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The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has disrupted many industries around the globe, and the travel industry has been one of the hardest hit of all. Travel restrictions, quarantine orders and countrywide lockdowns have resulted in airlines cancelling flights, hotels shutting their doors and cruise ships remaining docked for the foreseeable future.
The disruption has also caused millions of travelers to change their plans or cancel trips altogether. If you are one of those people, you are probably looking into your options for getting your money back. The good news: Some credit cards cover trip and event cancellations due to COVID-19 as part of their trip interruption and cancellation insurance. You'll need to check the terms and conditions carefully, though. Here's what you need to know.
What Is Trip Cancellation and Interruption Protection?
Your credit card could reimburse you for some of the nonrefundable expenses of a canceled trip or one that ended early if you have trip cancellation or interruption protection. Those costs might include airfare for a cancelled flight, the cost of a cruise you skip, or the airfare for a last-minute flight home. As with any type of insurance, though, there are likely plenty of terms and conditions.
To take one example, if you have the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and your trip is canceled or cut short for a covered reason like sickness or severe weather, you might be eligible for reimbursement of up to $5,000 per person per trip for unused prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses. You can't take advantage of this benefit just for being a cardholder, however: You have to pay for at least some portion of your trip with your card for it to apply.
What Situations Are Included or Excluded?
Now we get to the fine print. Like almost any insurance policy, the terms and conditions of your credit card's trip interruption and cancellation coverage probably list plenty of exclusions, and pandemics usually fall under those. If you have been sick with the virus, however, that is typically covered, and could be where your credit card can help most of all.
- Who is covered: To put it in concrete terms, let's take the Chase Sapphire Reserve as an example. According to this card's benefits guide, its trip interruption and cancellation coverage applies when the cardholder charges all or a portion of a trip to the credit card account or the rewards program associated with that account (for instance, if you redeemed rewards points from your card for the trip). This insurance also covers immediate family members such as a spouse, parents or children on the same reservation. These personal inclusions are typical of this sort of coverage and are true for many other cards as well.
- Pre-existing conditions and pandemics: You can't just cancel your trip for any reason, either. For example, medical conditions that predate the purchase of the covered trip are excluded from coverage with The Platinum Card® from American Express. More important in terms of COVID-19, Amex says, "Fear of traveling due to sickness, epidemic or pandemic (such as the coronavirus) is not a covered loss for your American Express trip cancellation and interruption insurance benefit." Because COVID-19 falls under this category, you might think it would prevent you from taking advantage of your card's trip interruption and cancellation benefit. But it's a little more complicated than that.
- If you actually had COVID-19: One of the situations that is usually covered by trip interruption and cancellation insurance is sickness or loss of life experienced by you or your traveling companion that prevents one of you from going on the trip. So if you had plans and simply wanted to cancel them because you were (understandably) afraid to travel due to COVID-19, you would probably be excluded from the card's trip interruption or cancellation coverage. However, if you needed to change or cancel travel plans because you, your travel companion or an immediate family member got sick with COVID-19, the card's coverage would probably apply to your circumstances.
- Case-by-case decisions: That said, given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, many credit card issuers that offer trip interruption and cancellation coverage are working with their cardholders on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they can help. So you might have luck simply calling up your bank and asking what they can do for you.
- Nonrefundable expenses: One final thing to keep in mind: Eligible travel expenses include nonrefundable prepaid travel purchases charged by a travel supplier like an agency, tour operator, lodging, rental car agency, airline, cruise line or railroad, among other possibilities. And there are certain restrictions about what kinds of expenses are covered, as well as reimbursement caps on those. Before trying to invoke your card's trip interruption or cancellation coverage, make sure you read its specific terms and conditions to find out what you might be entitled to.
What to Do if Your Trip Is Cancelled Due to COVID-19
If you had plans that were cancelled or changed due to COVID-19, or are thinking about rescheduling some upcoming travels, here are the steps you should take.
Check With Your Travel Provider
The first thing you should do is check to see if there are any refund policies or change and cancellation waivers being offered by the company you booked your trip through before trying to file a credit card claim. That includes any airlines with which you purchased tickets, hotels where you booked stays, cruise lines you planned to sail with or online travel agencies like Orbitz or Expedia.
Many of these providers currently offer blanket fee waivers and full refunds for trips scheduled in the next few months. These usually apply when the airline, hotel, cruise line, agency or other entity is the one cancelling on you. If you are able to cancel your trip or event this way and get a full refund, you should be all set. If that fails, though, it is time to turn to your credit card.
File a Claim
If your plans have already been cancelled, or you are planning to cancel them and can directly point to a case of COVID-19 that either you, a traveling companion or an immediate family member has experienced, you can file a trip interruption or cancellation claim with your credit card. This would only be for anything you were not refunded for and could not claim from your airline, hotel or other provider.
Coverage policies are typically administered by third-party providers, so you will need to call your credit card issuer and get the benefit administrator's contact information to file a claim. Many companies simply let you file a claim online these days. Just keep in mind that there are usually time limits to do so.
For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can file a claim within 20 days of cancelling or interrupting your trip, or as soon as reasonably possible. You will need to answer a few questions so the administrator can send you the appropriate forms, which you will then need to return before a set deadline that's usually within around 90 days.
You will probably have to submit completed and signed claim forms, your travel itinerary and documentation confirming the reason for cancelling or interrupting your trip, such as medical documents. Also be prepared to submit a credit card statement including your account number, copies of the refund or cancellation policies of any companies that you booked with, proof of expenses you incurred due to your travel changes, and any unused vouchers or tickets. It sounds like a lot, but on the plus side, a trip interruption or cancellation claim can usually be handled quickly.
Credit Cards That Offer Trip Interruption and Cancellation Protection
Although some credit card issuers have cut back on their travel protection perks in recent years, there are still plenty of fantastic rewards cards that offer benefits which should cover you if you get sick with COVID-19 under covered circumstances. Here are a few:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®: If your trip is cancelled or cut short by sickness, severe weather or other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for your prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours and hotels.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: If your trip is cancelled or interrupted due to covered circumstances, you can file a claim for up to $10,000 per covered trip and $20,000 per eligible card per 12-month period.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: This card provides reimbursement of up to $5,000 per person per trip for the unused prepaid nonrefundable travel expenses including passenger fares, tours and hotels if you have to cancel due to a covered reason.
Be Prepared, Stay Protected
The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world is unlike any other crisis in our lifetime. If you have been affected by COVID-19 and had to alter a trip because of it, your credit card's trip interruption and cancellation insurance might cover some of the costs you suffered.
Review your credit cards' benefit guides, and think about whether your circumstances might be covered by their trip coverage policies. If so, take the next steps toward filing a claim by gathering any supporting materials and contacting your benefit administrator. Doing so might save you a lot of money, which you may be able to put toward future trips once the travel industry and the world recovers.