Is fear an acceptable reason to cancel?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Beth J. Harpaz

Spooked by headlines about Zika, terrorism and mass shootings? Maybe the news is so bad you’re ready to cancel your vacation and stay home. But can you recoup what you paid for flights, lodging, car rentals and tours?

The answer is, it depends. Your best bet for getting a refund under such circumstances is to buy an expensive type of insurance called “cancel for any reason” insurance when you book your trip. Otherwise, whether you get money back depends on the circumstances and policies of individual airlines, hotels and other vendors.

Insurance policies

Standard travel insurance may cover trip cancellations if a terror attack takes place shortly before your arrival, according to Rachael Taft of SquareMouth.com, a travel insurance comparison site.

For example, depending on the policy, insured travelers cancelling trips to Nice, France, may have been eligible for refunds for trips scheduled within seven to 30 days of the July 14 truck attack there, she said.

But standard trip insurance won’t cover trips cancelled out of more generalized fears. If you booked a trip to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics and bought standard insurance, “you would unfortunately have been out of luck if you wanted to cancel due to fear of Zika,” Taft said.

So what does standard insurance cover? Typically, illness, injury, death in the family, natural disasters, or other major events that prevent you from traveling.

“If you break your leg, you’re covered. If your mother passes, you’re covered. If a hurricane cancels flights to your destination for 24 hours or makes your home or destination uninhabitable, you’re covered,” said Daniel Durazo, spokesman for the travel insurer Allianz Global Assistance.

Standard insurance also helps if you get sick or injured while traveling, covering medical treatment, reimbursements for unused prepaid trip costs, and travel home.

Cancel-for-any-reason policies, however, let you change your mind on a whim. These policies are more expensive: Standard trip insurance costs about 5 percent of a trip, while cancel-for-any-reason policies can cost substantially more, Durazo said.

Standard insurance can be bought up to the day before departure, but cancel-for-any-reason insurance must be bought sooner. At SquareMouth, cancel-for-any-reason policies are only available within 14 to 30 days of your first booking for a trip.

Reimbursement rates vary by policy, so don’t expect 100 percent of your losses to be covered.

Airline rebooking

Airlines often charge hefty fees to change flights, but that can change in a crisis, especially if airports close or governments issue warnings.

British Airways allowed customers who’d planned to travel to Nice the weekend after the July 14 attacks to change their date of travel or rebook to an alternative destination.

Following the coup attempt in Turkey, British Airways allowed customers with bookings through July 24 to rebook to a later date or use the value of their ticket toward an alternative destination.

Hotels more flexible

Hotel chains and car rental companies often allow cancellations with no penalty until a day or two before arrival. But discount rates and package deals are sometimes nonrefundable, so check the terms. If you booked with a tour company or resort that has multiple locations, ask about a credit for another location.

Booking website policies vary. Expedia does not itself charge cancellation fees, but cautions users that hotels and other providers may charge fees depending on their terms and deadlines.

On Airbnb, hosts choose their cancellation policies, ranging from a full refund up to one day prior to arrival (except fees), to “strict” policies with just a 50 percent refund up until a week prior to arrival (except fees). 

Credit cards

Some credit cards offer protection if used to book a trip that’s disrupted by an event like the terror attacks that closed the Brussels airport, according to Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com, which compares credit card travel rewards. Karimzad says Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citibank ThankYou Rewards cards are among those that cover losses in some circumstances.

— AP