Are you covered for cancelled trips?

May 4 2009 by Ellen Roseman

Last fall, I went to Cancun for the first time and saw why this vacation area is so popular. The sun always shines, the beach goes on forever and most hotels offer unlimited food and drink as part of a package deal. And if you get tired of lying around, you can hop a bus and see fabulous Mayan ruins.

Now, of course, the H1N1 flu has made us all steer clear of Mexico and the federal government is warning us not to go there for “non-essential travel.”

But what if your trip is already booked and paid for? Do you have the right to a refund if you cancel?

U.S. airlines and tour operators are being lenient with travellers who want to change their plans, says Consumer Reports. They’re letting travellers going to, from or through Mexico to change their destinations or travel dates without penalty or increased fares for the same type of discount ticket.

“In general, that preserves the value of the travel that was purchased, but you won’t get a cash refund,” says the magazine, which makes a couple of important points:

— A health warning from the government doesn’t negate any contractual obligation you have. Only a government action preventing you from travel to your destination provides enough force to let you break your contractual obligation without penalty.

— Standard trip cancellation insurance policies don’t protect against circumstances like the current flu outbreak. “Termination-at-will” policies might cover this situation, but they’re very expensive and hard to get.

Tour packages and airline tickets are typically non-refundable. Airlines will let you reschedule flights, subject to a penalty and a higher fare, during the following year.

The unusual leniency “seems to signal the seriousness of the epidemic in Mexico, as well as the poor health of the travel industry, which can ill aford to anger consumers as the recession wears on and traffic slumps.”

Do you know anyone who’s had to cancel a trip to Mexico? Were they treated with compassion by the airline or tour operator? Please send along your stories.

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