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How Hotel Cancellation Policies Are Changing Amid Coronavirus



a large building with The Ritz Hotel, London in the background

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has had major repercussions for the travel industry. Cruise lines are exercising flexibility for customers, prescreening passengers before they board, and revving up their already stringent cleaning measure. Airlines, too, are continuing to monitor the situation, shifting their cancellation and change policies in response to new information and State Department updates.

The hotel industry is also taking the virus and the threat it may pose to guests and staff seriously. With flights being rebooked and travel plans being bumped, hotels are doing what they can to minimize the impact on guests whose travel plans have changed. But depending on where you’ve booked, the hotel cancellation policy may not always be as flexible, since cancellation coverage often depends on whether you booked directly with the hotel or through a third-party agency. It is important to note that this situation is fluid and shifting circumstances continue to affect the policies in place.

What to know if you booked directly with a hotel

Hotels around the world, both big-brand and boutique, are showing flexibility in response to the virus. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is waiving cancellation fees until March 31 for guests traveling to any Four Seasons property in the Asia Pacific region and Italy. Cancellation fees are also waived until March 31 for those traveling from Italy, South Korea, China (including the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau), and Taiwan to any Four Seasons property around the world. It’s also continuing to review the latest information from health experts and government authorities, and is passing along the most up-to-date and relevant information to its properties. “Across our global portfolio, we have implemented heightened precautions in food handling, sanitization, disinfection, and cleaning measures,” says a Four Seasons spokesperson. The hotels are placing hand sanitizer dispensers in restaurants and common areas, and reducing hours for certain facilities, including pools and spas. “Each individual property has also implemented specific precautions based on the guidance of local health authorities as well as the specific situation in their region and country,” the spokesperson added. Four Seasons is also providing masks and thermometers to guests upon request.

Hilton has enacted a similar response, issuing modification and cancellation waivers in especially affected area and demographics. Under the new rules, fees are waived for guests traveling to, through, or from China with stays from January 23 to March 31; those traveling to, through, or from Italy with stays from February 24 to March 31; to, through, or from South Korea with stays from February 24 to March 31; and those traveling to, through or from Saudi Arabia with stays from February 27 to March 31. Like Four Seasons, the brand is stressing its grasp on disseminating the newest information with its staff, crafting “Hilton-specific procedures” and talking points that staff can use during interactions with guests. “We are closely monitoring updates from the World Health Organization, and responding based on the best advice of medical professionals and public health authorities,” says a Hilton spokesperson. “If additional social isolation, enhanced cleaning, or other operational actions are required, we put those into action.”

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company, and IHG are also offering case-specific refunds to guests booked in areas considered to be high-risk zones. As of publication, no large-scale hotel brand has implemented a cancellation or change-fee waiver company-wide, as most major airlines have started doing.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but our guide will help you eliminate most of the most pressing questions.

What to know if your trip is booked with a third party

Virtuoso, a luxury global agency network with more than 20,000 advisors, and over 1,800 hotel, cruise line, and tour operator partnerships, is proactively taking measures. “As travel advisors, our current role is to listen to travelers’ concerns and provide the most up-to-date options so they can make informed decisions at a minimal cost,” says agency executive Mary Kleen. Virtuoso advisors are suggesting that clients take a “wait-and-see” approach where possible, because of the rapidly changing nature of the situation. If you’re traveling to Europe later this summer, for example, and you’ve booked somewhere with a 30-day hotel cancellation policy, you can wait until May to take any action.

Agents are also strongly urging clients to purchase insurance, and in particular, cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) policies for any trips they’re booking now. Even if you’ve already booked your travel and are beyond the 21-day window after making your deposit to purchase CFAR insurance, you can still add travel insurance, and in particular, the kind that will cover medical expenses should it become necessary. Please note that standard travel insurance may not be the most helpful in navigating coronavirus restrictions.

Expedia is also proactively approaching the continually changing circumstances. “We are working closely with our partners to make sure travelers have as much flexibility as possible,” says global PR director Nisreene Atassi. “Expedia is working hard to enhance our user experience so that refundable hotels are more prominent when searching. Just look for our ‘Free Cancellation’ messaging throughout to help identify the flexible hotel offerings.” The company also recommends purchasing a Vacation Waiver (if you book a package through Expedia), which covers all change or cancel penalties for any reason, on a single occasion, so that you have options if circumstances change.

