Here’s a question that’s bound to come up more frequently as air travel picks up: Should I get a full refund if I’m too sick to fly?
It’s a question consumer advocates are raising with new urgency, too. They’re fighting for regulations that would require airlines to offer full refunds to sick passengers.
Airline policies are unfairly rigid when it comes to infectious diseases. Unless you bought a fully refundable ticket, carriers will charge a change fee and any applicable fare differential if you decide that you’re too sick to fly. And if you bought a “basic” economy ticket and can’t fly, you’re out of luck — and out the cost of the ticket.
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Sheree Davis wants to know how the pandemic will affect her loyalty program. Not very well, she suspects. And she’s right.
American Airlines recently extended elite status through Jan. 31, 2022. She might still have a chance to use that platinum card, she thought.
Davis acquired elite status through an American promotion last year, and planned to use it to avoid baggage fees and score an occasional upgrade.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
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Celeste Gray almost couldn’t avoid a vacation disaster back in 2001. She was used to traveling without a plan, which allowed her “plenty of room for spontaneity.” And then, while traveling through Spain, she got a little more spontaneity than she’d bargained for.
“After 9/11, all flights were canceled, and the airport in Barcelona was filled with stranded travelers,” remembers Gray, who owns and manages vacation rentals in Asheville, N.C. “During that sudden global shutdown, banks immediately closed, leaving many of us stranded without access to money for alternate plans.”
A compassionate airline employee fronted her the money for a train ticket to France, where she waited at a friend’s home for flights to resume. But the experience changed her. Today, she doesn’t leave home without travel insurance, cash, an emergency kit and contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy.
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Joel Smiler would rather not miss his 50th wedding anniversary trip to Maui this September. But he’s not sure if it’s still a good idea. He wants to know: Is there such a thing as a safe vacation?
For Smiler, a retired veterinarian, Maui checks a lot of boxes for safety. Hawaii is a domestic destination, and it has reliable air connections and relatively few coronavirus cases. But when Smiler talks about “safe,” he’s not talking just about health. He also wants to recover his money if there’s another covid-19 outbreak.
“My biggest loss would be the condo if we cancel,” he says. “I would lose half of my payment.”
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What if another pandemic happens while you’re on vacation? What if coronavirus resurges this summer, just as you’re leaving for a little R&R? Or during the winter holidays?
Travelers are looking for ways to protect their next trip from another wave of the pandemic. One of them is Baron Hanson, who takes frequent trips between Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach, Fla.
“We’re traveling by car,” says Hanson, a consultant who lives in McLean, Va. “We’ll wear gloves and disinfect surfaces ourselves with wipes.”
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