How Hotels and Airlines Are Responding to COVID-19

woman looking out plane window wearing face mask* Editor’s note: The information below is accurate as of May 7, 2020. The original article was published on March 19.

At Roomkey, we understand that life feels like it’s on hold right now. With all the uncertainty and stress brought by coronavirus (COVID-19), we want to remind our customers that our mission, as always, is to bring honesty, integrity, and transparency to the hotel booking process. We want you to know that we are looking out for you during this difficult time and so are our hotel partners.

While traveling may be far from the forefront of your thoughts, should you need to book a hotel, most hotels are adjusting their policies to offer you peace of mind and flexibility if your plans need to change. They are also making it easier to modify or cancel existing direct bookings by waiving cancellation fees. 

If you booked your hotel through a third-party online travel site (such as Expedia, Travelocity, Booking,com, Priceline, etc), you’ll need to contact that company directly to discuss modifications to your trip. Hotels won’t be able to make changes to your reservation or refund your stay because your transaction is with the OTA, not with the hotel. (To understand this more, read our post about Why It’s So Hard to Cancel When You Use Travel Booking Sites.)

Here is what each of the major travel companies are doing in response to the current travel advisory related to COVID-19, and what it means for you and your upcoming trip. For an update on how airlines and hotels are modifying their loyalty programs in response to the coronavirus, check out Conde Nast’s recent article.

What the Hotels Are Doing

Hotels are taking extra steps to further clean and disinfect their lobbies and rooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their employees and guests. Most hotels are also reevaluating their cancellation policies and are refunding travelers the cost of future stays if they decide to cancel a trip. Here’s what each of our partners are doing:

Marriott

Marriott International is now implementing the following changes to their cancellation policies:

  • For guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, Marriott will allow full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020.
  • For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between today and June 30, 2020, Marriott will allow the reservation to be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date.
  • Important Information:
    • Changes to reservations will be subject to availability and any rate differnces.
    • Some exclusions may apply. May exclude periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks. Please refer to individual property rate rules for details.
    • Marriott Vacations Worldwide is included in this policy for transient reservations only. For owner occupancy reservations, please visit http://hub.vacationclub.com.
    • Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded from this policy.
    • This policy does not apply to travel associated with a Group booking. For guests with Group reservations (e.g., for meetings, events, or conferences), please review the booking rate rules and contact the group organizer for more information.

See Marriott’s Coronavirus Update page for full details.

Hilton

For all Hilton hotels worldwide, Hilton is offering more flexible booking options and cancellation policies:

  • Existing Reservations: All reservations–even those described as non-cancellable (“Advanced Purchase”–that are scheduled for arrival before June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
  • New Reservations: Any reservation you make–even those described as “non-cancellable” (“Advanced Purchase”)–that are booked between today and June 30, 2020 for any future arrival date, can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
  • Important Information:
    • If you need to adjust reservations made via the Hilton website, app or call center, you can change your reservation here or contact the Hilton Guest Assistance team. 
    • If you need to adjust reservations made through another travel site, please contact them for assistance.

See Hilton’s Coronavirus Statement page for full details.

IHG

For all IHG hotels globally, IHG is implementing the following policies: 

  • Existing bookings made before April 6, 2020 can be changed or cancelled for stays up to June 30, 2020. If you cancel a rate which required a deposit or payment in advance, be aware that refunds may take up to 90 days from the date of cancellation for the hotels to process. Reservations may be changed without a fee but may result in different pricing. To change or cancel a reservation, visit Manage Your Stay or call their Reservations and Customer Care team.
  • For new bookings, IHG has changed the types of rates they offer to allow for more flexibility upon cancellation. They have removed any type of pre-paid/non-refundable rates from sale until later in the year and replaced them with the following rate options:
    • Book Now, Pay Later: This new rate offers flexibility and savings. With no deposit required and cancellations possible up to 24 hours before your stay for direct bookings, travel planning is commitment free.
    • Best Flexible Rate: This rate offers maximum flexibility to change or cancel your reservation. For direct bookings, this rate can be fully changeable or refundable up to 6pm on the day of arrival.
    • IHG Rewards Club members will receive additional savings for both of the above rates.
  • Important Information:
    • For bookings made through a travel agent or online booking platform (e.g. Booking.com, Expedia) please contact them directly.
    • Groups & Meetings Bookings: We will work with customers to manage any changes needed to Group & Meeting bookings on a case by case basis. Our hotels are actively supporting groups and meetings organizers to address the needs of each group, including moving event dates to another time, in line with terms and conditions of that booking. Please contact the hotel the booking was made with to discuss further.

