February 25, 2020 / 9:11 PM / a month ago

U.S. airlines, hotels extend rebooking options as coronavirus spreads

(This February 25 story corrects to say that Marriott has issued cancellation waiver until March 15 in paragraph 13)

By Tracy Rucinski and Brenda Goh

(Reuters) - U.S. airlines and hotels are extending options for customers to rebook travel to a growing list of countries, including Italy, as coronavirus cases spiked outside of China and sparked fears of a global pandemic.

The United States told Americans on Tuesday to begin preparing for the coronavirus to spread within the country as outbreaks in Iran, South Korea and Italy escalated, triggering concerns of a hit to global travel demand.

Delta Air Lines Inc said that reservations through March 2 on flights to Bologna, Milan and Venice in northern Italy, where cases have climbed, are eligible for rescheduling. Air Canada has also added parts of Italy to its list of places eligible for rebookings.

Hyatt Hotels said it would allow travelers from South Korea, Japan and Italy to cancel or change their hotel bookings for free, expanding the policy from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The cancellations or booking changes at Hyatt are valid for reservations made through March 31, the U.S. hotel operator said on its official Chinese social media account on WeChat.

Major airlines have also issued travel waivers, eliminating change fees, for flights to South Korea.

United Airlines Holdings Inc and American Airlines Group Inc said on Tuesday they were still monitoring developments in Italy.

So far U.S. airlines have only canceled flights to China, a move that followed the U.S. State Department’s decision to elevate a travel advisory to the country to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

American Airlines shares dropped 9.3% to $23.12 on Tuesday, below their price after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013.

Cowen analyst Helane Becker said the impacts extended to car rental companies as well as concessions and restaurants in airports and on cruise lines.

“It’s not just the airlines that are being impacted by people making different travel plans,” she said.

Royal Caribbean Cruises said it has canceled 30 sailings in Southeast Asia and changed several itineraries in the region due to the coronavirus outbreak, hitting its 2020 earnings per share by about $0.90.

Hyatt’s larger rivals Marriott International Inc and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc have also issued cancellation waivers for guests affected by the outbreak in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Hilton has issued the waiver until March 31 and Marriott until March 15.

The hotel chains did not immediately respond to requests for comment if they were extending the waiver to South Korea, Japan and Italy as well.

Even travel companies without exposure to Europe and Asia were keeping an eye on developments. JetBlue Airways Corp, which only flies in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, said on Tuesday it had activated its pandemic response team to monitor the situation in real time.

The team was last called on for the Zika virus outbreak in 2016, a spokesman said.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and Brenda Goh; additional reporting by Ankit Ajmera; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Cynthia Osterman and Richard Chang

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