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Business News/ Money / Personal Finance/  Covid-19: What you should do about your travel bookings
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Covid-19: What you should do about your travel bookings

Only a few airlines have waived cancellation fee. Though you can reschedule, do look at the fine print
  • Nobody knows how long the pandemic will last, so it’s better to cancel rather than rescheduling your trip
  • Photo: iStockPremium
    Photo: iStock

    Covid-19, also known as novel coronavirus, has disrupted the everyday lives of people across the world, and has also hit domestic and international travel. Mumbai-based Sumeet Jain was scheduled to travel to New York State between 10 and 24 March and booked the flight and accommodation accordingly. However, he changed his mind considering the situation. “We had to cancel the trip because New York State had declared a state of emergency. We weren’t able to cancel our tickets but we were offered a one-time rescheduling option so we took it," said Jain, 30, co-founder of an edtech company.

    Though Jain managed to get his flights rescheduled, he got no refund for the Airbnb he’d booked for 12 and 13 March. “I reached out multiple times but Airbnb didn’t respond," added Jain. Mint reached out to AirBnb but the US-based online accommodation marketplace declined to comment. On its website, Airbnb has introduced some changes to its “extenuating circumstances" policy which says reservations made on or before 14 March 2020 with a check-in date between 14 March and 14 April are covered in case of cancellation and guests will get full refund.

    While at least three travel portals Mint reached out to didn’t want to comment on the change in policies in view of the pandemic, here is what you should know if you are worried about your bookings.

    When you change plans

    On 11 March, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) asked domestic airlines to consider waiving off cancellation fees for customers wanting to cancel their flight bookings due to Covid-19. Only a few airlines such as GoAir seem to be adhering to this.

    However, airlines are waiving off rescheduling fees, which can be as high as the flight fare. Most domestic and international airlines are offering the rescheduling option. But the provision comes with fine print. Mumbai-based Gaurvi Rajput wanted to reschedule her Air India flight from Delhi to Mumbai booked for 16 March but wasn’t able to do it for free. She bought the ticket for 4,655 and was asked to pay 3,650 more for rescheduling. “I put in a rescheduling request for a flight I’d booked when nobody knew the virus would wreak havoc in India. I was told that I can reschedule for free only if I made the booking between 11 and 31 March," said Rajput, 22, a law student. “This is unfair because I didn’t know it could get this bad."

    Note that if the fare for the later rescheduled date is higher, you will have to pay the difference in the amount as well. In case the fares are lower, you will not be liable for any refund. Also, you are required to reschedule the tickets well in advance and the window varies from airline to airline.

    The question is whether you should cancel your bookings or take the one-time rescheduling option. Mrin Agarwal, financial educator, founder-director of Finsafe India Pvt. Ltd, said it’s better to cancel your tickets and lose some money than to reschedule it. “If you reschedule randomly at a later date, there’s still no assurance that we would have gotten rid of the pandemic. You’ll also have to pay the difference in the fare and tariff. Also, what if you’re unable to travel on those dates? I’d advise cancellation," said Agarwal.

    Agarwal too, expects to lose as much as 26,000 on her Indigo flight booking from Bengaluru to Jaipur on 10 April (return tickets). According to the guidelines on Indigo’s website, it is offering a one-time rescheduling option if you booked tickets on or before 8 March with the travel date after 31 March. “I have the option to cancel the bookings up to three days before the travel date so I am yet to cancel," said Agarwal.

    Singaporean low-cost airline Scoot is extending one-time free date change to all bookings made between 10 March and 14 May. Unlike most Indian airlines, Scoot is allowing travellers with bookings until mid-May to reschedule. Alitalia and Aer Lingus are allowing rescheduling until the end of June and May, respectively. However,airlines such as Emirates, Cathay Pacific and British Airways are allowing free cancellation but do check the fine print.

    Hotel and other accommodations, both domestic and international, are also seeing cancellation requests. According to Yatra.com, hotel tariffs have gone down by as much as 18% due to falling demand. But for existing reservations, cancellation policies vary. “We have given customers who have bookings in March the flexibility to reschedule any time in the next six months if they inform us at least 48 hours before the check-in date. The difference in tariff, if any, will have to be paid. In case of cancellation, there’s a 14 days window, so for bookings after March, people can cancel at no cost," said Amit Damani, founder, Vista Rooms, a luxury home management company.

    When airlines cancel

    In line with the government’s travel advisory, airlines have suspended flights to severely affected regions such as Italy and France

    According to a MakeMyTrip spokesperson, for regions where airlines have cancelled flights, the company is offering a 100% refund to customers. “We are also working in tandem with our airline partners to offer an option to change travel dates and are passing full fee waiver benefits by our partners to travellers."

    Will insurance help?

    Indian insurers are working in tandem with government advisories. “Not every travel policy has a flight cancellation cover. Even if it does, the cover will not kick in if you cancel due to fear. You will be able to file a claim if you or someone in your immediate family (blood relatives) is diagnosed positive for coronavirus," said Biresh Giri, appointed actuary, head of product development and chief risk officer, Acko General Insurance. Pandemics are excluded in many flight cancellation covers.

    There are talks on whether new group policies should be altered to mitigate losses but there is no consensus yet. “Claims will be approved based on government advisories and if a policyholder travels despite an advisory, the claim may not be approved," said Milind V. Kohle, chief underwriting and reinsurance officer, Bharti AXA General Insurance.

    Mint take

    With cases of Covid-19 rising, this is not the right time for you to continue your existing travel plans or make new ones, even if the reduction in airfares by 40-50% on most routes looks attractive. Travelling amid a pandemic could also mean not being able to avail of insurance benefits.

    For your existing bookings, check with your airlines and hotels individually. “Ideally, cancel your bookings. Rescheduling for a later date would work if we knew when the crisis would end. Check the cancellation charges of the airline and the hotel. If early cancellation helps you save money, don’t wait till the last moment," said Shweta Jain, founder and CEO, Investography, a financial planning firm. Don’t pursue your travel plans just because you’d be losing money on your bookings..

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    Published: 17 Mar 2020, 10:17 PM IST
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