See IHG’s Travel Advisory page for full details.

Wyndham

Wyndham is already very flexible in their cancellation policies for direct bookings with thousands of hotels honoring no-fee cancellations up to 6 p.m. on the day of arrival, but they have further enhanced their policies as follows:

  • New or existing direct bookings through June 30, 2020 will have their cancellation or change penalties waived if the request is received at least 24 hours (or less if permitted by the hotel’s policy) prior to arrival.
  • Guests who are prohibited from traveling to their booked hotel under applicable law will have their cancellation or change penalties waived on direct bookings.
  • For new or existing direct bookings with arrivals after June 30, all of their properties are required to accommodate non-cancellable rate reservation changes if the request is received at least 48 hours prior to the arrival and the same number of nights or more are booked for a future stay.
  • Important Information:
    • For bookings made by a travel agent or online booking platform, contact the agent or booking platform directly. 
    • Due to the current situation with coronavirus and to protect the safety of guests and team members, there may be a reduction in certain services and amenities that are normally available. Contact the hotel directly with questions or concerns.
    • Those traveling to hotels located in areas that are allowing only “essential travelers,” are required to comply with all guidelines and restrictions and may be required to provide identification establishing that they are “essential travelers.” If guests have questions or concerns, contact the hotel directly.

See Wyndham’s COVID-19 Statement page for full details.

Choice Hotels

Reservations booked directly through Choice Hotels can be canceled or modified online.

  • For guests with existing individual reservations, including reservations with non-cancellable, pre-paid rates made directly with Choice Hotels, change or cancellation fees are waived up to 24 hours prior to arrival as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020. You can cancel or modify your reservation here. If you’re experiencing difficulties cancelling your reservation, you can fill out this online form.
  • For a limited time, guests making new individual reservations directly with Choice Hotels may change or cancel their reservations at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival date. Modifications can be made here.
  • Guests who booked via online travel agents or other third parties are advised to contact their booking provider for information on their policies and for assistance.

See Choice’s Travel Alerts page for full details.

Hyatt

Hyatt is also waiving change and cancellation fees:

  • Existing reservations for upcoming travel before June 30, 2020:
    • All existing reservations made before April 1, 2020 that are for arrivals through June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. Manage your reservation here.
  • New reservations for any future travel:
    • With some exceptions, reservations you make by June 30, 2020 – for any future arrival date – can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. The only exceptions are reservations booked after April 1, 2020 at Destination Residences and Special Events Rate reservations booked after April 1, 2020.
  • Existing Advance Purchase Rate non-refundable reservations for travel through June 2020:
    • Special exceptions are in place for all Advance Purchase Rate non-refundable reservations made directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, 2020 for arrivals before June 30, 2020. Guests holding these fully prepaid reservations who have decided not to travel may still opt, at least 24 hours before their stay, to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points compensation in lieu of their stay. World of Hyatt points may be used toward future travel at any of their 900+ hotels across 17 brands globally. 
  • Guests who booked via online travel agents or other third parties are advised to contact their booking provider for information on their policies and for assistance.

See Hyatt’s Coronavirus Statement page for full details.

What the Airlines Are Doing

Airlines have been hit harder during this time than hotels. Be patient with them when calling to change your reservations. In addition to cancellation policy changes, airlines are implementing new cleaning and sanitizing policies to keep their aircraft clean. Many airlines are now requiring all passengers and crew members to wear face masks.

Delta

Delta Airlines is broadly waiving change fees for travel impacted by coronavirus:

  • Change fees are waived for all travel from March through September 30, 2020 and can be rebooked to commence after September 30, 2020. 
    • If your travel is eligible for a waiver, you can move your travel dates and even select a new destination. Your unused ticket will be applied toward your new flight, and in some instances a fare difference will apply.
    • If the new fare is lower, you will receive an eCredit for the difference. If the new fare is higher, the difference will be collected. The fare difference will be waived for changes to existing travel between March – Sept 2020 if originally purchased before April 17th and traveling to the same destination before September 30, 2020.
    • The new ticket must be re-issued on or before September 30, 2022. Final travel must be completed by September 30, 2022.
  • Tickets originally purchased between March 1 and Mar 31, 2020 can be changed without a fee for up to a year from the date you purchased it.
    • The change fee will be waived as a result of COVID-19, however fare difference will apply for new travel dates and will be collected at the time of booking the new ticket. 

