CHICAGO (CBS) — The CBS 2 Morning Insiders are getting facts about the coronavirus, especially when it comes to travel.
United Airlines is the latest airline to advertise fee waivers and allow changes to tickets. But as CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reported for this cautionary tale, there is much fine print and many loopholes to navigate.
“I was excited to go to China. I’ve never been before,” said Max Garcia.
Garcia was looking forward to a fun filled trip to Beijing, China with friends, this coming May.
Garcia, who is from Chicago, now lives in Austin, Texas. He spoke to us via Skype. He said he booked a United flight, round trip to China, for $662.
“I thought it was great,” Garcia said.
He used the Hop2 travel agency to book the flight on Jan. 12. But four days later, there was news of the coronavirus outbreak in China, and the trip was called off.
“I would just like my flight refunded or, I mean, at the very least, a travel credit, to place on other trips,” Garcia said.
Garcia said a United representative told him that even though he bought a non-refundable ticket, he would be entitled to a full refund if his travel was before April 30 – because the airline chose to suspend flights to Beijing through that date because of the coronavirus.
Garcia also said United was even willing to work with him and reschedule the flight, using a credit, to fly anywhere else he desired.
But it was a different story with Hop2, the company that issued the United ticket.
Garcia said Hop2 told him: “Not only are they not willing to refund my money, they will not be able to give me a credit to use it on another flight throughout the rest of the year.”
Garcia said he recently got an email. It said after he pays a $300 penalty that will be deducted from his $662 ticket purchase, and a $175 cancellation charge upfront, he would receive $362.25 back for his trip.
After all the fees, Garcia would be left with a refund of about $186.
“It’s kind of a headache that I’m having to deal with right now,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s mother, Alejandra Moran – who lives in Chicago – shares her son’s frustration.
“I’m sure any other mother in my situation would say the same thing, so I don’t want him to go,” Moran said.
CBS News travel expert Peter Greenberg had some advice for Garcia and his mother.
“The smart play here is to wait until the very last minute, if you bought an advance purchase, non-refundable ticket, to see if the airline cancels the flight,” Greenberg said. “If they don’t cancel the flight, then why wouldn’t you go? Go! But if they do cancel the flight, that’s when you’ll get your money back.”
And if you think travel insurance will help at a time like this, Greenberg says, think again.
“Travel insurance is very much like fire insurance. You can’t take out a policy once the second floor catches fire,” Greenberg said. “You’ll see right now, on almost every trip cancellation and interruption insurance policy, policy language that excludes coverage for coronavirus.”
Greenberg said there are travel insurance policies that allow you to cancel for any reason. However, the premiums are very expensive, and you’ll still only get about 75 percent of your money back.