July 02, 2020
NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION REMINDS NEW YORK CONSUMERS OF TRAVEL RIGHTS
Summer Travel Plans Maybe Impacted due to COVID-19 and Governor Cuomo’s Recently Issued Travel Advisory
New Yorkers Should Know Their Rights and Follow Basic Tips to Help Navigate Travel Plan Changes
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) today reminded New Yorkers of their rights when it comes to changing travel plans. In response to increased rates of COVID-19 transmission in certain states within the United States, and to protect New York’s successful containment of COVID-19, New York State joined with New Jersey and Connecticut in issuing a travel advisory for anyone returning from travel to states that have a significant degree of community-wide spread of COVID-19.
“During the height of the summer travel season, COVID-19 is forcing many New Yorkers to reevaluate their upcoming vacation plans,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado who oversees the NYS Division of Consumer Protection. “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we are doing everything we can to protect and inform New Yorkers during this crisis, and that includes safeguarding their hard-earned money. We stand ready to guide consumers and assist them in recouping funds that may be in jeopardy due to Covid-19 travel cancellations.”
“Protecting New York consumers’ pocketbooks from financial loss is a top priority, especially during this stressful time," said Superintendent of Financial Services Linda A. Lacewell. "The Department of Financial Services joins with the Division of Consumer Protection to ensure that New York travelers have accurate information as they make or amend their summer travel arrangements."
Consumers should be aware of the following information and tips when booking travel:
The New York State Truth in Travel Act (NY GBL Article 10-A) safeguards consumers against fraud, false advertising, misrepresentation, and other abuses. Under the law, a travel agency or promoter must provide a consumer with written disclosures of all the terms of the travel service within five days of purchase or agreement. A consumer has until midnight of the third business day after receipt of the full written disclosures to respond in writing to cancel such purchase or agreement. A consumer may also cancel the purchase or agreement at any point during the five-day period prior to receiving the disclosures.
Travel Agents/Tour Companies
Travel agents and tour companies are not licensed in New York State, so it is important for consumers to keep track of arrangements and contracts. Pay attention to the terms and be sure to read the cancellation and refund policies. Many times, reservations require a deposit that may not be refundable. If the trip is cancelled, the deposit might only be applied toward future travel or forfeited altogether.
Travel Insurance and 'Cancel for Any Reason' Travel Policies in New York State
The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) regulates travel insurance. Most standard travel insurance policies do not cover trip interruption or cancellation due to COVID-19 because such standard policies usually exclude coverage for an epidemic, pandemic, or similar public health event. In March DFS issued guidance allowing travel agents and travel insurers to offer ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ coverage. ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ coverage rates are substantially higher than standard travel insurance and normally only allow up to 75 percent of a refund of traveler expenses due to trip cancellation. DFS recommends consumers to read policies carefully before purchase. Additional information for consumers is available on the DFS website here.
New Yorkers with complaints about a travel insurance policy or ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ coverage should contact DFS at www.dfs.ny.gov/complaint or through the DFS Consumer Hotline at (212) 480-6400 or (518) 474-6600 (Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM).
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a national consumer alert explaining requirements related to trip cancellation during the pandemic depending on your mode of travel:
Airlines: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines must offer refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for cancelled or significantly delayed flights, even when flight disruptions are outside their control. If your airline isn’t doing that, you can report it to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Cruise Lines: If you booked a cruise, your options will vary by cruise line. Your ticket contract lays out cancellation policies and your rights. For example, you may be offered a refund, or a credit or voucher for a future cruise. If you opt for a credit or voucher, make sure the expiration date is far enough out that you can use it. Read more from the Federal Maritime Commission about your rights and the recourse that might be available to you.
Trains: Amtrak is waiving change fees for reservations made before May 31, 2020; you can make changes online at Amtrak.com. For cancellations and refunds, call 1-800-USA-RAIL.
Lodging: Some hotel chains may be loosening their cancellation policies, waiving change and cancellation fees that would normally apply to non-refundable rates. Check with the hotel for your options.
Travel Planning Tips
- Do your travel homework and plan your trip wisely by researching your options. Consider price, location, availability of activities and cancellation policies.
- Get everything related to your travel plans in writing.
- Read the fine print when taking advantage of an “all inclusive” offer.
- Consider paying with a credit card, which offers more protection than paying by cash or check. Some credit card companies offer perks like trip insurance or concierge service while traveling and may offer additional protections if the trip is cancelled. Check with your credit card company on the conditions of travel expenditure reimbursement.
DCP has fielded hundreds of complaints in recent months from consumers who had to cancel or reschedule their travel plans due to COVID-19. Recently, the Division received a complaint from a consumer who booked a trip to Holland and Belgium that was cancelled. The consumer called the travel company repeatedly to ask for a refund but never received a response. Through the Division’s mediation efforts, the consumer received a full refund.
If a consumer is having trouble getting refunded for part or all of a trip due to the pandemic, they are encouraged to file a complaint with DCP.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. For more consumer protection tips, follow the Division on social media at Twitter: @NYSConsumer and Facebook: www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.