If the novel coronavirus changed your travel plans, you should be able to cancel without a fee and reclaim or re-book your travel.
“Most of the U.S. airlines like United and Delta offer flexible waivers for canceling award tickets. They will offer you your miles back and refund any taxes and fees,” says Stephen Au, senior points writer at UpgradedPoints, a travel rewards resource. “They will also usually not charge you a miles redeposit fee.”
Although many airlines and hotels are enacting flexible policies during the pandemic, there are restrictions. You’ll need to research whether you should contact the travel provider directly or cancel through your credit card’s rewards program.
Here’s what you need to know about changing or canceling credit card rewards travel due to COVID-19 — and what to do with your rewards when you get them back.
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How Can You Cancel Directly Booked Travel?
If you used credit card rewards to book a flight, hotel or cruise directly with the operator, you’ll need to get in touch with the travel company. For example, if you used points from a hotel credit card to book a stay, you should contact the hotel to cancel or reschedule your booking.
Cancellation policies vary depending on the travel company, but most hotels and airlines are waiving fees for re-booking or canceling travel.
If you can cancel without fees online, you should. But understand you may have to call if you have extenuating circumstances, and you’ll likely face longer wait times.
Michael Lacy, a financial educator at Winning to Wealth, a personal finance resource for millennials, booked a five-day trip to Portland for his wife’s birthday. The family’s flight, which was booked directly through United Airlines using rewards points, was scheduled to depart March 6.
Lacy’s wife has an autoimmune disease, so as a precaution against the COVID-19 travel risk, they decided to cancel their reservation early on.
“Online, we were told that change fees would only be waived for flights booked in March,” says Lacy, who had booked his flight before March. “We called United Airlines, explained the situation, and they not only refunded our nonrefundable points, but also waived their $125 re-deposit fee.”
If you have an extenuating circumstance, Lacy advises speaking with a live support agent directly to make your case. “Had we just canceled online without speaking to an actual person, we would not have gotten all of our points reimbursed and the fees waived like we did,” he says.
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Can You Cancel Travel Booked Through Credit Card Rewards Portals?
You can cancel or reschedule travel booked through credit card rewards portals, including American Express Travel, Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Citi ThankYou Travel Center. But you’ll need to verify how to cancel and confirm whether cancellation fees are waived.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase recommends checking with your travel provider directly if you want to avoid a cancellation fee when you change travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
If you’re supposed to leave within a few days, you’ll likely need to get on the phone with the travel company or Chase Travel to discuss your options. But be aware that call wait times could be longer than usual.
If you’re canceling rewards travel booked through Chase Travel, you should be able to do it online. After you check with the travel provider to confirm your cancellation fees are waived, log in to Chase Travel. You can choose your itinerary under My Trips and access the cancellation form or chat with customer service.
After you’ve submitted your request, Chase will work with the travel provider on your behalf to get refunds or credits sent to you. If you want to re -book, you should call Chase Travel.
American Express Travel
For hotels, cruises or rental cars booked with American Express Membership Rewards, you can log in to your online account and cancel your reservation. For air travel, you can contact the airline to cancel directly according to the airline’s policies. If your travel is refunded, you’ll receive a credit on your card statement in dollars. You can call American Express Membership Rewards to request converting the value back into points, if you prefer.
If you need to cancel an AmexTravel.com travel package with a flight and hotel, you’ll need to fill out the online cancellation request form.
Citi ThankYou Travel Center
You can log in to the Citi ThankYou Travel center to submit a cancellation request for some airlines. If you’re canceling another type of travel or your flight is departing within five days, call 800-842-6596.
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Tips for Canceling Rewards Travel
Canceling rewards travel may be an exercise in patience. If your booking isn’t scheduled within the next few days, it’s best to try to cancel online first. That way, you can avoid long phone wait times and avoid adding to wait times for travelers who may have a more immediate cancellation need.
Check directly with the airline, hotel or other travel company’s website to find out whether your trip is currently eligible for rewards refunds. Keep in mind that travel scheduled farther out may not be eligible for fee-free cancellation, but that could change in the future. If your travel is beyond the specified extended policy date, don’t preemptively make changes to your trip — doing so might cost you your rewards and waiver eligibility.
“The most important thing to do is not to cancel unless you’ve been reassured that you’re going to get all your miles and cash back without a penalty,” says Au. Make sure you also read the terms and conditions of the waiver and check your credit card account to confirm that any charges were refunded, he says.
What to Do With Travel Rewards Now
When you get your rewards back, what’s next? Plan how you’ll use credit card rewards during the coronavirus crisis.
You can use your points or miles to re-book travel for a later date, but you might have other options. Some credit cards offer nontravel rewards redemption options, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred Card’s limited-time statement credits for at-home spending categories including grocery store, takeout and home improvement store purchases.
Jennifer Calonia is a Los Angeles-based finance writer whose goal is to help readers get excited about improving their financial health and overall well-being. Her work has been featured on Forbes, The Huffington Post, MSN Money and Business Insider. In her spare time, you can find her outdoors, exploring state and national parks.