See Delta’s Coronavirus Travel Update page for full details.

United

United Airlines is waiving cancellation fees for tickets issued on or before March 2, 2020 with travel dates through December 31, 2020 and booking new flights:

  • For tickets issued on or before March 2, 2020, United is waiving change fees for travel on all flights to all destinations.
    • For original travel dates from March 3, 2020 – May 31, 2020, new tickets must be reissued within 24 months from original ticket date and rebooked travel must commence within 24 months from the original ticket issue date.
    • For original travel dates of June 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020 changes or cancellations must be made on/before April 30, 2020 and rebooked travel must commence within 24 months from the original ticket issue date.
  • For tickets issued up to March 31, 2020, customers will be permitted to change free of charge to a flight of equal or lesser value for travel up to 24 months from the original ticket issue date.
  • For tickets issued between April 1, 2020, and May 31, 2020, customers will be permitted to change free of charge to a flight of equal or lesser value for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.
  • Important Information:
    • If the new flight is priced higher, the customer may change for no fee but must pay the fare difference. If the new flight is priced lower, the customer may change for free but no residual value will be given.
    • If the customer decides to cancel their flight, they can retain the value of the ticket to be applied to a new ticket without fee for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.
  • Cancellations:
    • If the customer decides to cancel the flight they booked before March 31, 2020, they can retain the value of the ticket to be applied to a new ticket without fee for travel up to 24 months from the original ticket issue date.
    • If the customer decides to cancel the flight they booked between April 1, 2020, and April 30, 2020, they can retain the value of the ticket to be applied to a new ticket without fee for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.

United is constantly evaluating their schedule as the coronavirus outbreak evolves. See United’s Travel Notices page for full details. 

American

American Airlines has also waived change fees for many dates of travel:

  • If you bought your ticket before May 31, 2020 for travel between March 1 and September 30, 2020, you can rebook without change fees.
  • If you buy a new trip March 1 – May 31, 2020, for all future travel, you can also change it at a later date without change fees.
  • If you have a ticket that is expiring between March 1 and September 30, 2020, the value of your unused ticket can be used for travel through December 31, 2021.
  • You may owe any difference in ticket price.

See American’s Coronavirus Update page for full details.

Southwest

Southwest Airlines already has a flexible cancellation plan:

  • Rescheduling a trip: If you are scheduled to travel between today and April 30, you can change your travel to a date 60 days from the original date of travel without paying any difference in fare if you are traveling between the same origin and destination. You can do this online by visiting www.southwest.com/rebook. You may have to pay a fare difference.
  • Cancelling your flight: If you decide not to travel, as long as you cancel your flight at least 10 minutes before its scheduled departure, the funds used to pay for a nonrefundable ticket are normally valid for one year from the date of purchase. However, in recognition of the current travel environment, we are extending the expiration date of some travel funds:
    • Customers’ funds that have expired or will expire between March 1 and September 7, 2020, will now expire September 7, 2022.
    • Any travel funds created because you cancel a flight between March 1 – September 7, 2020, will now expire September 7, 2022.
      • While these unused travel funds will be available until September 7, 2022, once the funds are used to make a purchase, the expiration date of the travel funds will then follow our normal ticketing rules and will expire 12 months from the date of purchase.
  • Here is a list of the many Southwest destinations currently experiencing travel disruptions.

See Southwest’s Coronavirus page for full details. 

JetBlue

JetBlue Airways has suspended change and cancellation fees for all JetBlue fares.

  • If you need to cancel your travel plans, they’ll credit the amount in the form of a travel credit that’s valid for two years. For changes, fare differences may apply. Terms and conditions vary based on booking dates.
  • Additionally, there are no change or cancel fees on new flights booked through May 31, 2020 for travel until January 4, 2021. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Call them only if you are scheduled to travel within the next 72 hours. Learn more at www.jetblue.com/travel-alerts.