What to know about Airbnb and VRBO policies

Short-term rental companies are also softening cancellation policies in light of the shifting travel market, though it remains important to do your homework before booking if you might need to cancel. Airbnb has a six-tier cancellation policy already built into its operation, which are generally set by the host. However, the company has an Extenuating Circumstances policy, which will protect travelers from cancellation penalties due to unforeseen circumstances. This currently protects travelers going to or coming from areas deemed to be high-risk for the virus, but had not been implemented portfolio-wide to protect travelers who may wish to make a pre-emptive cancellation. And, critically, do not assume that because your plans have been forced to change due to the coronavirus, that you will be covered by the Extenuating Circumstances policy. VRBO has yet to amend their policies to support forced coronavirus cancellations, and their Book with Confidence Guarantee does not cover force majeure circumstances.

WATCH: Big efforts to keep travelers safe from coronavirus (provided by CNN)


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Insight Vacations launches new women-only India trip

Hot on the heels of International Women’s Day, Insight Vacations has launched a new women’s only trip – Inspirational India, A Wander Women Journey.

As the first itinerary in Insight’s new ‘Wander Women’ journey programme, it will take place in India in 2021 and will offer immersive learning opportunities, wellness experiences and deliciously authentic dining.

It is also designed to demonstrate the impact tourism can have on women’s economic empowerment.

Insight continues its efforts to champion a gender equal world, with its latest effort being the launch of this wholly new programme of journeys created and led by women.

Just like all Insight journeys, clients who embark on this experience will get all of the sights and the insights, up close and personal, in comfort and in style.

“With 57 per cent of our guests being female, along with the rise of women’s only travel, our new ‘Wander Women’ journey is a perfect fit for those who want to get below the surface and experience India as a culturally immersive destination.

“Designed and run by women, this new journey provides myriad opportunities to give back and empower women in the local communities while learning about their day-to-day lives,” said Rachel Coffey, director of sales and business development for Insight Vacations.

“This journey is also a great opportunity to connect and travel with other fabulous women from around the world.”

The journey is only available on a limited departure date, so clients are encouraged to book early to secure their space.

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Coronavirus Disneyland: Is Disneyland closed amid coronavirus outbreak?

COVID-19 has bloomed in Europe over the last two months, with more than 10,000 cases in the continent. Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations lie within the infected countries, amongst them Disneyland.

Is Disneyland closed?

France is amongst some of the most COVID-19 affected countries in Europe.

There, cases number 1,209, giving it the second-highest case count on the continent, and the fifth worldwide.

Health officials recently confirmed one of the thousands of cases came from within Disneyland Paris.

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According to Reuters, a Disneyland Paris maintenance worker has tested positive for COVID-19.

A spokesman told the publication officials confirmed the case over the weekend, but they had not come into contact with visitors.

They added they had quarantined anyone in contact with the worker, who was on sick leave before he tested positive.

Disneyland Paris said it was making supplies of hand sanitiser available to its guests and was ensuring they stand apart in long queues.

So far, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has not advised against travel to France.

They have advised people travelling to France to stay up-to-date with local warnings and alerts.

The FCO said: “There is an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus in China and elsewhere, including France.

“The French authorities are dealing with confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Oise, Haute Savoie and Britanny.”

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“If you’re in these areas you should follow the advice of the local authorities (town hall or prefecture).”

France is currently in the second stage of its government coronavirus response plan, which aims to contain COVID-19, according to the country’s Health Minister Olivier Véran.

The country has seen a total of 19 deaths as the virus rages on, with the government focused on responding with “proportionate” actions.

Amongst the new measures is a ban on gatherings of up to 1,000 people, which doesn’t affect protests, exams and public transportation.

The French government also said it plans to requisition all stocks of face masks now coming into production.

In a Tweet, President Emmanuel Macron said: “We will distribute them to health professionals and to French people infected with the coronavirus.”

Officials have also closed 120 schools in areas where the virus has impacted the most and cancelled school trips.

Both primary and secondary schools have closed in Oise, to the north of Paris.

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Northern Italy off limits to British travellers

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has begun to advise against “all but essential” travel to a number of regions in northern Italy.

