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Travel Still trying to change or cancel your flight amid coronavirus crisis? 4 (new) things to know

08:36  25 march  2020
08:36  25 march  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Travelers trying to change or cancel upcoming flights as the coronavirus pandemic drags on face a dizzying number of airline policies and procedures.

a person sitting at a desk: Airline ticket. © Rawpixelimages/Dreamstime Airline ticket.

Airlines started with waivers for flights to China in January and now have a lineup that covers most upcoming flights given an unprecedented plunge in travel demand.

Having a hard time keeping up with the latest rules? Here are four important updates:

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1. Check your airline's travel waivers to see if flights that weren't covered before are now.

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Airlines ​​​​​are extending their travel waivers to cover a broader travel period and more destinations as the crisis deepens and government travel restrictions increase.

American, Delta and United, for example, are now allowing travelers with tickets for travel through May 31 to change or cancel them without paying the usual hefty ticket change fee. (Fare difference may apply.) Those who opt to cancel will receive a travel credit, not their money back, and there is fine print including expiration dates.

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Until late last week, the waivers only covered travel through April 30, excluding flights during Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer travel season.

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Those policies apply to those who bought tickets before March 1. Travelers who bought tickets in March already have a broad fee waiver covering change to their tickets for travel into 2021.

Southwest Airlines, which never charges change fees but does collect any fare difference when travelers change flights, last week tweaked its coronavirus travel policy to waive the fare difference for passengers due to travel through April 30. The new trip has to be for the same route for travel beginning 60 days from the original travel date. So travelers with plane tickets for Easter weekend, for example, can delay the trip until early June without paying extra as long as they rebook.

Travelers uncertain about future travel dates can cancel and receive a credit that is good for a year on any route.

Have tickets for summer travel and unsure about going? Keep an eye on your airline's waivers for any extensions beyond May 31 or whatever date your airline currently has in place.

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2. That travel credit you thought was expiring soon might not be useless after all.

As the coronavirus crisis has halted all but essential trips for the foreseeable future, a big complaint among travelers has been airline expiration dates for travel credits and vouchers, those previously issued and those issued as anxious travelers scramble to cancel their plans.

What good is a $500 in airfare credit, for example, if it has to be used in the near future and you don't want to get on a plane? Policies vary by airline, but travel credit expiration dates are generally tied to the ticket purchase date, not the travel date, giving travelers who cancel last minute a shorter booking window.

In response to traveler complaints, Southwest, which has legions of travelers sitting on or about to sit on huge sums of travel credits due to its generous, no-change-fee cancellation policy, last week announced that it is extending the expiration dates for its so-called "travel funds.''

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Passenger with travel funds expiring between March 1 and May 31 will now be able to use them through June 30, 2021.

Similarly, travelers who cancel tickets for upcoming flights (currently defined as flights through May 31) will receive travel funds good for travel through June 30, 2021. Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said the extended deadline is designed in part to allow travelers to say, take the spring break getaway they were planning this year next year instead.

Southwest said customers should see their extended expiration date on Southwest's website in the next few weeks as the airline updates its computer systems to reflect the new policy.  Passengers need their confirmation number to check their travel funds balance and expiration date.

Delta Air Lines is also giving some travelers extra time to use expiring tickets. The airline said its tickets for travel in March or April that are due to expire before June 30 can now be rebooked for flights through the end of the year.

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What do you do if your airline isn't budging on expiration dates? Keep an eye out on the airline's website for changes or politely plead your case to the airline.

3. Airlines are starting to offer incentives for passengers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund (where eligible).

The last thing struggling airlines want to do right now is give passengers money back, so some are getting creative to get passengers to accept a travel credit instead of a refund when both options are available.  

Frontier Airlines last week sent an email to passengers with upcoming flights, offering a $50 voucher, on top of the travel credit, to cancel their flight in advance. The deal expires Wednesday.

And American Airlines is quietly offering travelers who pick the refund option a 20% bonus to take a travel voucher instead.

4. Airlines are making it easier to change flights online, even if you're not a frequent flyer. 

It's no secret that airline reservation systems are overwhelmed by the surge of flight cancellations and changes. JetBlue executives last week said passengers are canceling flights at 10 times the normal rate.

U.S. airline websites advise travelers not to call unless their flight is in the next 72 hours.

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What's an anxious traveler to do? Change or cancel the flight on the airline's website.

That can be daunting for infrequent flyers, but airlines from American to Allegiant have made it easier with tutorials on the process.

Allegiant, a budget carrier catering to vacationers, created a video and also warned travelers not to go to the airport to change their tickets. (Allegiant travelers often go to the airport to buy their tickets because it helps travelers avoid certain fees.)

Fellow discounter Frontier Airlines posted a video to YouTube last week, walking travelers through the process.

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