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January 29, 2016

The entire tourism industry is responding to Zika virus—though in many cases, airlines and operators are offering words of caution rather than actual rebooking advice or assistance. So if you have plans to fly to the Caribbean or Central or South America in the coming month, you may be wondering what to do. In short, you’ll want to follow these steps.

Get in touch with your airline, preferably by phone.

Most domestic carriers—including Delta, American, and United—are making provisions for concerned travelers. (Find more details about what airlines are doing in our guide to zika virus facts, right here.) Either way, expect red tape: American Airlines, for instance, is only offering cancellations to certain destinations on the CDC watch list, and Delta has a cutoff of February 29 for fee-free itinerary changes. For that reason, talking to a human is the way to go.

Call your hotel, tour operator, or cruise line.

Whereas airlines are enforcing policies company-wide, hotels and operators are largely acting on a case-by-case basis. Some properties outside of the CDC warning destinations are issuing rebooking policies; others inside the alert zones are not. Unfortunately, because the CDC alert is a recommendation rather than a government mandate, they aren't required to offer refunds or cancellation support.

Talk to your travel agent, if you have one.

Since they have strong relationships with hotels and operators, they may be able to negotiate on your behalf. Even then, agents have been reporting that many clients are still coughing up thousands to cancel their travel plans.

Know whether travel insurance will cover your claim.

Cancel for any reason policies aren’t the most commonly chosen among travelers, but if you have one, you’ll be in luck. If you’re considering taking out a new policy, ask about this style of coverage and triple check (again, with an agent over the phone) that “change of mind” is an acceptable reason to cancel your trip. If it is, you can generally get refunded up to 75 percent of your travel costs.

Phil Sylvester, Chief Content and Communications Manager at World Nomads, a top travel insurance provider, offered more solutions. “Regardless of Zika, if a pregnant woman becomes ill prior to departure and is declared medically unfit to travel, they are covered for cancellation costs,” he said. Sylvester also clarified that unless there’s a government declaration against travel to specific destinations—one that can’t be interpreted as a mere suggestion—travel insurance likely won’t offer you a bail out.

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