How to navigate canceling your trip amid COVID-19 concerns

Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Coronavirus continues to impact the travel industry with travel bans and restrictions changing on a daily basis both within the U.S. and abroad.

As travelers choose to prioritize their health and states take measures to restrict visitors, many consumers are left trying to navigate changing cancellation policies in order to get some of their money back.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs said it’s received 24 complaints and dozens of phone calls related to refunds in the last two weeks.

Bailey Parker, a spokesperson for the department, said the complaints were against travel insurance companies, rental companies, event space rentals and event ticket refunds.

Many of the complaints are for businesses keeping deposits, not issuing refunds or charging a cancellation fee.

“If you bought plane tickets or made reservations for some type of travel, you are not guaranteed a refund in situations like this,” Parker said. “Now, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t get a refund no matter what. You might be able to get a refund from the company if you call them but you are not guaranteed a refund.”

The department cannot legally force a business to issue a refund, but the department still urges consumers to submit them as many of their complaints are resolved successfully.

“Every complaint is valid but our complaint process is a voluntary mediation and what that means is that we cannot force a business to do anything," Parker said.

Parker recommends consumers read through their terms and conditions on their purchases first to learn what their options are.

Travel insurance might be one way for consumers to get their money back but it would likely have to be a policy that allows individuals to “cancel for any reason" as fear over catching COVID-19 is not usually covered in an average policy.

If consumers booked a trip with a credit card, their credit card company may be able to help them get a refund.

Airlines, rental sites and hotels are relaxing some of their cancelation policies and offering credit or partial refunds.

The dates people booked and the date of the trip determine what policies they are eligible for, however, the policies change constantly making it difficult for even the experts to keep up.

“Right now, it’s been a pretty challenging experience. We are spending most of our time, the majority of our time is dedicated to rebooking our customers, trying to find them different options,” said Ashley Jackson, the manager at Thomas Hogan Travel.

She said she’s heard horror stories of people being on the phone for hours waiting for help and answers.

“They have to go back to the originating agency, which would be Expedia or Costco. And that is where people are having difficulty. There’s really no way around that. They just had to sit on hold and wait until they can get through, and wait until that person explains to them what, what the policy is,” Jackson said.

She said this is why she recommends people use travel agents because they can be advocates for the consumers.

“We are very experienced in dealing with crisis and this isn’t the first crisis we’ve had to deal with that we’re able to feel, facilitate things a lot quicker,” she said.

She said the biggest issues right now are with people trying to cancel their trips that are just days away. She recommends leaving time before your trip for cancellation.

“There’s just a plethora of things that can come up when you’re traveling, you know, weather-related things. You just never know what can happen. But this is by far one of the biggest impacts we’ve seen globally and on the travel industry,” Jackson said.


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