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Omicron and travel: What new restrictions mean for refunds and insurance

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: How the Omicron variant could impact your travel plans' COVID-19: How the Omicron variant could impact your travel plans
WATCH: Travel agents across the country have been fielding a flurry of questions related to the newly-discovered Omicron variant and the subsequent travel bans and restrictions. Anne Gaviola has more on what you need to know about air travel and insurance if you've already booked or are making plans – Nov 30, 2021

If you were planning to travel to another country or province this holiday season, news about the Omicron COVID-19 variant is probably driving your anxiety levels higher. Will the virus spoil your trip once again? And are you going to get your money back if you have to cancel flights and hotels?

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that there could soon be a steep rise in infections in parts of southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified. But the WHO has urged against travel bans, noting their limited effect.

Read more: Omicron variant: Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance

Click to play video: 'Scientists trying to determine vaccine efficacy against Omicron variant' Scientists trying to determine vaccine efficacy against Omicron variant
Scientists trying to determine vaccine efficacy against Omicron variant – Nov 30, 2021

Still, wary nations are rushing to impose travel curbs. In Canada, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Tuesday that foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This adds to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

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Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.

Read more: Unvaccinated? Starting today you won’t be able to board a plane, train in Canada

So far, a handful of Omicron COVID-19 variant cases have been confirmed in Canada.

If you have travel booked over the next few weeks and months, here’s what to know.

Click to play video: 'Canada may need to do more to combat Omicron COVID-19 variant, Trudeau says' Canada may need to do more to combat Omicron COVID-19 variant, Trudeau says
Canada may need to do more to combat Omicron COVID-19 variant, Trudeau says – Nov 30, 2021

Flight refunds

Under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), passengers aren’t entitled to much if an airline issues a flight cancellation prompted by a government travel ban. The bare minimum airlines must do in such a scenario is provide a rebooking, according to the APPR.

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But Gabor Lukacs, president of consumer advocacy group, Air Passenger Rights, says if you didn’t get the service you paid for — be it a flight or vacation package — then you’re entitled to a full refund under common law and provincial and federal legislations. In other words: if you didn’t get what you paid for, you should get your money back. Specifically, the airline should provide a full refund in the original payment method, Lukacs says.

“If you paid $217 for airfare and $53 in taxes, then you have to get back everything together,” he says.

There should be no cancellation fees either, he adds.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Omicron cases detected in Netherlands before South Africa identified variant' COVID-19: Omicron cases detected in Netherlands before South Africa identified variant
COVID-19: Omicron cases detected in Netherlands before South Africa identified variant – Nov 30, 2021

Read more: Omicron: How does it compare with other COVID-19 variants of concern?

If the airline denies you the refund and you paid with a credit card, you can ask your credit card issuer for a chargeback. If that fails, Lukacs suggests frustrated passengers resort to what’s known as a statutory chargeback, which is governed by provincial law. Lukacs has laid out detailed guidelines on his website showing how Canadians can pursue a statutory chargeback.

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Luckily, you won’t have to put up quite such a fight if your booking is for a flight to or from the U.S., from the European Union (EU) or with a U.S. or European carrier, Lukacs says.

Under U.S. law, passengers are entitled to a refund for flights cancelled by the airline for any reason.

Read more: Omicron variant was in Europe before South Africa announced detection, data shows

In June, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was seeking a $25.5 million fine from Air Canada over the carrier’s failure to provide timely refunds. Earlier this month it said the airline had agreed to a $4.5 million settlement to resolve the investigation.

The EU also established passengers’ right to a refund for cancelled flights. The law applies to all flights within the EU, those operated by an EU airline and those departing from the EU, whether on not operated by an EU airline.

Keep in mind, though, that if you decide to pre-emptively cancel your flight, there is no obligation under the law to provide a refund, Lukacs says. You may still be entitled to at least part of your money back, depending on the stipulations of the airline’s own tariff or the provisions of your travel insurance policy, he says.

Since the onset of the pandemic some carriers have adopted flexible booking options that entitle you to at least a partial refund if you decide to cancel your trip.

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Click to play video: 'CDC director says ‘no evidence’ Omicron COVID-19 variant in U.S.' CDC director says ‘no evidence’ Omicron COVID-19 variant in U.S.
CDC director says ‘no evidence’ Omicron COVID-19 variant in U.S – Nov 30, 2021

Travel insurance

So-called trip cancellation and interruption insurance is designed to cover you for any non-refundable costs such as airfare and hotel bookings, says John Shmuel, managing editor at financial products comparison site RATESDOTCA.

However, if you decide to travel to a destination to which a “do not travel” government advisory applies, your policy may be void, Shmuel cautions.

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And travel insurance will rarely refund you for the cost of a trip you decided to cancel, Shmuel adds.

Read more: Moderna CEO says COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against Omicron variant

Cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage comes is the only kind of policy that will let you backtrack on your travel plans simply because you’re worried.

CFAR policies are coming back onto the market in Canada after virtually disappearing earlier in the pandemic, Will McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) previously told Global News.

However, CFAR policies typically come at a price premium.

Also, travel insurance for medical expenses won’t cover things like cancelled flights and hotel bookings, Shmuel notes.

With files from Global News reporter Saba Aziz and Reuters

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