The International Olympic Committee announced Monday that it has postponed the start of the Tokyo Olympics to July 23, 2021, and of the Paralympic Games to August 24, 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The worsening outbreak, along with measures to prevent its spread - such as social distancing, stay-at-home orders and increasingly severe travel restrictions - affected Olympic athletes' training and made the 339-event spectacle no longer tenable this year in Tokyo, whose metropolitan area is the world's largest by population.
"In the meantime, we will strengthen our efforts to encourage travellers to visit Japan as soon as it's safe to do so," Naohito Ise, executive director of the Japan National Tourism Organisation in New York, told The Washington Post in an email. "This means that many travellers may still be able to visit Japan this fall, and can certainly continue to plan trips for 2021."
Since Wednesday 25 March the New Zealand Government moved the Covid-19 alert to Level 4, and MFAT has advised against all overseas travel.
But for travellers who had been planning to attend the 2020 Games, there are a lot of factors to juggle when it comes to cancelling or changing Tokyo travel reservations. And for those who didn't plan to attend but now would like to try for 2021, the postponement may offer new opportunities.
How do I reschedule my flights?
Now that the Games have officially been pushed back, some travellers are stuck with summer plane tickets to Tokyo that they no longer want or need.
During the pandemic, many airlines are allowing customers who booked directly with them to reschedule flight reservations without change fees, or exchange flights for airline credits to be used at a later date. That means travellers looking to attend the Olympics in 2021 can rebook their Tokyo flights without financial penalty.
The New Zealand Consumer Protection advice tells travellers to first contact the airline regarding refunds directly, before resorting to travel insurance to resolve the issue.
Airlines may not be forthright with this information, so travellers may need to request a cash refund explicitly.
Refunds should reflect the total price you paid, including any seat allocations or extra luggage.
The rules are different for those who booked flights through third-party sites, although many of those are adjusting their policies as well. Those policies will differ from company to company, so check their websites and contact a customer service agent for further assistance (but note that wait times may be much longer than normal).
If all else fails, travellers can try to get a refund for their ticket through their credit card company.
The final option, if you have paid an overseas company using a credit card is to ask your bank for a charge back. Consumer protection says this option is only "available for a short time after you made the transaction — usually about 30 days". Ask your bank what their time limit is and how to apply.
"Depending on the card, the company will fight for a refund on your behalf," Andrea Sachs reported for The Washington Post. "Document all of your communications. For instance, take screen shots of your DMs and online activity with the booking sites, airlines and properties."
If you are denied boarding or a flight is cancelled out of New Zealand, the Montreal Convention states you would be entitled for a reimbursement for unforeseen expenses, should your travel plans affect rebooking of onwards travel or expenses already booked on the ground. However, if you've splashed out on some serious holiday time, there is a limit on reimbursement to approximately NZ$8500.
How do I reschedule my lodging?
Japan has a wide range of accommodation options for Olympics travellers, from Airbnbs to rustic guesthouses, luxury hotels, capsule hotels and more. Each accommodation type will have its own policies regarding cancelling or rescheduling lodging.
For hotel reservations, contact the property to find out your options.
Some hotels, such as Hoshino Resorts, which operates nearly 40 properties throughout Japan, are allowing travellers to postpone reservations for up to a year.
Marriott International hotels are allowing guests "with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with prepaid rates that are typically more restrictive," to change or cancel a reservation without a fee up to 24 hours before check-in, "as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020.″ (Exclusions, however, may apply.)
Meanwhile, as with flights, online travel sites may have altered options for changing your hotel reservations.
"If you've booked your hotel through an online travel agency like Orbitz or Travelocity, good news is cancelling or changing plans has gotten a lot easier with new online tools that let travellers cancel plans online or in the app," Mel Dohmen, senior manager of communications and public relations for Expedia Group, told The Post in an email. "Right now, both sites have negotiated with their travel partners to waive cancellation penalties and refund existing hotel bookings through the end of April or provide a voucher allowing you to rebook in the future."
It's not yet clear whether coronavirus-related policy changes made for immediate reservations will apply to bookings later in 2020.
"Travellers with reservations later this spring and summer should check back closer to their travel date as many lodging [options] are updating their policies daily to align with changing restrictions and local mandates," Dohmen said. "That said, travellers who qualify for current COVID-19 related policies may want to play it safe with a refund or voucher to use toward a future stay. Regardless, whether you are cancelling travel or changing travel dates, you likely won't have to pay a change fee."
For lodging reservations made through an online travel agency, go online or in the app and see what cancellation options are available. If the offer isn't appealing, start a chat with a virtual agent on-site or fill out a cancellation form.
Airbnb's response to the crisis, including changes to its cancellation and refund policies, has been in flux, and many travellers have been left with reservation frustrations during the pandemic. The company recommends that customers monitor its "Extenuating circumstances policy and the coronavirus (COVID-19)″ page for updates about coverage.
What does this mean for my Olympics tickets?
According to the Tokyo 2020 website, if you already bought tickets but cannot attend on the new dates, your tickets will be refunded.
Beyond that, it's not totally settled. Reuters reported that the Tokyo Olympics organising committee was still considering the status of purchased tickets for the 2020 Games; the site says that, "in principle," 2020 tickets would just "be valid for a new date."
What about other day trips and tickets I had set up for that week?
Travellers who had booked additional tourism activities in Japan during the Olympics, such as day trips and sightseeing excursions, should check with the activity providers. Out of precaution, many tours are being canceled during the pandemic anyhow.
Some popular tour operators, such as Get Your Guide, are offering full refunds or future credits for canceled bookings.
What if I didn't have plans to attend the Olympics but now want to make them for 2021?
Attending the Olympics is a bucket-list travel experience for millions of people around the world. So, despite the unsettled landscape, travellers interested in attending the Games in 2021 should make reservations ASAP, says Nori Akashi, from the Tokyo Tourism Representative Office.
"Many people book trips to Tokyo/Japan a year ahead (or even earlier) if they are trying to go in high seasons for cherry blossoms, festivals, etc.," Akashi told The Post in an email. "The travel arrangement for the Olympics would not look any different."
In light of the pandemic's impact on travel, people may want to book room rates or flights that include free cancellation.
Those interested in joining the scramble for tickets can find them through Authorised Ticket Resellers (ATRs). For the United States, that's CoSport. Check the site regularly for more information on ticket updates and availability.