Olympics 2020 postponed, IOC member says. What travelers should know

Due to the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are going to be postponed, likely to 2021, with the details to be worked out in the next four weeks, veteran International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA TODAY Sports Monday.

The move could leave some travelers scrambling.

The Summer Games were slated to run July 24 to Aug. 9. The news of the likely postponement comes on the heels of the State Department’s March 19 advisory, which suggested Americans not travel abroad at all. 

For many, the news means changing plans that had been in place for months or even years.

The U.S. Olympic Committee and each sport’s national governing body coordinate flights for athletes, and coaches and officials, but families typically arrange their own travel and sometimes do so before the athlete has even officially qualified for the Olympic team. Media outlets also book flights and lodging for dozens of staffers who will be covering the Games. And then there are the fans.

State Department tells Americans: ‘Do not travel’ abroad, come home if overseas

The sun sets behind the Olympic rings installation at Tokyo's Odaiba Marine Park.

Travelers who made Airbnb housing reservations in Japan for the Olympics can cancel under the company’s “extenuating circumstances” policy, which means guests impacted by the coronavirus outbreak will receive a full refund (fees included).

Hotels’ coronavirus cancellation policies have varied widely depending on the company and when and where the customer is traveling. Currently, many lodging establishments are only allowing fee-free changes through April.

Major airlines, including Delta, American and United, began cutting service to Asia at the end of January, first stopping flights to China, and later reducing flights to Japan and South Korea. Carriers have also issued a flood of waivers allowing travelers to change or cancel upcoming flights without fees that generally start at $200 a person. What the waivers don’t allow – at least not for nonrefundable tickets: a refund.

The one surefire way to get a refund? Wait for the airline to cancel your flight. Until it does, you likely only qualify for a voucher good for a finite amount of time.

When most airlines cancel a flight, whether due to a health emergency like coronavirus, a winter storm, a hurricane or a mechanical issue, passengers are eligible for a refund even if they have a nonrefundable ticket, including those restrictive basic economy tickets. Airlines don’t always broadcast this option, preferring to rebook a passenger or issue a credit so they retain the revenue.

It was highly unlikely the games would be canceled outright, given the major economic (not to mention morale-boosting) implications for the world at large.

This will be the first time the Olympics have been suspended, though they have been canceled previously during periods of war. The 1916 Summer Games were canceled because of World War I, as were the Summer and Winter Games in 1940 and 1944, due to World War II.

Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, David Oliver and Tom Schad, USA TODAY

Don’t want to fly during coronavirus crisis? Don’t rush to cancel that ticket. Heres’ why

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