Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Can you cancel or change a flight to somewhere with a travel advisory like the Bahamas?

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The U.S. State Department issued travel advisories last month to two popular island destinations, likely causing some would-be tourists to consider canceling their trips.

But be warned: experts say doing so is often not an option for airlines, meaning travelers who paid for flights without insurance may be out of luck.

The U.S. issued a Level 3 warning for Jamaica on Jan. 23, a threshold in which Americans should “reconsider travel.” Three days later, the Bahamas fell under the Level 2 designation, a less severe warning but one that still urges visitors to “exercise increased caution.”

Despite the advisories, travelers to the two countries are unlikely to get a refund for any planned trips. An NBC report said that option is usually not a possibility even for areas under a Level 4 advisory, meaning “Do not travel.”

American Airlines does not list travel advisories as a reason for offering a refund on a non-refundable ticket. Among the scenarios that would constitute a refund are a passenger’s cancellation within 24 hours of purchasing a ticket; a change in the flight schedule, either of more than four hours at any time prior to the trip or of at least 90 minutes within 72 hours of the departure time; or a death of the passenger or traveling companion.

While a refund is unlikely, travelers may be able to receive some sort of compensation should they decide not to take a trip. NBC suggests contacting an airline directly if there are any concerns about visiting somewhere, as companies sometimes give out travel waivers in certain situations.

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The smartest move for residents planning vacations, particularly to areas like Jamaica and the Bahamas, may be to purchase travel insurance. Analysis from Forbes found that 76% of travel insurance policies in 2023 contained trip cancellation benefits.

Insurance generally costs between 5 and 10% of a trip’s expenses, with variables like the length of the trip and the age and total number of travelers affecting the exact amount, Forbes said. It can cover unforeseen occurrences like severe weather during the trip or a traveler’s serious injury or medical condition, but events like a pregnancy or mental health episode usually are not covered.

The State Department cited the frequency of armed robberies, sexual assaults and other violent crimes — including some acts committed at all-inclusive resorts — as factors leading to the Bahamas’ and Jamaica’s travel advisories. Additionally, many Jamaican hospitals have substandard medical care, and local police “often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents,” the advisory stated.

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