa: Africa is listed as a Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout Africa have implemented travel bans.
Middle East: The Middle East is listed as a Warning Level 3 and numerous cases of coronavirus have been confirmed. Additionally, many countries throughout the Middle East have implemented travel bans.
Additionally, the CDC issues the following precautions and warnings surrounding travel amid the coronavirus outbreak:
- Older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions are at increased risk for severe disease.
- Travelers returning from any Warning Level 3 countries should stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing.
- Travelers who are sick with fever, cough, or have trouble breathing should call ahead before seeking medical care.
For updated information on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by country, check the COVID-19 Interactive Map created by Johns Hopkins University.
Coronavirus and Air Travel
The CDC says that the risk of infection on an airplane is low due to how air circulates and is filtered. Many airlines have also adopted more thorough cleaning measures between flights, and several airlines have canceled flights to and from outbreak areas like mainland China. Additionally, Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from continental Europe. The ban began March 13, 2020, at midnight and does not apply to American citizens or permanent legal residents and their families. American, United and Delta airlines have capped fares between the U.S. and Europe to help impacted travelers.
High-risk travelers may want to rethink their plans. To accommodate, many airlines are waiving change and cancellation fees. Keep in mind that travelers still have to make up the difference in rates for rebooked flights, and many of these policies have strict deadlines for when travel must be rescheduled.
Below are the most recent cancellation policies for the top U.S. airlines:
American Airlines Coronavirus Update: Any ticket purchased on or before March 1, 2020, for all travel scheduled through May 31, 2020, will not be subject to change fees. Additionally, tickets for most international travel purchased before mid-March will not be subject to change fees through May 2020. (The exact dates of eligibility vary depending on your destination). Flights to many countries are also eligible for a refund. New tickets must be reissued on or before December 31, 2020, or 12 months from the original ticket date (whichever is earlier).
Alaska Airlines Coronavirus Update: Travelers who purchased fares between Feb. 27 and April 30, 2020, or booked flights through May 31, 2020, can cancel their trip for credit or change their flights for no cancellation or change fees. Rebooked travel must begin by Feb. 28, 2021.
Allegiant Air Coronavirus Update: Travelers can make a one-time change to their travel plans without change or cancellation fees by contacting customer service via phone, email or social media.
Delta Air Lines Coronavirus Update: Tickets for travel during March, April and May 2020, as well as tickets purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020, can be changed one time to an alternate itinerary. Unused value can be transferred to the purchase of a new ticket, but rebooked travel dates must meet specific criteria.
Frontier Airlines Coronavirus Update: Bookings made between March 10 and March 31, 2020, as well as travel through April 30, 2020, can be changed without fees. The new flights must be completed by Nov. 9, 2020, and must be booked within 90 days of the initial cancellation.
Hawaiian Airlines Coronavirus Update: Tickets purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020, and flights booked prior to March 9, 2020, for travel between March 1 and May 31, 2020, receive a waiver for a one-time change per ticket without fees. Tickets must be changed within one year of the initial ticket purchase date.
JetBlue Airways Coronavirus Update: Bookings made between March 27 and April 30, 2020, for travel through January 4, 2021, and all tickets for flights through May 31, 2020, can be refunded for a credit that’s valid for 18 months.
Southwest Airlines Coronavirus Update: Funds used to pay for a flight can be applied to future flights as long as a reservation is canceled at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. Funds are valid for up to one year from the original purchase date. Southwest has also extended how long the funds are available for as a response to recent disruptions: Credits that have expired or will expire between March 1 and June 30, 2020, are now available through June 30, 2021. Additionally, any new travel funds due to flight cancellations or rescheduling because of the coronavirus between March 1 and June 30, 2020, will be available for use through June 30, 2021. Finally, any travel scheduled before April 30, 2020, can be changed to a date 60 days from the original date of travel without paying any difference in fare, as long as you are traveling between the same origin and destination.
Spirit Airlines Coronavirus Update: Travelers who must alter their travel plans due to coronavirus can make a one-time free modification or receive a reservation credit for the full value of their purchase. The credit must be used within six months to book any flight currently available.
United Airlines Coronavirus Update: Tickets issued between March 3 and April 30, 2020, as well as flights scheduled through May 31, 2020, can have the value of the ticket applied to a new ticket without a fee for up to two years from the original ticket issue date.
Numerous airlines have also canceled or altered their itineraries.
Note: The above waivers and flexible travel options only apply if you booked directly with the airline. If you booked with a third-party site, such as Expedia or Booking.com, you’ll need to get in touch with the third-party service to ask about a refund or flight credit.
Coronavirus and Hotels
Most hotel chains are waiving rebooking and cancellation fees. They are also updating their rewards programs to accommodate members in impacted areas.
Marriott Hotels Coronavirus Update: Fees will be waived for all existing reservations as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020. New reservations for any future date made before June 30, 2020, can be canceled or changed up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
IHG Hotels & Resorts Coronavirus Update: Cancellation fees will be waived for existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally for stays up to June 30, 2020. New flexible rates have also been announced for future bookings.
Hyatt Hotels Coronavirus Update: All reservations made before April 1, 2020, that are for arrivals through June 30, 2020, as well as all reservations made between April 2 and June 30, 2020, for any future arrival date can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. Additionally, World of Hyatt members who made nonrefundable reservations at any hotel on or before March 8 for travel through June 2020 can cancel their reservation and opt to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt bonus points.
Hilton Hotels Coronavirus Update: All reservations scheduled for arrival before June 30, 2020, and new bookings made before June 30, 2020, can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Coronavirus Update: All existing direct bookings with arrivals before May 31, 2020, can be canceled or changed if a request is received at least 24 hours in advance. Additionally, new and existing bookings with arrivals after May 31, 2020, can be changed to the same number of nights for a future stay if the request is received at least two days prior to arrival.
