Airline industry hit hard by concerns over coronavirus outbreak

Has the virus impacted your travel plans? See what kind of options are available

Airlines are among the many industries that continue to take hits amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

Starting Friday, President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions took effect, preventing most foreign visitors from traveling to the U.S. from Europe for 30 days.

In response to the changes imposed by the travel restrictions, airlines are waiving change fees for flights booked for the months of March and April. Similarly, cruise lines are offering credit for voyages until the end of spring, and hotels and resorts are loosening their cancellation policies for certain areas impacted by the outbreak.

Below are each airline’s guidelines on canceling or transferring flights:

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is allowing no-fee changes and cancellations for the following reservations:

  • Tickets purchased on or before Feb. 26 for travel through April 30
  • New tickets purchased between Feb. 27 and March 31

Non-refundable first class, main cabin and award tickets may be changed free of charge with new travel completed by Feb. 28, 2021. They can also be canceled with funds placed into your Alaska account or a credit card certificate via email. Fare differences apply. Saver fare tickets can only be canceled with funds deposited into your Alaska Airlines account.

American Airlines

American Airlines is allowing customers who bought tickets before March 1 and scheduled to travel until April 30 to re-book without a change fee. Tickets need to be changed and travel must start before Dec. 31. You’ll have to pay for any fare difference. Tickets booked between March 1 and March 31 for any date can also be changed free of charge.

American is also allowing changes and refunds for tickets to:

  • Italy or South Korea purchased on or before February 24, 2020
  • Hong Kong purchased on or before January 28, 2020
  • China bought on or before January 24, 2020

Delta Air Lines

Delta led the major U.S. airlines with flexible cancellation policies for customers affected by travel limitations due to coronavirus. All tickets purchased on or before March 9 for travel until April 30 can be changed without a service fee. Tickets must be re-issued and travel must begin by Dec. 31.

Tickets purchased between March 1 and March 31 for travel until February 25, 2021, are also eligible for fee-free changes. Travelers booked to COVID-19 affected destinations, including those in Italy, China and South Korea, before May 31, can also be re-booked with without change fees.

If you prefer, you can cancel your flight booked on or before March 9 and your funds will be available for one year from your original ticket’s issue date. Please note that this does not mean that your money will be refunded, or even that you will be able to purchase a new ticket entirely with the funds from your ticket. Fare differences will apply, so if your new flight is more expensive, you are on the hook for the difference.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier makes the process more onerous than other airlines, but it has instituted some policies to make tickets more flexible in this challenging environment. To be frank, Frontier has the least customer-friendly policies of any domestic airline.

Tickets may only be modified by phone and only may be modified or refunded for flight credit one time. Fare differences will apply. Frontier’s flight credits are only valid for 90 days from the cancellation date. For changed flights, travel must be completed by Nov. 9.

  • Flights booked before March 10 for travel before April 30 may be changed.
  • Flights booked March 10 to March 31 for travel through Nov. 9 may be changed. Frontier has an existing policy that tickets can changed more than 60 days before departure without a re-booking fee.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is offering a flexible ticketing policy. Guests who book flights between March 1 and March 31, can change travel to future dates without incurring fees. The waiver allows a one-time change per ticket, but fare difference applies.

Travelers with bookings made prior to March 9 with travel between March 1 and April 30 can make flight changes with new travel commencing no later than Dec.. This waiver allows a one-time change per ticket and fare difference applies.

Hawaiian Airlines has additional waivers for flights to Japan, South Korea and China:

  • Japan: Flights booked for new travel on or before April 23 will have no change fee and no fare difference. Flights booked for new travel on or after April 23 will have no change fee but will be charged fare difference. Tickets must have been issued by March 6 and must be re-booked by April 12 to qualify.
  • South Korea: Flights re-booked for new travel on or before Oct. 31 will have no change fee and no fare difference. Flights booked for new travel on or after Oct. 31 will have no change fee but will be charged fare difference. Tickets for scheduled travel between Feb. 24 to May 1. New travel must be booked by Oct. 31.
  • China: Flights re-booked for new travel on or before May 31 will have no change fee and no fare difference. Flights booked for new travel on or after May 31 will have no change fees but will be charged fare difference. Tickets must have been issued prior to Jan. 27 with affected flights scheduled between Jan. 27 and March 31. New travel must be re-booked by March 31.


JetBlue is waiving cancellation and change fees for all flights based on the purchase date:

  • Travel dates of March 10 to April 30, regardless of the ticket purchase date.
  • Tickets for travel before June 1 may be exchanged if they were purchased after Feb. 27.
  • For new bookings between March 6 and March 31 for flights before Sept. 8, change and cancellation fees are also waived.

New flights must be completed by Oct. 24. Refunds are issued as JetBlue credit, which is valid for one year from the issue date. This is the longest window of any domestic airline, as most others’ credits are valid for one year from ticket purchase date.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines doesn’t have to make special accommodations for COVID-19 because it already offers the most generous change and cancellation policies in the airline industry. As long as you change your ticket 10 minutes before flight time, you can get your flight re-booked or refunded as travel credit without penalty. You’ll just have to pay any fare difference that applies when you re-book your flight. Note that travel funds are good for one year and must be used by the person whose name is listed on the ticket.

Spirit Airlines

Unlike the other airlines, Spirit has not instituted a date-specific change policy. Instead, they are extending an offer of a one-time fee-free change or cancellation. Fare difference will apply. If you choose to cancel, you will receive flight credit that is valid for six months. Note that this means you have six months to book your flight, so effectively you will have nine to 12 months to use it, based on how far in advance Spirit has posted its schedule.

Spirit is not allowing fee-free changes online, but you can use the airline’s customer service via text option, which in my experience is quite responsive.

United Airlines

Tickets purchased from March 3 to March 31 can be changed or canceled without fees for dates through the end of schedule. All tickets purchased prior to March 3 can be re-booked until Dec. 31 or one year from the original ticket issue date.

Tickets booked to China and Hong Kong with a travel date before June 30 are eligible for fee-free re-booking or a cash refund, even on non-refundable fares. Tickets to Italy and South Korea before June 30 are eligible for re-booking without fees but not for cash refunds.

A fare difference will apply for more expensive tickets. If the new ticket is cheaper than the one you purchased, the difference will not be refunded. In that case you are better off canceling the ticket and re-booking at the cheaper price. Canceled tickets retain their original value for travel on United for 12 months following their original issue date. You could then use the remainder towards a new ticket.


Starting Friday, Airbnb announced changes to its extenuating circumstances policy, which will allow guests to cancel eligible reservations without charge. The policy applies to bookings in the following areas:

  • Mainland China
  • South Korea
  • Italy
  • United States

For reservations in the United States, Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy applies to reservations booked on or before March 13 with check-in date of April 1 or earlier.

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