How to improve your chances of getting a refund on your flight, hotel or cruise if you cancel your summer vacation plans


Vacation is all Americans ever wanted this summer, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are looking at lost money instead.

Forty-eight percent of Americans have canceled summer travel plans because of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey of 1,200 people from personal-finance website ValuePenguin, a subsidiary of LendingTree
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Comparatively, only 16% of people said they have not canceled their summer itineraries, while the remaining respondents had no travel planned for the warmer months.

Meanwhile, some 46% of people said they had lost money on nonrefundable travel expenses due to COVID-19-related cancellations. Those who cancelled plans lost more than $850 on average. Most of those losses stemmed from airfare (59% of consumers), followed by hotel bookings (44%).

Also see: How the canceled music festival Tomorrowland Winter is getting a private-equity-owned travel giant entangled in a legal fight

But consumers can take steps to ensure that canceled travel plans don’t lead to significant financial losses. “Policies are all over the map right now,” said Sara Rathner, credit card and travel expert at NerdWallet. “Before calling customer service, review the company’s cancelation policy so you know what you’re entitled to.”

Here are some tips for thwarted travelers planning to stay home this summer:

Who is offering cash refunds?

Not all travel providers are offering cash refunds — and even those that are will have limitations on who can receive them.

Airlines, including Delta
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United
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and JetBlue
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, have amended their cancelation policies to get rid of change fees in light of the coronavirus outbreak. But travelers will be out of luck when it comes to getting a refund with most carriers if they elect to cancel their trip proactively. While the Department of Transportation requires airlines to provide a refund if the carrier cancels a flight, a travel will typically only get their money back in the form of a credit or voucher if they choose to forgo a trip.

Don’t miss:Airlines are issuing billions of dollars in vouchers — but can you still get a cash refund for coronavirus-related flight cancellations?

“There’s no benefit to taking the voucher,” said Chris Elliott, a travel consumer advocate. “All the benefit is to the airline.”

As a result, people are better off waiting to cancel their travel plans until the last minute. In that time, the airline might reschedule or cancel the flight, making a passenger eligible for a refund.

Meanwhile, many major hotel chains have introduced flexible cancelation policies that allow consumers to receive refunds. For instance, any new or existing reservations at Hilton
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hotels through June 30 can be changed or canceled at no charge, even reservations that were previously denoted as “non-cancelable.” The same is true at hotels owned by Hyatt
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Marriott
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and Choice Hotels.
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In most cases, cancelations must be made at least 24 hours in advance to be eligible for a refund. If a customer wishes to change the dates of their trip, they may be subject to the difference in room rates.

Many cruise lines are also offering refunds to travelers who have either canceled planned trips or who are unable to go on their vacation due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order, according to travel website Cruise Critic. Travelers could encounter difficulty getting refunds though if the trip was paid for using points or gift cards.

But people who can’t travel this summer, yet still want to go on a cruise vacation in the future might find it advantageous to get a credit instead. Many cruise lines, including Princess
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and Norwegian
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, are offering future credits worth more the original cruise fare — in same cases, the credit can be worth double the original amount paid.

“Which option to choose isn’t as easy of a decision as you might think,” Cruise Critic senior editor Erica Silverstein wrote. “Should you take the certainty of cash or be tempted by “free money” to use toward a longer cruise or nicer cabin than you initially booked?”

Also see:This disturbing visual of how viruses spread in planes might make you feel a lot better about staying at home

How to improve your chances of getting money back

Don’t call right away. The phone lines at airlines, hotels and cruise lines are jammed with people doing the same thing: Canceling their trips. “Customer service hold times are so long right now that I typically start with an email, unless I must have an answer today,” Rathner said.

If you do call, make sure to have all your trip information handy to ensure the call is fast and productive — and be prepared to wait on hold for an extended period of time.

Read more:How do I self-quarantine? Can I walk my dog? Be warned, there can be legal consequences for violators

Book trips with the right credit card. Many credit cards offer travel protection as one of their perks — and that protection can come in handy in the current situation. “This can help you get your money back if you must cancel your trip because you or a family member becomes ill before you leave,” Rathner said. “It can also help cover the cost of cutting your trip short if you get sick while traveling.”

Not all travel insurance policies will help. If you didn’t purchase your travel insurance before the coronavirus first cropped up, it likely won’t cover any losses from canceling a trip. The only exception are “cancel for any reason” policies — but these are usually more expensive and can have their own exclusions.