The move comes in response to various control and isolation measures imposed by the Italian authorities over the weekend.

The Lombardy region – which includes the cities of Milan, Bergamo and Como – and the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini (all in Emilia Romagna) are all to be avoided.

At the same time, British travellers are advised against visiting Pesaro e Urbino (in Marche); Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli (all in Piemonte); and Padova, Treviso and Venice (in Veneto).

British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction.

Residents of other parts of Italy are permitted to leave the isolation areas to return home.

Otherwise entry into and exit from the quarantined areas is forbidden without official permission on the grounds of strict necessity.

Authorities have confirmed that this will be granted for reasons such as medical need or work requirements.

Italy has been among the hardest hit countries by coronavirus outside of China.

The number of cases jumped to 7,375 over the weekend, while there have been 366 fatalities to date.

Additional restrictions to combat the virus include the closure of museums, cultural institutions and the suspension of all public gatherings, social events including pubs, nightclubs and games halls.

Religious ceremonies and funerals are suspended.

Ski facilities in the affected mountain areas are closed.

Across the whole of Italy, museums and cultural institutions are closed and all sporting fixtures must be played behind closed doors.

Childcare facilities, schools and universities are closed until March 15th.

Public and social gatherings should be avoided with cinemas, pubs and clubs closed.

ABTA

Responding the decision, ABTA suggested holidaymakers should avoid the regions.

“Customers who are imminently due to travel on package holidays which include the named locations should be offered alternative arrangements by their travel provider.

“If no suitable alternatives are available, package holiday customers should be offered a full refund,” explained a statement.

“Customers who have booked their flights and accommodation directly should speak to their airline and accommodation provider to discuss their options.

“They should also check their travel insurance to see if this will cover any additional costs.

“Customers currently in the named locations should contact their travel provider to discuss their options and follow the instructions of local authorities and local public health advice.”

Image:  Xinhua/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

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Souvenir stamp costs traveller a $2000 holiday to Thailand

Visitors to the self-styled Republic of Whangamomona might think again before paying for novelty stamp in their passport.

The small township in the Mnawatu-Wanganui region, on the ‘Forgotten World Highway’ famously charges visitors $2 for passport stamp. However, this cheap souvenir could cost you a lot more in the long run – 1000 times more, as one tourist found out.

A woman is warning tourists against getting novelty stamps in their passports after one got her rejected from a flight to Thailand.

British woman Tina Sibley, who lives in Spain, was booked to fly to Phuket in February to attend a wedding but was stopped from boarding her Qatar Airways flight at Madrid airport.

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Canceling a cruise due to coronavirus? Here’s a list of updated policies


Just like the cancellations of airline flights to Asian and European countries, travelers with reservations on several cruise lines may be worried by the growing spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

a large ship in a body of water: Cruise ship in caribbean sea

And it’s no wonder. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed on Friday that 21 passengers on the Grand Princess Cruise ship, which is currently anchored near San Francisco, have tested positive for coronavirus.

With some travel companies offering steep discounts, the $45 billion cruise industry is taking action. Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade organization, announced Wednesday that additional screening measures will be taken in response to the spread of the disease. Cruise lines that are members of CLIA include Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. Effective immediately, these companies and all other CLIA members must follow these guidelines:

  • Deny boarding to all people who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China (including Hong Kong and Macao) and any municipality in Italy subject to quarantine within 14 days prior to embarkation.
  • Conduct illness screenings for all people who have traveled from, visited or transited through airports in any destination listed on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus disease 2019 information for travel page within 14 days before embarkation.
  • Deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had contact with or helped care for anyone suspected or diagnosed with having COVID-19.
  • Conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures.

If you are looking to cancel your trip, be sure to check your cruise line’s cancellation policy (or travel insurance coverage). While it varies from company to company, most cruise lines will refund a portion of what you paid. However, the closer it gets to your departure date, the smaller that refund will be, and in some cases, that amount could be zero.

Below is a list of the latest policies by major cruise lines for boarding as well as updated cancellation policies. Find out if your trip might be impacted:

Carnival Cruise Line

As a CLIA member, Carnival is complying with all screening and operational protocols listed above.

There are no itinerary changes for upcoming trips as of March 5.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises is complying with all CLIA restrictions and will additionally deny boarding to any guest who transited through mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao 15 days prior to departure as well as guests who came in contact with people who reside in those areas.

