COVID-19: Why cancelling your travel reservations is better than rescheduling?

Travel restrictions due to coronavirus have resulted in passengers losing money on rebooking or cancelling travel reservations.

COVID-19: Why cancelling your travel reservations is better than rescheduling?

India’s airports have been wearing a deserted look since the government took the unprecedented step of barring all flights on account of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The country’s airlines, which used to fly millions of tourists in and out on a daily basis, are now grounded for the most part. The estimated loss to the aviation industry because of the global outbreak is said to be around USD 500–600 million, according to figures released by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), India.

Indians – who are among the world’s most prolific travellers – typically head out in droves to destinations in Europe, North America, and Australia between March and June every year. Perhaps for the first time ever, their travel plans have gone into limbo. With the death toll from COVID-19 rising by the day, social distancing and self-quarantine are being recommended to stop the spread of the pandemic.

Lockdown for schools has meant that students who were busy preparing for their exams are now enjoying a break earlier than expected. On the other hand, adults have been spending a lot of time dealing with ticket refunds and cancellation charges. Read on for the latest news on the cancellation policies being followed by airlines and travel sites so that you can make an informed choice.

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1. Voluntary flight cancellation

Flyers anxious to cancel their tickets and get refunds were told by local airlines that cancellation charges would be applicable. Instead, they were being offered fee waivers if they chose to reschedule for a later date. This has left a large number of flyers out in the cold as airlines are not refunding the amounts paid or accommodating destination change requests. Though the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) – India's top aviation authority – has instructed both international and national carriers to waive cancellation fees, few seem to be obliging.

2. Date change vs cancellation

On their part, airlines say that they have been badly affected by financial losses on account of the lockdown, making mass refunds unviable. To reschedule, passengers are being asked to pay the difference between the existing and re-priced fare if the latter is higher. Ironically, passengers are not given credit if they had originally paid more than the revised fare.

Although some international and domestic airlines are offering flyers the option to reschedule for free, passengers would do well to cancel their tickets. This is because it is impossible to estimate when the COVID-19 crisis will finally blow over and passengers choosing to re-book may have to pay more later, if things don't improve.

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3. Hotels and tour operators

Online travel agents are reportedly reassuring their customers that no penalties would be charged for room cancellation or rescheduling requests. Data compiled by B2B SaaS startup RateGain shows that across Tier I and Tier II cities hotel bookings fell substantially, with Delhi/NCR, Kerala, and Maharashtra being among the worst affected regions. Since mid-February, hotels have been seeing a massive slump across all categories throughout the country. To ease the process of rescheduling, travel portals say they are working with affiliated airlines and hotels to waive fees for customers to the maximum extent possible.

However, like airlines, tour operators and online travel agents are urging travellers to consider a date change instead of outright cancellation. At the time of writing this article, online travel agents were referring all cancellation queries to the respective airlines or hotels. It remains to be seen how domestic and international package bookings for travel starting in mid-April will be handled once restrictions are lifted. Some online travel agents have warned customers that cancellation charges are unavoidable.

4. Precautions advised by the government

The government has intervened in favour of helpless travellers, asking international and local airlines to waive cancellation charges and make exceptions for passengers wishing to reschedule. While the ban on international flights has been extended to April 15, domestic transit flights were available for Indians returning from abroad.

After being screened on arrival, individuals free from coronavirus symptoms were being allowed to proceed to their respective destinations, on the condition that they self-quarantine for 14 days to preclude the possibility of community spread. International cargo and emergency evacuation flights have been kept outside the scope of the ban.

Related: How banks are going to operate during the complete lockdown in India

5. Is travel insurance coverage applicable for flight cancellations?

Coverage is currently not available for customers cancelling their flights voluntarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A global health emergency of this scale is not covered under most travel insurance products. In fact, insurance companies have been quick to tell customers that trip cancellation claims arising due to the spread of COVID-19 will not be entertained.

The government advisory requesting citizens to delay all non-essential travel is being cited by insurance companies as a reason for the change. In such a situation, many have been left with no choice but to pay for travel and hotel expenses out of pocket.

6. Is coverage available for other travel risks?

Trip delay and baggage loss benefits can be availed of as usual for domestic flights by Indian citizens returning from abroad. Medical expenses incurred by passengers travelling to non-restricted countries will be covered as before, say general insurance experts. However, they advise against buying a new travel insurance policy without first checking coverage restrictions related to COVID-19.

Last words

The travel and tourism industry is bracing for the worst, following a comprehensive global lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus. As revenues fall to record lows, tour operators and airlines are suggesting that customers defer their travel plans and rebook for a later date, rather than cancel their bookings outright. For customers, however, cancelling may be the only logical option because of the restrictions put on them. Read this to know about RBI governor press conference highlights. 


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