Swine Flu Outbreak Has Travelers Scrambling to Cancel Trips to Mexico

Christina Hill needs a vacation from the Mexican vacation she has no intention of taking.

Hill, who was scheduled to spend a week in Cancun, Mexico, with a friend in late May, told ABCNews.com that the recent swine flu outbreak has her scrambling to reschedule without losing a ton of money.

"I don't want to vacation on the beach with a mask on my face," said Hill, 26, of Wilmington, Del. "That kind of defeats the whole purpose."

Booked on a US Airways flight on May 20 to return on May 26, Hill has found that her itinerary falls outside the date range that the airline is allowing passengers to cancel or rebook free of charge. US Airways has agreed to waive fees only for flights booked prior to April 27 for travel through May 16.

"I'm more than surprised and shocked that US Airways have yet to extend the date in their policy," said Hill, who would have to pay upwards of $300 to cancel the flight today.

A US Airways spokesperson said that the airline will continue to monitor the pandemic alert level and would change their policy if necessary.

"I definitely want to go to Mexico, but not with this flu hanging over our shoulders," said Hill.

Hill is one of thousands of travelers experiencing trouble rebooking or cancelling trips to Mexico. The U.S. State Department has advised Americans to avoid travel to the region through July 27.

Ken Pomerantz, the head of MLT Vacations, a major wholesaler of vacation packages to Mexico, told the travel industry Web site Travel Pulse that the company has seen a 40 percent increase in calls due to concerns about the outbreak, and cancellations to Mexico are up 30 percent.

Scores of consumers wrote to ABCNews.com complaining that the swine flu has threatened to ruin the vacations.

Elyse Cohen and her fiance were supposed to leave for their honeymoon in Cancun on May 28. Now they don't want to go. Cohen said that the swine flu doesn't exactly scream romance.

"We don't want to go to Cancun anymore," said Cohen, 30. "We're just getting married and this is supposed to be a great time for us to spend together after the stress of wedding planning and so forth."

"We're just looking forward to having a relaxing honeymoon, not sitting on a beach fearful that we're going to get this flu virus," she said.

Cohen's travel dates do not fall within the range that most airlines and travel agencies are offering refunds at this point, so she has no choice but to wait it out.

"We've asked our travel agent to change our reservations to a different location but she keeps saying it's too soon," said Cohen. "The stress was supposed to be all in the wedding planning, not in the honeymoon."

For William Davis, who had booked a Mexican-bound cruise for him and his wife as well as another couple, the swine flu has meant that the trip's itinerary has changed and will now head up the west coast of the United States.

"The cruise isn't even going to Mexico anymore," said Davis. "I don't want to go to some place like Oregon."

Davis that while he did get his money back on his cruise reservation, the flight the group booked from Dallas to Los Angeles has yet to be refunded.

"I was shocked and dismayed at being charged $300 for not wanting to take a flight during this emergency," said Davis.

What to Do If Your Vacation Gets Hit By The Swine Flu

Christopher Elliott, a travel expert and National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate, said that there are several things consumers can do to exit their Mexican vacations.

Elliott suggests calling your travel agent as the first line of defense. These are the people he says can most effectively advocate on your behalf to change or cancel flights without enormous fees.

"People don't realize that an online agency like Expedia or Orbitz are actual travel agencies and if you look at the fine print they have things like satisfaction guarantees, warrantees or promises," said Elliott.

"Call them and say that you promised everything would be fine with your vacation and it's not now thanks to the swine flu," said Elliott.

Next Elliott suggests e-mailing a representative from the airline you're booked with to get a faster response as well as to create a paper trail of your requests.

"Call center representatives are trained not to put your through to a supervisor," said Elliott of some people's plan to ask for a manager in hopes of getting an issue resolved faster.

"Avoid contacting them via telephone unless the trip is really imminent," he said. "Write them an e-mail because those are read faster and processed faster."

Elliott also advises travelers who are not booked to travel to Mexico for another couple of weeks to wait it out, as anxiety-provoking as that may be.

"Basically the airlines have been changing their rules minute by minute so if you don't like the rule now you can always look tomorrow and maybe it will have changed in your favor," said Elliott.

And the airlines are in fact facing real pressure to make changes. On Thursday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sent a letter to airline executives asking them to extend their offer to waive change penalties for passengers traveling to Mexico until June 1.

For those who are truly too panicked to wait and see what comes of the swine flu, Elliott suggests eating some of the cost of cancelling a flight and getting a credit toward a future flight.

"Even if you do decide you're never going to want to go to Mexico you can call your airline and get a credit that can be used from up to a year from when you book and pay a change fee and whatever the fair difference is," said Elliott. "Pay a little and get a credit."

"You're vacation is still not completely lost if you're feeling really panicky."

Find Out What Your Carriers' Policy Is

American Airlines: Will rebook trips booked prior to April 25 for travel through May 16 without a fee. For those who want to change their destination they must request to do so prior to May 16 and will be responsible for any difference in fare prices.

AirTran: Will waive change fees for passengers who wish to alter their travel scheduled to or from Cancun through May 15.

Continental Airlines: Will waive change fees and/or additional fare collection for flights originally scheduled between April 24 and May 15 to be rebooked. If the re-scheduled travel goes to a different destination, only the change fee will be waived.

Delta/Northwest: Will waive change and fare difference fees for flights scheduled between April 26 and May 16. For travelers wishing to change their destination only the change fee will be waived.

Jet Blue: Travelers who purchased flights before April 25 for travel to Cancun, Mexico through May 15 can postpone or rebook to an alternative destination without change fees. Changes for new flights can be made through May 20 and before the originally scheduled departure for pre-booked flights.

United: Travelers can make one change to their plans without change fees within 21 days of their affected travel dates. All rescheduled travel may be subject to high fares.

US Airways: Travelers can move their travel dates within 14 days through May 15 and have change fees waived. Travelers can change their destination within 14 days from the original trip with no change fee but with a possible difference in fare that they will be responsible for. Or travelers can do a one-time change free and push their trip as far as they want for an extra cost.

Expedia: Will waive all Expedia-imposed change and cancel fees for customers traveling to Mexico from April 27 through to May 6. A page on their Web site directs users to specific airlines' Web sites for additional information.

Travelocity: All change fees are waved through May 6 and a spokesperson for the company said that they will be following the lead of major airlines. Should customers want to rebook vacations, Travelocity agents will call the hotel and airline on their behalf.

Orbitz: In addition to reaching out to customers who had booked vacations to Mexico to inform them of their change in policy, Orbitz is waiving all change and cancellation fees but will also act in accordance to major hotels and airlines.