These precautions will remain in place for a projected 30 days. All guests denied boarding due to the restrictions will receive full refunds.

For itinerary changes, guests aboard a cruise that leaves March 17 will replace an embarkation from Singapore with one in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Travel to Thailand will be replaced with more time at seas and extended port times in India.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line has emailed guests booked on upcoming cruises with details of the CLIA restrictions. The cruise line will screen all guests before boarding, and anyone who feels unwell or shows flu-like symptoms will not be permitted to sail. The email has been shared online by guests who received it.

On its website, Disney Cruise Line lists “no advisories at this time”.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is complying with all CLIA travel restrictions.

As of March 5, the cruise line has “modified, cancelled or redeployed a number of sailings and none of our vessels are calling to ports in mainland China.” Additionally, the company has suspended any deployments in East Asia through the end of the third quarter. Itineraries have been altered as needed to avoid at-risk areas.

Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises is extending the CLIA travel restrictions by denying boarding to:

  • Any passenger or crew member who has been in China, Hong Kong and Macao within 30 days of embarkation
  • Anyone holding a passport from those places

The cruise line has reportedly canceled all cruises in Asia through August.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises is a CLIA member and updated its health and travel advisory this week to comply with the association’s restrictions. Any crew members from China, South Korea or the lockdown areas in Italy will be delayed from joining any ship until further notice.

As of Feb. 17, Princess Cruises canceled 23 voyages scheduled for later this year, the majority departing from Shanghai. Guests booked for these cruises will receive a compensation package, according to the company.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent is complying with the CLIA travel restrictions and will additionally deny boarding to any passenger or crew member holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macao passport.

For all cruises between April 3 and Nov. 1, passengers who have paid in full have the option to cancel their trip up to 30 days prior to departure and receive 100% of that amount in cruise credit, which can be applied to any future Regent cruise in 2020-2021.

There are no future itinerary changes as of March 5.

Royal Caribbean International

While a CLIA member, Royal Caribbean is going one step further in health precautions. The cruise line will deny boarding to any guest who has traveled from, to or through mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Iran, South Korea and Italy in the past 15 days. The 15-day limit also applies to people who have come in contact with someone who traveled to the aforementioned countries or had contact with or helped care for someone suspected or diagnosed with having COVID-19.

The cruise line will also perform mandatory, specialized health screenings on the following guests:

  • Any person who reports feeling unwell or demonstrates any flu-like symptoms
  • Any guest who has traveled from, to or through Japan or Thailand in the past 15 days
  • Guests who are uncertain about contact with individuals who have traveled from, to or through mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Thailand or Italy in the past 15 days

Guests with a fever or low oxygen levels in the blood during the screenings will be denied boarding. Royal Caribbean will provide full refunds for all guests denied boarded due to these restrictions.

Viking River Cruises

Viking is implementing “enhanced health screening procedures for all guests and staff,” including a health care questionnaire to be completed before boarding. Any guests who traveled from or through mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao within 14 days prior to the trip will not be permitted to board.

If guests wish to cancel their trip, there is temporary exception to the standard cancellation policy, allowing them to change their cruise date or cancel their trip up to 24 hours before the planned departure without incurring cancellation fees. The temporary exception is applicable to all guests who made a reservation prior to March 2, and all guests who make a new reservation through April 30.

There are currently no changes to any Viking itineraries as of March 5.

Virgin Voyages

This newly launched cruise line is currently abiding by CLIA restrictions. Virgin is expanding on the restrictions and will deny boarding to anyone who has been in the following countries within the last 21 days before departure:

  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Italian regions of Milan, Lombardy and Veneto

Any guest who has had close contact with people suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 are also subject to the 21-day ban.

On March 2, Virgin announced they are postponing any upcoming events in New York City amid the coronavirus spread and will return for a later date.

This article was originally published on March 5, 2020.


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Disney World’s glitchy new Star Wars ride: How to get your seat

It’s 5:43 a.m. in Orlando, Florida – the sky dark, the weather frigid – but I am nonetheless ecstatic and feeling like a supermum because my 9-year-old and I are en route to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to ride the new, wildly popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Or so we hope.