If you get a voucher, ask questions. Most travel vouchers that airlines and other companies are offering have a use-by date. Travelers should confirm what happens if the voucher’s expiration date comes around before the coronavirus has dissipated, Rathner said. And make sure the voucher can be used for any trip or destination, not just the original itinerary.

If all else fails, go to social media. While publicly complaining on Facebook
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or
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shouldn’t necessarily be a traveler’s first way of seeking a refund, it can be useful, U.S. PIRG wrote. If “they don’t allow you to change, cancel or receive a voucher for your travel, you can ask the airline to expand their coverage via social media,” the consumer advocacy organization said. “If enough people take this action by posting and tagging the airline or hotel chain, it may cause them to reconsider their policy during this time.”



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America’s housing market is showing the first signs of trouble from the coronavirus pandemic


March started out as a strong month for the U.S. housing market — but by the second half of the month, the first indications that the coronavirus pandemic would weigh on home-selling activity began to emerge, according to a new report from Realtor.com.

In the weeks ending March 21 and March 28, the number of newly-listed properties fell by 13.1% and 34% respectively when compared with the same period a year ago, Realtor.com found. This is an indication that home sellers may be holding off on listing their properties right now.

The pace of home-price growth also slowed notably in the latter half of the month, according to the report. Home list prices were only up 3.3% year-over-year for the week ending March 21, and 2.5% for the following week. This represented the slowest pace of listing price growth since Realtor.com started tracking this data in 2013.

Read more:These mortgage borrowers will be ‘the first canary in the coal mine’ for a coronavirus-fueled foreclosure crisis, regulator says

(Realtor.com is operated by News Corp
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subsidiary Move Inc., and MarketWatch is a unit of Dow Jones, which is also a subsidiary of News Corp.)

“Our inventory and listing data can provide some early insight into how housing markets may be impacted by COVID-19, but the situation and reactions to it are still rapidly evolving,” Realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale wrote in the report.

“The U.S. housing market had a good start to the year. Despite still-limited homes for sale, buyers were buying and builders were building,” she wrote. “The pandemic and virus-fighting measures appear to be disrupting that initial momentum as both buyers and sellers adopt a more cautious posture.”

Real-estate firms have taken steps to brace for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. So-called iBuyers including Zillow
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and Redfin
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that purchase homes from sellers and then sell them for a profit had wound down their home-buying operations in anticipation of an economic downturn. Real-estate brokers, incuding Redfin and Re/Max
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, had also shifted toward virtual home tours as open houses became verboten in the wake of social-distancing recommendations.

And other recent reports have shown additional signs of a slowdown in the housing market. LendingTree
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released an analysis of Google
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search data analyzing the popularity of the search term “homes for sale” across the country’s 50 largest metro areas. Searches for “homes for sale” have fallen across all 50 cities in the study from their peak levels in 2020 thus far.

LendingTree estimated that these Google searches could drop some 63% compared with last year if the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak remains substantial for the next two months. A drop in web searches could presage a decline in home sales.

Also see:‘Landlords are just trying to pay bills like everyone else.’ The coronavirus could hit mom-and-pop landlords hard as tenants miss rent payments

Another sign that home sales will slump this spring: Mortgage applications. The volume of mortgage applications for loans used to purchase homes was down 24% compared with a year ago for the week ending March 27, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. That’s in spite of mortgage rates being near historic lows. Comparatively, the volume of refinance applications was 168% higher than a year ago.

Before the coronavirus pandemic flared up, the U.S. housing market was on relatively solid footing. While the number of homes for sale remained low — constraining sales activity to an extent — demand among buyers was still quite high. Low mortgage rates had fueled an early start to the spring home-buying season, with homes selling four days faster in March when compared with 2019 levels, Realtor.com found.

The jump in jobless claims has stoked concerns of a repeat of the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis that preceded it. But housing economists argue that this is unlikely to be the case.

Dispatches from a pandemic:‘Would you risk your life for a bagel?’ A New Yorker’s 5-point guide to surviving grocery stores during the coronavirus pandemic

“While housing led the recession in 2008-2009, this time it may be poised to bring us out of it,” Mark Fleming, chief economist for title insurance company First American Financial Corporation
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, wrote in a report this week.

Unlike in the 2000s, the housing market in the U.S. is not overbuilt, Fleming argued, making it less likely that a large swath of vacant properties will crater the home values for homeowners. Rising home values and stricter lending standards have also meant that homeowners are sitting on historically high amounts of home equity.

“The housing market will not go unscathed, as consumer confidence and a strong labor market are essential in the decision to purchase a home,” Fleming wrote. “Yet, this time, housing is a casualty of a public health crisis turned economic, not the cause of an economic crisis.”



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