Travelers face tough choices amid surge in COVID-19 cases

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A worker checks the temperature of a traveler departing from Toronto Pearson International Airport on December 16, 2021.Tijana Martin / The Canadian Press

Canadians longing for vacation getaways face a difficult choice: take trips and risk catching COVID-19 or being locked away from home, or cancel and end up with vouchers for future trips to the United States. instead of cash refunds.

The federal government said Thursday that Canadians should not go abroad on vacation. The official advice discourages travel but does not prohibit it. It is a measure intended to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is skyrocketing the number of cases and threatening to overwhelm the health system.

Airlines say customers who cancel their flights will not receive cash back, but rather credits for future travel. The only customers who are sure they can get their money back are those who have paid extra for cancellation privileges on their tickets, or whose flights are canceled by airlines.

Even people who have purchased cancellation insurance, which covers some of the non-refundable costs associated with abandoning a trip, may find that their policies will not cover them if they cancel their trip because of the warning.

Colin MacEachern, 53, a teacher in Halifax, has a WestJet Airlines ticket to Orlando, Florida for December 23. He had planned to spend a week exploring the Gulf Coast with a view to living there when he retires in two years.

He said he was confused by the message from the federal government and was unsure whether he should cancel his plans.

“If they’d said, ‘Don’t go,’ I would have appreciated that more than this vague directive where they’re almost… threatening. You know, “We can’t guarantee that we won’t lock you up in Florida,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who just say, ‘Go on’. “

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Customers who canceled flights due to the pandemic between February 2020 and April 2021 were eligible to recover their money from Air Canada and Air Transat, as the two companies agreed to provide refunds as a condition of the payment. financial assistance from taxpayers. But these policies are no longer in place. (WestJet did not ask for a government bailout and did not issue any refunds.)

Morgan Bell, spokesperson for WestJet, said it was too early to say whether customers will heed the government’s advice and stay at home in large numbers. But she noted that Canadians flew during the summer and fall, when an earlier travel advisory was in place.

The airline receives a high number of customer calls and expects cancellations, Ms. Bell said. But, she added, “We are optimistic that bookings will remain strong.”

Porter Airlines spokesperson Brad Cicero said new bookings are always coming in and the “vast majority” of passengers are sticking to their travel plans.

“There are no significant changes to scheduled flight schedules beyond the typical seasonal adjustments and ongoing refinements that are part of regular operations,” Cicero said.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said customers who want to cancel or change their flights should do so where they booked, whether online or through a travel agency.

Travel insurance providers take different positions on what the government opinion means for overseas medical insurance and trip cancellation policies. This creates an “information nightmare,” Martin Firestone, president of travel insurance brokerage firm Travel Secure, said in an interview on Thursday.

“Once again, the travel advisory has left the industry in a rush and minute-to-minute changes are occurring among insurance companies,” he said.

“There is a lot of confusion between Canadians who are already abroad not knowing if they still have medical coverage, and others who intend to leave the country for vacations.

Canada’s largest insurer, Manulife Financial Corp., told its travel insurance agents on Thursday that due to the new travel advisory, the majority of its individual travel policies for emergency medical care will no longer cover COVID-19-related medical claims made on trips with departures after December 17. The company allows customers affected by the change to request refunds in advance of their travel dates.

For an additional cost, travelers can purchase a Manulife Pandemic Travel Plan, which provides coverage for medical emergencies related to COVID-19 even when an advisory is in effect.

Allianz Global Assistance Canada policyholders who contract COVID-19 at their destination will also not be eligible for emergency medical care or trip interruption coverage while the travel advisory is in place. . Travelers can purchase additional COVID-19 coverage for an additional cost.

Any Allianz-Assistance trip cancellation policies purchased after March 11, 2020 will not pay for claims to people who cancel solely because of the travel advisory, as the pandemic “remains a known event,” said spokesperson Julia Koene in an email.

TuGo Travel Insurance provides coverage if a traveler needs to cancel or interrupt their trip due to a COVID-19-related health issue, or due to a mandatory quarantine.

But TuGo’s director of clientele Brad Dance said this type of policy “does not provide coverage if a person has to cancel due to travel advisories, border closures, or someone who does not want to travel due to COVID-19 case levels.”

Travelers can purchase a ‘Cancel for any reason’ add-on to their cancellation policy, said Dance, which covers 50% of prepaid, non-refundable travel costs if a trip is canceled for more than five days. before leaving.

TD Insurance has said its trip cancellation policy will cover any cancellations due to COVID-19 – including cancellations related to border closures and travel advisories – for trips that were booked between October 21 and December 15, before the last notice.

However, for trips booked on or after December 16, travelers are not eligible for cancellation coverage.

“All travel booked after the level 3 notice is reinstated and while that notice is in effect will not be eligible for trip cancellation coverage,” TD spokesperson Paolo Pasquini said. in an email.

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