Choice Hotels: Guests can cancel or change their reservations without charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival for stays until June 30, 2020; this also applies for any new reservations for a limited time.
Coronavirus and Vacation Rentals
Airbnb Coronavirus Update: Reservations made on or before March 14, 2020, for stays and Airbnb Experiences between March 14 and May 31, 2020, may be canceled for a full refund. Airbnb will refund all service fees for covered cancellations. The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual for reservations made after March 14, 2020, and for stays with check-in dates after May 31, 2020.
HomeAway Coronavirus Update: Cancellation policies are at the discretion of each rental owner, but HomeAway encourages owners to issue full refunds. HomeAway will refund the Travelers Service Fees for canceled stays.
Coronavirus and Cruises
The Cruise Lines International Association has announced that cruise lines will be voluntarily and temporarily suspending cruise ship operations from U.S. ports of call for 30 days as public health officials and the U.S. government continue to address COVID-19.
The U.S. Department of State warned that Americans, especially those with underlying conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. This is due to the increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment, according to the CDC.
The following cruise lines have announced modifications to their cancellation and refund policies:
Azamara Coronavirus Update: All cruises scheduled to sail before May 11, 2020, have been canceled. Travelers who booked these cruises can choose between a 125% credit and a full refund. Guests booked on a cruise through Sept. 1, 2020, can cancel up to 48 hours before departure and receive future cruise credit. The credits must be used by Dec. 31, 2021.
Carnival Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: All cruises scheduled to sail through May 11, 2020, are canceled. Travelers will receive either a future cruise credit and an onboard cruise credit (ranging from $300 to $600, depending on the length of the voyage) or a full refund.
Celebrity Cruises Coronavirus Update: Cruises set to embark before May 11, 2020, have been canceled. Those booked on impacted sailings will receive a cruise credit worth 125% of their original cost or a full refund. Cruisers can cancel trips up to 48 hours before sailing and receive a credit for a future cruise. This applies to any itineraries that depart through July 31, 2020.
Crystal Cruises Coronavirus Update: Cruises set to embark before April 11, 2020, have been canceled. Additionally, numerous cruises through May 2020 have also been canceled. Guests who are currently booked on a cruise, and anyone who books a new cruise through 2020, are able to cancel up to seven days before sailing for a full credit for a future cruise through the end of 2022.
Disney Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: All cruises from March 14 to April 28, 2020, are canceled. Guests impacted by the cancellations are offered a full cruise credit or refund.
Norwegian Cruise Line Coronavirus Update: Cruises with embarkation dates from March 13 to May 10, 2020, have been canceled. Guests with embarkation dates between now and May 10, 2020, will receive a credit for 125% of their original rate. Guests can also opt to receive a full refund instead. Any new or existing bookings departing before Sept. 30, 2020, can be canceled up to 48 hours prior to sailing for a 100% credit on a future cruise. The credit can be used for any cruise on or before Dec. 31, 2022.
Princess Cruises Coronavirus Update: All cruises are canceled until May 11, 2020. Travelers who booked a now-canceled cruise can choose between a refund and a credit worth more than the value of their initial cruise fare. The credit can be used on all voyages departing before May 1, 2022.
Regent Seven Seas Coronavirus Update: All cruises set to depart before May 10 2020, have been canceled. Guests have the option of a credit for 125% of their original cost or a full refund. Reservations made before May 31, 2020, for a trip set to embark on or before Dec. 31, 2020, can cancel up to 48 hours before departure and receive a 100% credit toward a future cruise.
Royal Caribbean Coronavirus Update: All cruises set to depart before May 11, 2020, have been canceled. Guests have the option of a credit for 125% of their original cost or a full refund. Travelers can cancel up to 48 hours before they sail and get credit toward a future cruise. This applies for cruises through Sept. 1, 2020, and the cruise credit is valid through Dec. 31, 2021.
Viking Coronavirus Update: All cruises between March 12 and June 30, 2020, will be canceled. Guests whose cruises fell between these dates have the option of a full refund or a travel voucher for 125% of their original cruise rate. All reservations made before April 30, 2020, for future cruises can be canceled up to 24 hours before scheduled departure for a full refund.
Numerous cruise lines have also canceled or altered their itineraries to avoid travel and shore excursions to China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Italy.
Coronavirus Travel Insurance
Travel insurance related to delays and cancellations of trips due to the coronavirus outbreak is complicated. Typically, travel insurance will not cover problems related to the coronavirus outbreak because it has been dubbed a “known event.” It received that designation on Jan. 22, 2020. Additionally, many travel insurance policies often exclude coverage for issues that come up as a result of pandemics or epidemics.
However, if you’ve purchased “cancel for any reason” coverage you may be in luck. This type of add-on insurance typically guarantees that a traveler will receive at least 50% to 75% of their insured nonrefundable and prepaid trip costs and deposits should the vacation be canceled for any reason not already covered. Keep in mind, this type of insurance must be purchased within a set number of days from the first payment (usually 21 days or less). So, if you booked a trip in January for travel in May, you are unable to go back and add that type of coverage to your trip. The trip must also be canceled at least two days prior to departure to take advantage of the cancel for any reason coverage. To learn more, visit the U.S. News guide to cancel for any reason travel insurance.
In some cases, your credit card may provide travel insurance and cover trip cancellations. Read more about if your credit card travel insurance covers the coronavirus here.
Note: Numbers, figures and information were accurate at the time of publication. This is an evolving story and updates will be made as they become available.