The Majority of Americans Are Delaying Travel Because of Coronavirus Fears — Should You?

While 51% of Americans are postponing travels due to coronavirus, we have a few tips for traveling more safely during the outbreak.
empty row of seats on an airplane

Over the last few months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created shockwaves throughout the world. With over 3,000 deaths globally and over 100,000 infected at the time of writing, people are frightened of what is to come. A recent ValuePenguin survey found that Americans are drastically changing their travel plans to avoid the situation.

While fear is running high, travelers should consider the bigger picture. The death rate of those falling ill is holding steady at 2% to 3%, and those who are dying from the virus, in many cases, have underlying medical conditions. The risk for travelers to most destinations is still relatively low, and we have a few tips to make your travels safer.

Regardless of the numbers, the travel industry is suffering. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is estimating 2020 global revenue losses of at least $63 billion for airlines alone. With these significant cancellations in traveling currently happening, ValuePenguin asked more than 1,000 Americans about what they are doing in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Key findings

  • Time for a stay-cation: Fifty-one percent of Americans with upcoming travel plans are canceling their plans. Americans are clearly fearful of what’s happening and what’s to come of the coronavirus outbreak. This fear is causing more than half of those surveyed to cancel already planned travel. Surprisingly, younger generations (Gen Z, millennials and Gen X) are more likely to change their itineraries than baby boomers.
  • Travelers are being extra cautious: The last thing you want to happen while traveling is to fall ill, and it can give peace of mind to simply avoid the issue altogether. While 28% of respondents canceled travel because their destination was to an infected area and 15% canceled due to an underlying medical condition, 36% said they canceled plans simply because they don’t want to worry about the virus.
  • Wanderlust will have to wait: Similarly, 52% of Americans are holding off on future travel plans due to the virus. Gen X (61%) and millennials (56%) lead the way for this.
  • Refunds abound: Thirty-eight percent of those who canceled upcoming travel said they were able to get a full refund or credit. With many companies, including Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, offering waivers and refunds for any canceled travel, the travel and hospitality industry is feeling the brunt of this virus.
  • Many are willing to brave it: Forty-six percent of respondents who opted not to change their plans did so because they are not traveling to an infected area. 32% also said they are simply not worried about getting sick. While many are concerned about transmission in places like airports and planes, a large number of travelers are bypassing the worries to enjoy their travels.
  • Domestic travel is affected too: While the coronavirus outbreak began in China and is heavily affecting other countries, domestic travel is also suffering. Of those who changed their travel plans, 60% were scheduled to travel within the U.S., while 40% planned to go internationally.

Tips for traveling during coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

If you plan on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, chances are your travel experience will be much different than normal — you may, for example, see a very empty airport or flight along the way. To prepare for your travels, here are six things to be mindful of while traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Avoid countries with large infection numbers

The U.S. State Department publishes travel advisories and notices as to where Americans should and should not travel. If you are traveling internationally, be sure to see if your destination has a travel advisory.

If you are traveling to a country with high infection rates, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a helpful prevention and treatment guide.

2. Speak with your primary care physician prior to traveling

Before you travel, it’s best to meet with your doctor. Your doctor can advise you on how to prepare for travel.

If you are currently sick or have a pre-existing condition, the coronavirus could pose a larger risk to your health. Ask your doctor whether it is safe to travel.

3. Understand the refund policy before you book

If you are unsure about traveling during this outbreak, it may be worth speaking with airlines and hotels about waivers or refunds. As this situation continues to develop, airlines and other businesses will likely make their policies more flexible.

4. Use a credit card with travel insurance

Using a credit card with travel insurance to book travel can prove helpful if your plans go awry. By insuring your trip, you can potentially receive all of the expenses back if a vendor refuses to refund your money under qualifying circumstances.

5. Speak with your health care insurance provider about international coverage

If you have health insurance, it may be helpful to understand your options in case you do become ill while outside the United States.

If you do not have health insurance, travel insurance can kick in and provide medical assistance if you become sick while traveling. Travel insurance can be purchased separately or may be a benefit on a travel credit card.

6. Contact the U.S. Embassy once you arrive

The U.S. State Department has the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) — a free program for U.S. citizens traveling outside the United States. By enrolling in the program, you can receive the most current information about your destination country. In addition, you can give the State Department your contact information in the case of an emergency.

Bottom Line

The coronavirus is spreading each day into new states within the United States, as well as overseas.

If you have travel planned and feel confident to continue on your journeys, be sure to take a few extra safety steps during this outbreak. If you are contemplating travel in the near future, our tips above can help make your journey a bit safer.

Methodology

ValuePenguin conducted an online survey of 1,002 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded March 4-5, 2020, using Qualtrics.

Brett Holzhauer

Brett Holzhauer is ValuePenguin’s travel rewards expert, focusing on credit card rewards maximization, consumer travel trends, and personal finance news. He has earned and burned over 5 million points and miles throughout his travels, saving him roughly $75,000 in travel expenses.

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Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).