Coronavirus and travel: Australians advised to 'reconsider' overseas travel - will your airline refund you?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recommended Australians reconsider all non-essential overseas travel.

This applies to any destination offshore in what is known as a "level three travel advice" for all Australians leaving the country.

"This is done to protect their health and to limit their exposure, given we have so many countries now that are affected by the coronavirus," Mr Morrison said.

"Only essential travel should be considered if you are going overseas from this point forward, and we would encourage Australians to heed that advice," he said.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the risk to Australians "still remains low"."Most of our cases still are imported, but we know that some of those imported cases have led to some community spread," he said.

"We want to be as far ahead of the game is any country and control the spread of this virus and make sure that we keep its outbreaks in Australia to is limited as possible."

The new government warning has been posted on the Smart Traveller website

"We now advise all Australians to reconsider your need for overseas travel at this time.

Regardless of your destination, age or health, if your overseas travel is not essential, consider carefully whether now is the right time.

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We have issued this advice for two principal reasons:

You may be more exposed to contracting COVID-19 while travelling overseas. You may come in contact with more people than usual, including during long-haul flights and in crowded airports. Health care systems in some countries will come under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia's. If you're sick, you may not have your normal support networks.
Overseas travel has become more complex and unpredictable. Many countries are introducing entry or movement restrictions. These are changing often and quickly. Your travel plans may be disrupted. You may be placed in quarantine or denied entry to some countries, and you may need to self-quarantine on return to Australia. Think about what this might mean for your health, and your family, work or study responsibilities.

There are some countries and regions in the world where we advise you 'do not travel'. These are mostly for security reasons but some are also because of a very high risk of coronavirus transmission. Do not travel to these places.

For all other destinations, you should reconsider your need to travel. This is a global advisory in light of the widespread nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and the significant measures in place to curb it.  Individual country advisories may not yet display a 'reconsider' advice level. You should nevertheless reconsider your need to travel to all destinations. These country pages will be updated and remain an essential of source of information on country-specific risks and contact information. 

If you're overseas and can't or don't want to return to Australia, follow the advice of local authorities. Take care to minimise your risk of exposure to coronavirus. 

Contact your airline, travel agent or insurance company to discuss your travel plans and options for cancelling or postponing current bookings, or to arrange flights back to Australia."

Will airlines refund overseas flights?

Major airlines are not offering refunds for all international flights, despite Australians being warned against all overseas travel as the government ramps up its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Level 3 travel advice was implemented for all countries on Friday, meaning all non-essential overseas travel should be avoided. It is just one step below the highest Level 4 "do not travel" warning.

Qantas only considers giving refunds on international flights when a Level 4 warning is issued, like the one in place for China. At this stage, travellers will not be offered full refunds for all international flights because the federal government only advised against going overseas, rather than banning it.

However, many travellers can already change their flight dates and destinations without charge as a result of the global outbreak.

Qantas is waiving fees to change international flights until June 30, if the bookings were made between March 10 and 31. The airline is offering refunds on flights to China, due to the travel ban that has been in place for weeks.

Virgin Australia has made no change to its coronavirus travel policy. Earlier this week, the airline said passengers going overseas between March 10 and June 30 could change their flight dates and destinations free of charge.

Customers of both airlines will need to pay the difference if their new flights are more expensive.

Travel insurer Cover-More has suspended sales of its "cancel for any reason" (CFAR) add-on product in Australia and New Zealand amid the escalating impact of the coronavirus. It was one of the only travel insurers to offer this type of cover, which is more common in the US.

Some international airlines are refunding tickets for flights to countries or regions with major travel restrictions. Cathay Pacific is refunding flights to Wuhan in mainland China, the Philippines, Taiwan, India, Israel, South Korea, Thailand and Japan, depending on when the flights were booked.

Check with your airline and travel insurer to see how it impacts you. For Smart Traveller advice, contact +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

More details on airline fee waivers here.

Most travel insurance policies will not cover you for cancellation due to the coronavirus, though some policies will still cover you for medical and related expenses if you contract the virus while travelling. 

More details on travel insurance and the coronavirus here.

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