Rise of the Resistance, which opened in December, is touted as the most technologically advanced ride Disney has ever designed. It’s the main attraction of the company’s $1 billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion, and so far, according to reviews online, the ride sounds pretty thrilling. It features a trackless vehicle that moves both laterally and vertically and, also, the coup de grace, live Star Wars actors. For a Star Wars devotee like my son, this is as close to nirvana, or rather the galaxy, as he’s going to get, and so we have come to Orlando for a long escape-from-winter weekend, saving this – what we hope will be the best – for last.

The view at DL at 7:57 with 9 am opening #RiseOfTheResistance pic.twitter.com/fGXDHX6FnT

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Head to this action-packed new Spanish resort be fizzing with vitality

On your marks, get set… glow! Head to this action-packed new Spanish resort and the whole family will be fizzing with vitality

  • Mar Menor Beachclub is the latest super-luxe addition to the Neilson empire
  • Every second can be crammed with sports from volleyball to mountain biking
  • Buffet-style breakfast and lunch and four evening meals a week are included  

We’ve always dragged our children across Europe on holiday, staying in a rented house and stopping off at a supermarket en route.

In the months before departure, my husband Guy would painstakingly plan the Eurostar journey, the overnight stopovers, and even the toll payments. For my part, I would simply look forward to the freedom of waking up with the day stretching ahead, ours to do with as we like.

But now, after much deliberation, we are taking our two children — Herbie, 15, and Iris, eight — on a new adventure: an all-inclusive Neilson activity holiday. Perhaps it’s the mention of the ‘8am 5km run’, but I have never dreaded a holiday more.

Non-stop fun: Mar Menor Beachclub in Spain, where every second can be crammed with sports from volleyball to kayaking

Mar Menor Beachclub in Los Urrutias, southern Spain — a 40-minute transfer from Murcia airport — is the latest super-luxe addition to the Neilson empire.

Alongside rival Mark Warner, Neilson has been providing all-inclusive active holidays for more than 40 years. Both companies seem to have weathered the package-holiday dip that caught Thomas Cook by surprise last year, but the central premise is the same — all holidaymakers are expected to do is turn up.

That doesn’t mean you just lie around all week. Far from it. Every second can be crammed with sports — from volleyball and mountain biking to boxercise classes and catamaran joy-rides. This is not a holiday for fat-cat lazing.

When we mention it to friends who have already been, they speak about it with the zeal of the newly converted. ‘Sign up for as much as possible, as quickly as possible,’ they would say conspiratorially.

All the kids’ clubs, and almost all of the fitness activities, are included in the price, as is the daily buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and four evening meals a week. (And, no, you don’t have to share tables — although by the end of the week the teens invariably do.)

Spa treatments and any drinks from the rooftop and beach bars are added to your bill, which, even when you know this, will still give you a nasty shock at check-out.

Our first glimpse of the resort is of the gleaming white facade, behind which a horseshoe of identical-looking rooms curves round three pools with loungers and cabanas.

Mar Menor, in the Iberian Peninsula, is a saltwater lagoon with a unique, protected ecosystem. It isn’t the most scenic of places — it looks straight across to the high-rises of La Manga — but Neilson knows its stuff, and it is the perfect place for water sports.

First, we are given an activity planner from which to select free daily group lessons in tennis (fortunately streamed so that barely-hit-the-ball players like myself don’t have to be humiliated by Wimbledon wannabes like my husband), yoga, windsurfing and Zumba. We add a few paid-for extras: kite surfing, a scuba diving trip and a massage.

We had pre-booked the children into kids’ clubs, but even before Iris’s ‘Sharksters’ session begins, she works herself into a frenzy, crying after a dip in the pool as she hasn’t made any friends in the first five minutes. Her near hysteria culminates in a gash on her foot. It is at that moment, blood gushing between her toes, that the real Neilson magic happens.

Within seconds, first aider Summer — by name and nature — turns up. Like a knight in smiling armour, she hoses down Iris’s foot and dresses it. By the second day, Iris is happily hobbling off to her club, assiduously ignoring us when we wave to her in the pool.

