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Coronavirus and travel: What you need to know

Editor’s note: The information in this article has been updated as of March 25, 2020. We will continue to update as information changes.

At a glance:

  • What the government advises

  • What the airlines are doing

  • What cruise ships are doing

  • What hotels are doing

  • Traveling by road and rails

  • Will travel insurance protect you?

  • How to travel safely

The number of coronavirus cases are multiplying across six continents as the world tries to contain what is now a global pandemic.

The outbreak of the illness, officially named COVID-19, has spread from China to more than 127 other countries spanning six continents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To combat the outbreak, the U.S. government recommends that all Americans not travel internationally. Here’s what you need to know for any upcoming travel plans.

To help stem an coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. is strongly recommending that Americans reconsider their travel plans to affected countries. (Photo: Getty Creative)
To help stem an coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. is strongly recommending that Americans reconsider their travel plans to affected countries. (Photo: Getty Creative)

What the government advises

On March 19, the U.S. State Department issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory - Do Not Travel, advising all Americans to avoid any international travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Americans who are currently traveling abroad should return to the U.S. immediately, or they may not be able to return for an indefinite period, the State Department said. If you decide to travel internationally, the State Department recommends that you have a plan that does not rely on the U.S. government for help.

The CDC has placed a Warning Level 3: Avoid all non-essential travel for China, South Korea, Iran, the U.K., Ireland, and 26 other countries in Europe, plus Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. The CDC also has a Warning Level 3: Avoid all non-essential travel on cruise travel.

A health personnel checks the temperature of passengers upon their arrival at Tunis-Carthage Airport in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 10, 2020. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)
A health personnel checks the temperature of passengers upon their arrival at Tunis-Carthage Airport in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 10, 2020. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

Traveling anywhere else is an Alert - Level 2, per the CDC as of March 11. That means that older Americans and those with severe chronic conditions should reconsider all nonessential travel. U.S. travelers should “practice enhanced precautions” by avoiding contact with sick people and washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Travelers who are sick with fever, cough, or have trouble breathing should stay home and call ahead before seeking medical care. Recently returned travelers should monitor their health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning from travel.

What the airlines are doing

Responding to the advisories that have caused a decrease in traffic, over 70 airlines have limited or suspended their passenger routes to and from China, Italy, and South Korea. Many of the major U.S. carriers have responded to the outbreak and have augmented or canceled select routes and are waiving customers change fees.

JetBlue also last week banned a passenger who took a flight from New York to Palm Beach, Florida, even though he knew he could be infected with the coronavirus, a cautionary tale for other travelers.

A woman walking in the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico, wears a protective face mask on February 28, 2020 as the new coronoavirus, COVID-19, spreads worldwide. (Photo:ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman walking in the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico, wears a protective face mask on February 28, 2020 as the new coronoavirus, COVID-19, spreads worldwide. (Photo:ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
  • Alaska Airlines - For tickets purchased on/before Feb. 26, 2020 for travel through April 30, 2020 and new tickets purchased between Feb. 27 and March 31, 2020, the airline will suspend change and cancellation fees.

  • American Airlines - There are no change fees for all ticketed passengers who book before March 15, 2020 with scheduled travel through May 31, 2020. Cancellations are available for all ticketed passengers with flights through the end of 2020. The airline is also suspending flights to Milan, Italy from New York and Miami until April 25, 2020.

  • Hawaiian Airlines - The airline suspended service between Honolulu, Toyko, and South Korea through April 30, 2020. Hawaiian is also waiving change fees for flights purchased March 1 - 31, 2020.

  • JetBlue - The airline will waive change and cancellation fees for flights booked before March 10, 2020 for travel through April 30, 2020. Customers who wish to rebook have the option to travel through Oct. 24, 2020.

  • Southwest Air- The airline will cease all international flights on March 22.

  • United Airlines - It has suspended all service between the U.S. and the Chinese cities of Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong through April 30, 2020. There is limited service available between the U.S. and Tokyo; Osaka, Japan; Singapore; and Seoul.

    The airline is waiving change fees for travel through May 31, 2020 and allowing refunds to customers with tickets to certain cities in China and Hong Kong. For those impacted by the government-imposed travel ban, United has capped fares to the United States from the affected countries. If you're scheduled to travel March 10 – April 30, 2020 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling.

What cruise ships are doing

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: The Grand Princess cruise ship heads to the Port of Oakland on Monday, March 9, 2020. Passengers on the Coronavirus-stricken ship disembarked at the port after being in a holding pattern outside the Golden Gate for several days. (Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA: The Grand Princess cruise ship heads to the Port of Oakland on Monday, March 9, 2020. Passengers on the Coronavirus-stricken ship disembarked at the port after being in a holding pattern outside the Golden Gate for several days. (Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

The cruise industry has largely stopped operations.

  • Carnival Corp. - The company is suspending operations of its entire fleet from March 14 through April 9, 2020, and offering guests cruise credit through Dec. 31, 2022.

  • Norweigan - Cruise voyages are suspended from March 13 - April 11, 2020. Guests who cancel are free to use their fare credit for any future cruise through Dec. 31, 2022.

  • Royal Caribbean - As of March 25, Royal Caribbean Cruises is suspending cruising in the United States through May 12, 2020. U.S. guests on sails in Asia departing before March 23, 2020 are allowed to rebook without penalty at a later date. The company is reviewing the new U.S. limits on European travel and will advise at a later date.

  • Viking Ocean Cruises - The company is temporarily suspending its river and ocean cruises for embarkations between March 12 to April 30, 2020. Those with cruise reservations that fall in that window can get a future cruise voucher valued at 125% of what you paid to Viking or a refund equal to what you have paid. The future cruise voucher can be used to make a new reservation over the next 24 months.

