“In NY State, Travelers Should Know Their Rights”
The Journal News
By Sarah Taddeo
July 12, 2020
- The coronavirus pandemic has snarled most summer travel in some way. New Yorkers should know their rights and their cancellation and change options prior to planning a trip.
- Most transportation companies, like airlines, and hotel and lodging companies have relaxed their cancellation policies due to the pandemic.
- Travelers should read over disclosures, terms, policies and agreements, and get everything in writing.
- Consider paying for all expenditures with a credit card. The credit card company may offer additional protections.
Turns out this wasn’t the best summer for that dream vacation you’d been saving for.
With New Yorkers vacationing closer to home amid continued coronavirus restrictions and closures, they’re cancelling their larger trips in droves and hoping they can get refunds or vouchers.
Also, New York residents staying outside the state who recently found out they’d have to quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival back home may be rethinking their travel timeline.
New Yorkers have a number of rights under state law when it comes to travel contracts, bookings and insurance companies.
Here’s what travelers should know as they attempt to cancel or reschedule their plans.
Right to the terms:
If a traveler uses a travel agency to book flights, hotels and activities, that company must provide written disclosures of all the terms of the travel service within five days of purchase or agreement, under New York law.
The consumer has until midnight of the third business day after receipt of the disclosures to respond in writing to cancel such purchase or agreement.
That consumer may also cancel the purchase or agreement at any point during the five-day period prior to receiving the disclosures.
Know the company policies:
Travelers should keep track of all arrangements and contracts with touring companies or travel agents.
Read the cancellation and refund policies, and know that reservations often require non-refundable deposits, or deposits that can only be applied to future travel with that company.
Travel insurance and ‘Cancel for Any Reason’:
The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) regulates travel insurance.
Most standard travel insurance policies do not cover trip interruption or cancellation due to COVID-19 because policies typically exclude coverage for an epidemic, pandemic or similar public health event.
In March, DFS issued guidance allowing travel agents and travel insurers to offer ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ coverage, which is more expensive than typical insurance policies and comes with conditions. Those can include a restricted cancellation timeline (i.e. cancellation rights ending several days before departure) or refunds capped at 50-75% of the full expenditure.
More information for consumers is available at www.dfs.ny.gov.
Airlines must offer refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged, for canceled or significantly delayed flights, even when flight disruptions are outside their control, as per federal transportation regulations.
If your airline isn’t doing that, you can report it to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Refund options will vary by cruise line. Traveler rights depend on the contract and cancellation policies. For example, you may be offered a refund, or a credit or voucher for a future cruise. If you opt for a credit or voucher, make sure the expiration date is far enough out that you can use it.
For more about your rights, go to the Federal Maritime Commission website at www.fmc.gov.
Amtrak is waiving change and cancellation fees for reservations made by Aug. 31, 2020; you can make changes online at www.Amtrak.com.
For cancellations and refunds, call 1-800-USA-RAIL.
Some hotel chains may have loosened their cancellation policies and waived change and cancellation fees that would normally apply to non-refundable rates.
Here’s how some major hotel chains or lodging companies are responding to the uncertainty around COVID-19 and travel:
Hilton Hotels will allow any stay booked on or between March 12 and Aug. 31 for any future arrival date to be changed or canceled at no charge, up to 24 hours before arrival. Refunds will be processed in up to 30 days for eligible reservations that included deposits or advance payments. For more, go to www.Hilton.com.
Holiday Inn owner IHG is offering a ‘Book Now, Pay Later’ rate for new bookings, which doesn’t require a deposit and allows cancellations up to 24 hours before the stay for direct bookings. Guests can get 5% or more off the chain’s ‘Best Flexible Rate’ for U.S. bookings made up to Sept. 3, for stays until December 30. For more, go to www.ihg.com.
Reservations at Hyatt Hotels booked on or after July 1 for arrival dates through July 31, 2021 can be canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before arrival, with limited exceptions, such as in select destination locations or at peak travel times, like holidays. For more, go to www.Hyatt.com.
Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy was expanded in March to allow guests and hosts who made reservations for stays and activities before March 14, 2020, for a period between March 14 and Aug. 15, 2020, to cancel before check-in with various refund options.
The policy will not apply to stays or activity reservations made after March 14, except when the guest or host is currently sick with COVID-19. Host cancellation policies will apply as usual to all other reservations made after March 14.
Airbnb will issue a refund or travel credit for service fees for covered cancellations; Travelers should be ready to testify to their extenuating circumstances, and/or provide documentation.
- Research your travel options, read all policies for airlines, hotels, rental and touring companies.
- Consider availability, closures, crowds and potential coronavirus restrictions in your planning.
- Get everything related to your travel plans in writing.
- Read the fine print when taking advantage of an “all inclusive” offer.
- Consider paying with a credit card, which offers more protection than paying by cash or check. Some credit card companies may offer additional protections if the trip is cancelled. Check with your credit card company on the conditions of travel expenditure reimbursement.
Still having a problem?
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own.
The department’s Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, excluding State Holidays. For more, go to www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.
Consumers can also file complaints at any time on the Department of Financial Services website at www.dfs.ny.gov/complaint, or at (212) 480-6400 or (518) 474-6600, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network’s New York State Team. She investigates stories about your consumer rights, including scams, negligent landlords, safety issues and wayward businesses.