Mar Menor Beachclub, pictured, is a 40-minute transfer from Murcia airport. It is the latest super-luxe addition to the Neilson empire

As the week unfolds, it becomes even clearer as to why Neilson has an evangelical following. The staff are extraordinary. Many of them, I learn, went on holiday with the firm when they were children. They go on a ‘zero-to-hero’ training course, and it shows. The trickier the guest, the nicer they become. And there can be no trickier guests than the 30-odd recalcitrant teenagers who are trying their best to mingle.

I take myself to the ‘teen talk’ at the beach bar. There is only one other mum there — Liz, a sailing whiz with two teenage girls, both Neilson devotees. ‘It’s difficult to persuade them to do any other holiday now,’ Liz admits.

Instead of the pep talk I’d expected, we get an illuminating insight into what to expect from our not-so-little darlings in the coming week. ‘They will drink. Usually on the beach — so if you can’t find them at 1am, that’s where they’ll be. The best thing you can do is give them a curfew.’

As it turns out, they are relatively well-behaved, gathering during the day at the poolside area, complete with bean bags. By night, they have the time of their lives in the exercise area, their mobiles moving around in the dark like flirtatious glow worms.

On the plane home, my son is pinging emojis to a hastily set-up WhatsApp group, while only seats away from his new friends.

‘Best holiday ever,’ says Herbie. My husband and Iris agree. We have all been well and truly converted.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Celia and her family travelled with Neilson holidays to Mar Menor Beachclub, from £499pp based on two adults staying for seven nights, including return flights from London Stansted and transfers (neilson.co.uk). The cost for a family of four (two adults and two children aged two to 14) sharing an interconnecting room is from £1,535. 

 

 

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Are US airlines offering status extensions for customers impacted by coronavirus?



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The last few weeks have been fraught with uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe. Travelers have shared myriad concerns with TPG, wondering if they should proceed with their travel plans, if award availability has improved or decreased in recent weeks, and asking if their trips are eligible for travel insurance protection. Brands across the travel industry have issued waivers offering no-fee cancellations and trip credits, from airlines to hotels to cruise lines.

Elite travelers have also begun to feel the impact of canceled business travel as the stock market fluctuates at its wildest instability since the financial downturn over a decade ago. Major trade shows, conferences and corporate events are canceled. Airlines are curtailing or eliminating routes outright, and preventative quarantines are impacting cruise ships, museums, cities, states and even entire countries.

As a result, business travelers have begun asking TPG, “What can we expect from airlines regarding our ability to maintain elite status?”

a close up of a flower: One of many direct messages to Brian Kelly from a concerned TPG reader.

Here’s what the airlines have to say

We know that some customers’ travel plans are changing due to COVID-19, which is causing some SkyMiles members to worry about earning miles, qualifying for status or completing a promotion,” a Delta spokesperson told TPG. “While this is an evolving situation, members can rest assured that we’ve got their back.”

American Airlines and Southwest had similar sentiments to share, with spokespeople from each company telling TPG that they are aware of their customer’s concerns, and will communicate directly with their elite travelers as the situation progresses.

Here’s what the experts say

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) anticipates that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt across the airline industry for a long time to come.

Airline share prices have dropped by nearly 25% — significantly more than during the SARS outbreak of 2003. Industry analysts believe the commercial aviation industry will take a global revenue loss of between $63 billion and $113 billion, according to an updated IATA report published on March 5. A previous analysis published two weeks prior on Feb. 25 had approximated the loss at just $29.3 billion, based on insights gleaned from when the outbreak was primarily confined to China and its associated markets.

New York-based Cowen, a research firm focused on business insights and analytics, does not believe that airlines will make a decision on extending elite status this early on in the year. 

“Given how many companies have asked their employees not to travel or have banned travel altogether, we expect the airlines do nothing in the short term” about extending elite status qualifications, said Helane Becker, Cowen’s senior research analyst covering airlines and air-related industries.

“You are asking about a decision that does not have to be made until later in the year,” Becker told TPG. “The key question is duration. If this virus and ban on travel lasts until the fourth quarter of 2020, for example, then we expect the airlines will waive requirements and let everyone keep their 2020 status for 2021. If this is short lived — say one month or six weeks — then there might be enough time for people to continue to earn their status. In our view, it comes down to duration.”

But airline industry analyst Robert W. Mann, Jr. takes a slightly more customer-centric viewpoint on the matter. “Given [that] many airlines extend elite status for life events, this [pandemic] may be viewed as comparable,” Mann told The Points Guy. “Airlines need the continuing loyalty of their most important few customers, even if events occur that interrupt travel plans or propensity. Loyalty ought to be a two-way street.”