See JetBlue’s Coronavirus Information page for full details.

Frontier

Frontier Airlines has waived their change and cancellation fees for some bookings:

  • You can now change or cancel your flight through our online change/cancel tool without incurring a change fee.
    • For tickets issued prior to March 10, 2020 with original travel dates between March 10 and April 30, 2020, customers may make a one-time change to their itinerary without a change/cancel fee.
    • For tickets issued March 10 through April 15, 2020, customers may make a one-time change to their itinerary without a change/cancel fee.
    • For bookings made on or after April 16, 2020, change and cancellation fees are up to $119 per person. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Subject to any difference in fare and/or options prices. All exchanges have no residual value when exchanged for a purchase of lesser value.

See Frontier’s New Change Policy page for full details.

What’s Everyone Else Doing?

Airbnb

Airbnb is offering guests a travel credit or a full refund for reservations booked on or before March 14, 2020 for stays with a check in date of June 15, 2020 or earlier. Service fees will also be refunded. Hosts can also cancel without charge or impact to their Superhost status.

Reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date after June 15, 2020 are not currently covered for COVID-19 related extenuating circumstances. The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual. Similarly, reservations made after March 14, 2020 will not be covered under Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy, and the host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual. 

Amtrak

Amtrak is waiving change fees for all existing or new reservations made before May 31, 2020. To change your itinerary to another date or time, go to “Modify Trip” on Amtrak.com or use their app. To cancel your train with no fee, you’ll need to call 800-USA-RAIL. If you plan to keep your itinerary, be aware that Amtrak is modifying its schedule due to lower demand on some routes. Customers with reservations on trains that are being modified will be contacted and accommodated with an alternative departure date or time.

Uber and Lyft

Uber is asking its riders to “stop moving.” Instead, they want to focus on “moving what matters,” so they’ve pledged free rides and free food deliveries to frontline healthcare workers, seniors, and others in need. When taking rides, sit in the back and roll down the window to improve ventilation. Wash your hands before and after your ride, and cough or sneeze into an elbow or tissue. When ordering through Uber Eats, select “Leave at door,” and wash your hands after handling your food and before you eat.

Lyft has temporarily paused Shared rides to help slow the spread of the virus. They have distributed bottles of hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies to their drivers at no cost to them. As with Uber as well, Lyft is also providing financial assistance to drivers who are out of work if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

OTAs like Expedia and Booking.com

Initially, OTAs were being more strict with their cancellation policies than hotels were. For example, at first Expedia was only waiving change fees for hotels in the US if travelers were coming from select European countries.

But as the situation has evolved, it appears that some OTAs have relaxed their restrictions. As of May 7, Expedia and it’s sister sites (Travelocity, Orbitz, and Hotels.com) tell guests that if their hotel offers free cancellation, they just need to sign in to their Expedia account and cancel. If their hotel does not offer free cancellation, it looks like they’ll still be eligible for a refund or a travel voucher for trips beginning on or before May 31, 2020 that were booked before March 19, 2020. For trips beginning after that date, they recommend waiting and checking back closer to the date of departure. If not, customers can still cancel, but normal cancellation penalties will apply.

Priceline encourages its customers to cancel their upcoming hotel stays using their new self-service tools online. Locate your reservation here, and look for a “Cancel” button within your reservation page. Here, they’ll present you with their policies associated with cancellation. Booking.com suggests that you contact the property you booked to see if they can accommodate your change of plans. If not, you’ll have to visit their Customer Service Help Center.

Roomkey

Even though we can’t cancel your hotel for you, we want to help. We hope that this guide provides some information and clarity for what you can do to change your upcoming travel plans. If you have to travel, we strongly recommend booking direct to ensure the most flexibility for changes and cancellations. For the most recent information available on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), please refer to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your local health authority. 

Our recommendation to you is to not travel right now. But if your travel is necessary, consider driving instead of flying. For those going stir crazy, go on a nearby hike in lieu of that concert that got canceled. Better yet, you can even pitch a tent in your own backyard (there are probably no bears there) and take virtual field trips from the comfort of your couch. Live vicariously through these awesome travel documentaries that are on Netflix right now, and start building your post-COVID travel bucket list. Roomkey will be here for you when you’re ready to travel again.