Travel flexibility is going to be pretty fluid in the coming days and weeks, as coronavirus develops and people stop traveling based on their fears – fear of getting sick, and fear of getting stuck wherever they go.
Many readers I talk to don’t understand why they can’t get a refund when they aren’t going to travel right now. Surely coronavirus ought to mean a waiver for them. That’s not how things work, of course. For the most part cancelling travel outside of an area that’s received restrictions or elevated warnings by the government is considered an optional cancellation, and you’re on the hook for costs.
So far – outside of travel related to China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan – we’ve mostly seen two approaches to changes.
- Most moves that travel providers have made so far have been about generating incremental business. For instance, they’ve offered greater flexibility to make changes but only for new ticket purchases and not for customers who have already made their purchases.
That may be starting to change. Delta is waiving change fees for all travel through April 30 for tickets purchased prior to today. (If you bought your tickets today you did so knowing about the challenges the world is facing.)
- Some moves have even been about shifting risk away from the travel provider and onto the customer. That’s United’s no refunds rule unless they change your schedule by 25 hours or more. United doesn’t have to deliver the flight they sold you, and they’re keeping your money.
Hyatt has a new policy in place that I actually sort of like. They already have a cancellation waiver in place for ‘level 2 and 3 countries’ (so far China, South Korean, Iran, Italy, Japan) so that prepaid, non-refundable bookings can be cancelled for stays through the end of March. My guess as this develops the policy will be extended, even if the specific countries on the list change.
I spoke with Amy Weinberg, Senior Vice President of World of Hyatt, this afternoon and she explained what they’re doing now is offering points if you want to cancel a non-refundable booking. For bookings made prior to today (March 9) for travel through June where their waiver doesn’t apply, they will give 10,000 points upon request for cancellation. Non-refundable rates are still non-refundable, but they’re offering a goodwill gesture of 10,000 points per stay if you do need to cancel.
Claim the points at least 48 hours prior to cehck-in. They don’t want you to have to proactively cancel just in case, you can claim the 10,000 points up to 48 hours prior to check-in (24 hours for Globalist and Explorist members).
Hyatt Regency Dallas
The cancellation policy for non-refundable bookings makes sense on several levels.
- Individual hotels keep the revenue they’re expecting. There are limits to what Hyatt can do to take money away from managed and franchised hotels. They get the money now, but Hyatt offers their own currency in exchange which can be redeemed later.
- This is currency that’ll be used when people are traveling again. It’s a reason to come back to Hyatt (and a reason for some people to join the program and come back to Hyatt).
- It’s more than is required so is actually a nice goodwill gesture. Hopefully customers won’t feel like they’ve taken it completely on the chin losing out on a hotel booking they have to pay for but not use, since they get points for a free night later.
Interestingly it’s a flat number of points regardless of room rate or length of stay. On some inexpensive one night stays members will actually come out ahead. There’s no opportunity to game this with new bookings though because it only applies to reservations that were already made through March 8 – and any bookings made after that can be assumed to have been made with an understanding of the current travel environment.
Hyatt can’t just unilaterally make non-refundable bookings refundable, and they have owners to answer to. But they can give you points, show they’re doing something, and incentivize you to return to the chain once fear and risk subside. And by the way I’m looking forward to returning to the Park Hyatt Shanghai which offers the best Globalist benefit of any hotel in the world: unlimited soup dumplings (on its breakfast buffet).
Breakfast Buffet At The Park Hyatt Shanghai
For those of you whose airline or hotel chain is telling you tough luck on non-refundable bookings, remember not to cancel your plans yet, wait to see if policies change in the future or facts on the ground change that make your non-refundable booking suddenly refundable.