Mann’s insights regarding customer loyalty are as important as they are hard-earned: Mann previously served as an executive at American Airlines, Pan Am and TWA, where he either designed or directed each airline’s loyalty program. Today, he consults airlines on industry trends and insights. 

Airline consultant Mark Ross-Smith cautions against comparing the airline and hotel industries, pointing out that the two businesses are run very differently despite falling under the mutual category of travel. As such, Ross-Smith, who previously headed up the loyalty program for Malaysia Airlines, believes the approach to the question of status extension should be handled with different considerations as well.

“Choosing the wrong approach based on the program structure type can be costly,” Ross-Smith recently stated on his site, Travel Data Daily. “Or put more bluntly – gifting or to extend elite status to the wrong customer at the wrong time will have disastrous consequences for airlines on forward bookings and future ticket revenue.”

In other words, airlines that already are hurting from lost revenue will only worsen the issue by extending unnecessary benefits in this time of crisis.

Ross-Smith sums up the issue by saying that there is no blanket “right” or “wrong” answer. Rather, each airline will have to evaluate its individual business strategy to determine the right move at the right time.  “There are two certainties, no matter the path,” Ross-Smith said: A percentage of a brand’s customer base will stop spending with that airline, while another percentage of that customer base will continue spending with the airline.

“Knowing which percentage and which segments of the database will swing more business your way, and which segments will spend less is the key to steering a successful elite status extension program in times of crisis,” Ross-Smith concluded in his analysis.

Still, business is never just about the numbers. “Airlines should not underestimate the PR damage they will suffer if they do not show some flexibility,” said Henry Harteveldt, president and industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “Our 2019 US traveler research shows that only 22% of U.S. airline passengers are loyal to at least one airline. If airlines don’t show some willingness to compromise on elite re-qualification, they risk seeing that number sink even more.”

That being said, Harteveldt shares Becker’s opinion that it’s too early in the year to tell what airlines will — or should — do. “If the virus starts to abate in May or June, it leaves passengers about half a year to re-qualify,” Harteveldt told TPG. “But if the virus remains a threat, and if organizations continue to restrict business travel past July, I believe airlines will have to re-examine re-qualification criteria – unless an airline intentionally wants to thin certain elite-tier ranks.”

Bottom line

As of yet, none of the major U.S. carriers are offering elite status concessions as of yet. But we’re not even a quarter of the way through 2020 at this point in time, and there are many months ahead for travelers to beef up their mileage count for the year.

Spring is coming, and respiratory diseases like the coronavirus and common flu tend to die down with the advent of warmer weather. Hopefully that’s true for COVID-19 as well. If that happens, it’s very likely that both business and personal travel will pick back up again, and elite travelers no doubt will find plenty of sale fares and opportunities to use their travel credits toward building up status for 2021.

“With fewer airlines today than when 9/11 or SARS [occurred], two events that had massive impact on air travel, frequent fliers need to remember that airlines don’t have to be as flexible or generous as they may have been in the past,” travel industry analyst Harteveldt told TPG. “But all it will take is for one of the ‘core four’ airlines — American, Delta, Southwest, and United — to relax elite-tier re-qualification criteria, and the others will likely follow in order to remain competitive.”

Featured photo by Zach Griff for The Points Guy.

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Travel

Everything you should and shouldn’t do to stay healthy on a plane

The new coronavirus, or covid-19, outbreak has changed air travel completely. From airlines cutting domestic flights and eliminating onboard amenities, to employers putting restrictions on personal and business travel, measures are being taken on all sides of the travel industry to curb the spread of the virus.

Although some people are choosing to forgo travel while the global health crisis looms with uncertainty, many are continuing to fly. Here’s what you need to know about staying healthy if you board a plane.

Understand the risks before you travel

Before booking your flight, make sure you’re aware of the status of the coronavirus outbreak in your final destination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a searchable covid-19 risk assessment by country on its website for anyone concerned about their travel plans. Both China and Iran have been issued Level 3 Travel Health Notices, meaning the CDC recommends holding off on nonessential travel to those countries. The State Department is updating its own travel advisories in response to the outbreak.

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