What hotels are doing

Many of the major U.S.-based hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees for passengers who’ve had their travel plans derailed.

  • Marriott International - Guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date are allowed full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by April 30, 2020.

    For all new reservations, including reservations with pre-paid rates, through April 30, 2020, the company will allow the reservation to be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date.

  • Hilton Worldwide - The company is offering modifications and cancellation waivers for guests traveling to and from China, Israel, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia through March 31, 2020 and Italy through April 30, 2020.

    Modification and cancellation waivers are also available for guests traveling between the United States and the following European countries from March 13 to April 12, 2020: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

  • Hyatt Hotels Corporation - The company is extending tier status for members affected by the coronavirus as well as extending the expiration on certain rewards. It’s also waiving cancellation fees for reservations at hotels in China, Japan, South Korea, and Italy and residents of those countries through March 31, 2020.

  • InterContinental Hotels Group - The hotel chain is waiving cancellation and change fees for existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally for stays between March 9, 2020 and April 30, 2020.

  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts - Guests traveling with new or existing direct bookings for stays at any Wyndham property through April 30, 2020 will have their cancellation or change penalties waived if the request is received at least 24 hours prior to arrival (or less if permitted by the hotel’s policy).

  • Airbnb - As of March 20, reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14 and April 14, 2020, may be canceled before check-in. Guests who cancel will receive a full refund. Hosts can cancel without charge or it won’t impact their Superhost status, and Airbnb will refund all service fees.

    Reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date after April 14, 2020, are not currently covered for COVID-19 related extenuating circumstances. The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual.

    If a reservation has already begun (the check-in has passed) this extenuating circumstance does not apply.

  • Vrbo - The company defers to all property owners to create their own cancellation and refund policies. Vrbo recommends travelers review local travel recommendations and restrictions for all upcoming trips along with the property's cancellation policies. For existing bookings, all cancellations can be made online and if you’re outside of the cancellation window, contact the property owner or manager.

Traveling by road and rails

  • Amtrak - Transmission fears about coronavirus have led Amtrak to temporarily suspend three of its trains (2401, 2402, 2403) between New York and Washington, D.C., as of March 10, 2020 through the end of May 2020. Additionally, all change fees on existing and new reservations made by April 30, 2020, are waived.

An Amtrak Acela train arrives at New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train hub, near a section of a complex of tracks that Amtrak says they will begin repairing over the summer in New York City, U.S., May 25, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
An Amtrak Acela train arrives at New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train hub, near a section of a complex of tracks that Amtrak says they will begin repairing over the summer in New York City, U.S., May 25, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
  • Greyhound - As of March 9, Greyhound is operating as usual with no coronavirus restrictions or cancellations. However, the company is offering no change fees to ticketed passengers who book between March 5, 2020 and March 17, 2020 for travel between March 18, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020 and wish to postpone their travel plans.

Will travel insurance protect you?

With travel advisories changing day to day, relying on insurance feels like a natural default. Many major credit cards have associated travel insurance policies, but Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards by LendingTree, told Cashay that credit card travel insurance policies aren’t likely to safeguard against broken plans due to coronavirus.

“It's about you and what you have and your specific situation,” Schulz said.

That means if you’re playing it safe and proactively canceling or postponing your trip — regardless of destination — because of the threat of coronavirus, your card’s travel insurance policy probably isn't going to help you, he said.

There’s one instance where your card may kick in, he said. If you get sick on your trip and a doctor forces you to be quarantined, your card’s travel insurance may activate to help you.

Travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Travel insurance policies through credit cards are not uniform so it’s best to call the issuer and get the details on your specific plan. Schulz also suggested buying a supplemental insurance policy instead of relying on just your credit card.

Coverage differs by policy but travel insurance reimburses you or offers services when your trip goes sideways due to lost or stolen luggage, a medical emergency, a missed flight due to an emergency, illness while traveling, or a death at home requires you to cut your trip short.

Allianz Global Assistance is currently assisting customers around the clock who wish to change their travel plans, need travel assistance, or would like to file a claim. According to the company's website:

“Claims due to known, foreseeable, or expected events, epidemics, or fear of travel are generally not covered, and coverage can vary by state. However, until further notice, although not covered under most plans, we are currently accommodating claims for:

  1. Under Emergency Medical Care and Emergency Medical Transportation Benefits: Emergency medical care and emergency medical transportation for a customer who becomes ill with COVID-19 while on their trip.

  2. Under Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits: Trip cancellation and trip interruption if a customer becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during their trip.

  3. Under Trip Cancellation Benefit: Non-refundable, non-transferable trip cancellation expenses for customers who purchased their plan prior to January 22, 2020 for trip components in Mainland China, South Korea, or the Lombardy or Veneto regions of Italy and departing prior to April 1, 2020.”

How to travel safely

People wearing masks, walk on street in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Belarus, Lithuania and New Zealand have reported their first cases of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
People wearing masks, walk on street in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Belarus, Lithuania and New Zealand have reported their first cases of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

If you still plan to travel against the State Department’s recommendation, the CDC urges all to be more judicious by frequently washing their hands, using disposable tissues to cough or sneeze, cleaning all “high-touch” surfaces like cell phones, doorknobs, and remote controls everyday.

Transmission is likely to be through sneezes and coughs by an infected host or coming in contact with contaminated surfaces. The CDC recognizes symptoms to include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

If you do feel sick, call ahead before visiting your doctor and wear a face mask to cut down on exposure.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. She can be reached at stephanie.asymkos@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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