As news of the novel coronavirus outbreak spreads, many travelers are asking the same question: Should I cancel my upcoming trip?
Coronavirus — more specifically the virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness COVID-19 — is spreading at an alarming rate. There are nearly 90,000 confirmed cases worldwide (and counting) and more than 3,000 deaths, mostly in China, according to the World Health Organization. The first six deaths in the U.S. have clustered in Washington state and the toll is expected to grow significantly across the country. Health officials have not issued any broad recommendations to the general public about limiting travel that would trigger a wave of vacation cancellations, at least for now.
“The question of whether it’s appropriate to cancel or change travel plans in light of the spread of the coronavirus is largely a personal decision that travelers must make after weighing all the facts at hand,” says Paul Metselaar, the CEO of Ovation Travel Group.
That’s largely because there are no official limitations on travel. Here are a few questions to consider before canceling your trip.
- Is your destination affected by the coronavirus outbreak?
- Are you part of a group that is at risk of a coronavirus infection (older people or those with preexisting medical conditions)?
- Do you have travel insurance? If you cancel, will your travel insurance cover your costs?
Where are you going?
The most important criterion for a coronavirus cancellation: your destination. You can consult with several sources for the latest information.
Check the latest State Department travel advisories to see if it’s still safe to travel. The State Department on Feb. 2 issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for travel to China because of the outbreak. On Feb. 29, the government enacted a Level 3 “Reconsider Travel” advisory for Italy.
Don’t rely on one source. Experts also check the Canadian government advisories, and United Kingdom travel advisories are also a good source. Note that you’ll sometimes find contradictory information between these advisories, but it’s better to be fully aware of the risks of travel to any destination.
Carrie Pasquarello, CEO of Global Secure Resources, also consults another source: Medjet. If the medical-evacuation company suspends coverage in a country, that’s a red flag. “It’s my trip wire,” she says.
On Feb. 5, Medjet suspended operations in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
Are you healthy?
If you’re thinking of canceling your trip because of the coronavirus, your health is an important consideration.
“Are you elderly or have a chronic medical condition or are immunocompromised?” asks Nadeen White, a physician and travel blogger who focuses on health and travel issues. “Do you care for someone elderly or immunocompromised? And will you be spending a lot of time in crowded public spaces or sharing rooms in hostels?”
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” you might want to consider canceling, she says.
Joseph Garcia had planned to visit Japan next month to see the cherry blossoms with his 2-year-old daughter but decided to cancel. He says he likes Japan because it’s peaceful and civilized, but with reported coronavirus cases and deaths, he’s afraid it will be nerve-wracking.
“We want to travel and relax in comfort and safety,” says Garcia, who edits a review site for baby accessories. “Not in a precautionary state.”
Garcia made the right call. A long overseas trip can stress out a young child. Add the risk of infection, and the possibility of the virus spreading, and making this trip doesn’t make sense. Even if the trip went off without a hitch, Garcia and his daughter might not be able to relax and enjoy the cherry blossoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest risk assessment on coronavirus does not explicitly mention the age or physical condition of a traveler. However, a breakdown of the fatalities in China suggests that travelers over 80 with a preexisting medical condition are most at risk. Concerned parents who are traveling with young children can relax, at least for now — there have been no fatalities among children under 9.
“The criteria for canceling a trip is a personal decision, and what that looks like will be different for everyone,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a travel-insurance site. “However, if you don’t think you will be able to enjoy yourself for a large portion of a planned vacation, it’s likely a good sign that you should postpone.”
Do you have travel insurance?
Travel insurance may or may not help. But experts warn that it isn’t a magic bullet.
“In order for coverage to apply, the event impacting their trip must be listed within your insurance policy certificate,” says Kasara Barto, a spokeswoman for Squaremouth travel insurance. “It is very important that travelers review their policy to make sure their concerns can be covered by their policy. The main reason claims are denied is because travelers file a claim for something that is not covered by their policy.”
Squaremouth posted a helpful guide on traveling and the coronavirus, which offers a few details on what is — and isn’t — covered.
What about your credit card? Don’t count on it covering your cancellation, either.
“Travel insurance offered through credit cards and other providers is unlikely to grant you a refund if you simply changed your mind about traveling,” says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. “Many airlines and hotels are canceling reservations and offering fee waivers in the most affected areas,” he adds. “That’s probably going to be your best option for getting your money back.”
A “cancel for any reason” policy can offer a partial refund if you decide to call off your vacation. But that insurance costs about twice as much as the standard “named perils” policy mentioned by Barto.
Bottom line: If you’re planning a vacation — but haven’t booked anything yet — you still can do something if you’re willing to foot the insurance bill. Find a “cancel for any reason” policy from a reputable travel-insurance source. You can purchase a policy through a company like AIG Travel, Allianz Travel Insurance or many more sites like Squaremouth.
Also, consider additional coverage through a company like Medjet or an insurance plan that covers a medical evacuation advises Sherry Sutton, vice president of marketing at Travel Insured International. “These benefits can help provide reimbursement in the event you are hospitalized or seek medical treatment while traveling abroad.” Travel Insured also has a practical guide to travel insurance and the coronavirus.
Should you cancel your trip because of the coronavirus?
Many travelers say they’re sticking to their plans.
Donna Manz, a travel agent who specializes in Europe, says that’s the right call. She has clients booked on European cruises this June, and for them, it’s still full steam ahead.
“Nobody’s fears should be discounted or disparaged,” she says. “If towns are on lockdown, if flights are canceled to my destinations, those issues are out of my control.”
She’s advising clients in high-risk categories — people with compromised immune systems, those on steroids, travelers with asthma or other respiratory conditions, and the very old and the very young — to stay home.
But she’s sticking to her travel plans. “If I am quarantined somewhere, I can still work, I can still communicate with my clients,” she says.
I had to make a similar decision, too. I’m scheduled to travel from Madrid to Rome by train in early March. One of my stops in northern Italy is perilously close to the latest cluster of infections. And like everyone else, I had to ask: Should I cancel my trip because of the coronavirus?
I’m sticking with my plans. I’m traveling with three healthy teenagers, and I’m in decent shape for a guy my age. I’ve covered every viral outbreak in the last three decades, and I’ve seen this kind of panic before.
I’m not swayed by it — at least not yet.