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How to cancel your flights, Airbnbs and more because of the delta variant

So you’ve decided to cancel your vacation. Here’s how to reschedule or get refunds.

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)
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The news as of late has given many people coronavirus deja vu with warnings of cases spiking and new mask mandates. The spread of the highly transmissible delta variant (and now the delta-plus variant) is causing many to question whether they should keep their upcoming travel plans.

Should you cancel your travel because of the delta variant?

“I would say it’s probably the top question I’m getting now,” says Brian Kelly, the founder and chief executive of the Points Guy. “Especially with the U.S. government now putting travel advisories for tons of countries.”

Joshua E. Bush, CEO of the luxury travel agency Avenue Two Travel, says the variant surge is “definitely a concern” for the company’s clients. It is not only the threat of becoming infected with or spreading the coronavirus, but also how it could impact travel plans. If they go through with the trip, could they get stranded somewhere with border closures or sudden lockdowns?

“We’ve had a number of trips just this past week that we’ve had to rework because Israel is now requiring quarantine for even vaccinated passengers,” Bush says. “When you have a two-week trip planned, seven of those days you don’t want to spend in a hotel. You want to be able to enjoy the destination.”

The hyper-transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus has left would-be travelers uncertain. The Post spoke to an expert about how to safely make that call. (Video: The Washington Post)

Not everyone is changing their travel plans. Kelly Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the business travel management company TripActions, says they’re not seeing many delta-related cancellations right now. The company’s bookings, both for business and for leisure, are as high as ever.

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“In fact, yesterday was our largest Tuesday since covid began,” Soderlund said in an email.

For those feeling wary of their travel plans and wanting to cancel or reschedule, here’s some advice to get you started.

If you’re canceling a hotel

Hotels are going to have vastly different cancellation policies. Is your reservation at a family-owned bed and breakfast in the island of Crete, or at the Hilton in Times Square? Even at the Hilton, cancellation policies can change based on the rate or dates you booked. What you’re able to do will come down to the terms you accepted when you reserved your stay.

From what Bush has experienced, “most suppliers, even some of the smaller ones, are willing to be flexible and move or change or alter things." he says. “The money that you have put down is not completely lost.”

If you’re not having luck getting a refund, and you believe you’re owed one, Kelly says to ask the credit card company you made the reservation with for help.

“I know people who have gotten refunds from Chase that booked villas that were non-refundable,” Kelly says. “Booking on a credit card that has extra protection can be another layer for trying to get that refund. … They can step in, and if you’re actually owed it, they can help facilitate.”

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If you’re canceling an Airbnb

There’s no secret sauce here: Normally, getting your money back from an Airbnb is between you and the host. Check the stipulations of your reservation — canceling or changing your booking could be a couple of clicks. Or you may be locked in.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Airbnb did adjust its policies to adapt to the new reality. Now Airbnb says the majority of listings have “flexible or moderate cancellation policies, both of which allow for full refunds of the nightly rate for cancellations made at least 5 days prior to check-in, regardless of the circumstances.”

While Airbnb created a COVID-19 Extenuating Circumstances policy, reservations for stays (and Airbnb Experiences) after March 14, 2020, aren’t covered “except where the guest or host is currently sick with COVID-19,” the policy says.

Note what the policy does not cover: “transportation disruptions and cancellations; travel advisories and restrictions; health advisories and quarantines; changes to applicable law; and other government mandates — like evacuation orders, border closures, prohibitions on short-term rentals, and shelter-in-place requirements.”

As we have reported before, it’s not impossible to get an Airbnb host to give you a refund outside of what you agreed on when making the reservation.

One Airbnb superhost told me in an email that it’s frustrating to have guests try to get refunds when they booked a cheaper, non-refundable option to begin with (vs. paying more for a refundable reservation).

While hosts might not be obligated to make any exceptions, you can still ask nicely and may end up getting what you want.

If you’re canceling a flight

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations,” encourages travelers to hold off on canceling their flights as long as possible. Whether you cancel a month out or a few days, you will probably only get a travel voucher.

“My advice to folks would be to see how things look closer to the travel day," Keyes says. "One of the things that we’ve seen with the pandemic is just how unpredictable it’s been and how quickly things can shift.”

No matter when you want to cancel the flight (unless it’s within 24 hours of booking, which entitles you to a full refund), results will vary. Your easiest approach may be to postpone your flight date.

“Basically across the board, excluding the budget airlines, you are able to change your tickets without any fees as long as you haven’t booked basic economy,” Keyes says. “If the dates you switched to are more expensive, you have to cover that. But if the new dates are cheaper, you actually get the difference back in the form of a travel credit.”

What to do about your upcoming flight as cancellations spike

As Keyes says, with the exception of a few airlines, booking basic economy traps you into a fare that’s nonrefundable and can only be changed with a fee. In good news, Delta (ironically) just announced last week that you can make changes on basic economy.

However, for other airlines, Keyes has a workaround. Start by upgrading your ticket to main economy.

“If you pay the fee to upgrade to that economy ticket, then you can change your travel days without any penalty," he says.

What if you want a cash refund? You won’t get one if you cancel the flight, but you can wait and see if the airline cancels the flight first. Should your flight get canceled or significantly delayed, you are entitled to ask for a refund, per Department of Transportation regulations. If you booked your flight with miles, you can cancel and get those points back without penalty, which almost feels like a cash refund.

If you’re canceling a rental car

Kelly says most rental cars offer refundable reservations.

“When I went to Spain, I had two different reservations just in case one company had run out of cars,” he says. “You can cancel day-of.”

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Your refund may depend on whether or not you prepaid for your reservation. With companies like Enterprise and Alamo, if you didn’t prepay, you will not be charged a cancellation fee. If you already paid, you will get hit with a cancellation fee that varies by your timing.

If you’re canceling a cruise

The pandemic has changed many cruise booking and cancellation policies. Still, Kelly says, cruises may be the most difficult travel reservation from which to get a refund.

“You’re going to get vouchers,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of cruises out there right now, so using a voucher is more limited than using an airline voucher.”

Deposits you made may be non-refundable, but you may still be able to get a voucher to use at a later date.