The coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt travel to China. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory – “do not travel” – for the country and the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged visitors to avoid nonessential travel to the country.
“The situation is changing by the hour,” said Lauren Sauer, director of research at the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The virus is spreading, and we are getting more information on case counts, patient types and the health impact.”
Travelers can stay abreast of developments by checking the CDC website and monitoring alerts issued by the State Department and U.S. embassies.
Here’s what consider if you need to change your travel plans:
Q: If you cancel an upcoming trip to China, will travel insurance refund your expenses?
A: Yes, if you purchased the “cancel for any reason” benefit. This optional upgrade for your policy usually has several restrictions, but if you meet the criteria, you can recover up to 75 percent of your trip costs. If you have standard travel insurance and cancel because you’re afraid of contracting the virus, you will have to absorb the losses. “The majority of travel insurance plans do not offer coverage for pandemics like the coronavirus,” said Cory Sobczyk, a vice president for business development at Arch RoamRight, a travel insurance company based in Omaha, Neb.
Q: Are airlines, hotels and travel operators waiving change or cancellation fees for travel to China?
A: Yes. Airlines are offering waivers for flights to, from and through mainland China, with terms varying by carrier.
Many domestic and international airlines have announced that they are decreasing or suspending flights to China. In the U.S., American halted flights to China on Friday, while Delta and United will do so later this week. If your airline cancels your flight, you can receive a full refund.
Hotels are also making it easier to reschedule, with chains including Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott easing restrictions. Hyatt and Hilton have extended waivers through Feb. 29, covering both reservations in China and travelers coming from China to its other properties. (To qualify, you must have booked directly through the hotel; otherwise, contact your third-party agent.) Marriott will waive cancellation fees for hotel stays through Feb. 29 for guests with reservations at hotels in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and for guests from those locations traveling to Marriott destinations globally. Intercontinental Hotels is allowing guests travelling to or from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan through Feb. 29 to change or cancel reservations made through its official channels without penalty. Accor properties will allow guests traveling to its properties in greater China to rebook or cancel without penalty through Feb. 29 regardless of the booking channel.
Airbnb has activated its extenuating-circumstances policy and is giving hosts and guests the option of penalty-free cancellation.
Among tour operators, policies vary. David Clapworthy, a Southeast Asia specialist at Audley Travel, said the company is no longer running trips to China and is canceling travel there scheduled for the next few months. “We’re assessing the situation for clients traveling later in the year,” he said. Abercrombie and Kent does not start its small group journeys in China until mid-March. “Although we are hopeful that the situation will be resolved by then, we are offering guests the opportunity to postpone their travel plans or change to an alternate destination,” said Jean Fawcett, a company spokesperson.Intrepid Travel and G Adventures have cancelled all February departures to China. Travelers will have the option of postponing their trips, transferring to another tour, or cancelling for a full refund.
Q: When will it be safe to travel to China?
A: “Unfortunately we don’t know yet,” said Sauer. “The best advice is to continue to observe State Department and CDC guidelines.”
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Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who writes The Washington Post’s Navigator column, contributed to this report.