With all the unforeseen ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel plans are rarely set in stone these days. Having to cancel a trip is a much more common experience than it used to be, and many companies have updated their policies to offer more flexible booking options.
Still, the cancellation process isn’t always as smooth as we might like, and sometimes would-be travelers end up losing money when their vacation plans get derailed. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
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HuffPost asked travel experts to share the common mistakes people make when they cancel a trip ― and their advice for avoiding these errors when your plans change.
Taking An Airline Voucher
When you cancel a refundable booking or the airline cancels your flight, you might find the easiest course of action is to get a credit with the airline for the amount you paid. But that isn’t your only option.
Airline vouchers might be great if you’re loyal to a specific carrier, but you can’t use them to pay your rent or electric bill. So depending on your financial situation and travel plans, it could be a mistake to accept that credit rather than asking for a cash refund.
“Under federal law, if the airline cancels or significantly changes your trip for any reason and you choose not to travel with them, you are owed a full refund in the original form of payment,” said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. So if your situation qualifies, he added, “contact customer service for a cash refund rather than a voucher.”
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Canceling Flights Too Early
“If you’re planning to voluntarily cancel a flight, it could pay to wait until the last minute,” said Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy.
Given that airlines are required to offer refunds to all passengers in the event of a significant delay or cancellation, you might as well wait to see if your itinerary is affected in the time leading up to the scheduled trip. Once you know you won’t be taking a flight, set a calendar reminder to cancel closer to the departure date.
“In the meantime, you should regularly check your flight status on the airline’s website to see if any changes have been made,” Orlando said. “These days, airlines are shifting around their schedules constantly, which means that flights are altered or canceled quite regularly.”
This is good news if you booked a low-fare option that isn’t refundable and could subject you to a penalty if canceled.
“When irregular operations happen, you’re entitled to a refund, even if you purchased a nonrefundable ticket,” Griff said. “If you canceled your flight a week before departure and then it ultimately got delayed a few hours, you’d be stuck with a future travel credit.”
Not Saving Your Confirmation Numbers
When you do cancel your flight, don’t forget to keep the records of the booking and cancellation until the full process is finished.
That means if you decide to accept a voucher for future travel, you’ll want to hold on to the information you’ll need in order to use it for a later flight. Losing that data could lead to long customer service hold times.
“Whenever you cancel a flight, save the confirmation number and 13-digit ticket number for future reference when you’re ready to rebook your trip,” Griff said. “It’ll save you lots of time and make it easier to find your credit down the road.”
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Failing To Review The Policies
Hopefully, when you booked your trip, you paid attention to the policies regarding changes or cancellations, as this can help inform your decision-making when travel plans are disrupted. But even if you didn’t at the time, it’s crucial to do so amid the disruption.
Before you cancel a flight, accommodations, restaurant reservation, a tour or any other activity, take the time to read the policies. Perhaps you’ll avoid fees if you modify the booking rather than cancel. Or maybe you can transfer your booking to another person.
Bottom line: Whether you’re reviewing travel insurance, airline rules or hotel policies, always read the fine print.
Canceling Lodging Too Late
Unlike flights, hotels and vacation rentals still tend to have cancellation windows that travelers need to abide by. As such, it’s important to attend to your lodging as soon as you know your trip is off to avoid losing money.
But even if you miss that window, all hope is not lost.
“When you cancel a hotel reservation, always try calling the front desk ― not the general 800 number ― to see if the property can extend any courtesies,” Griff advised. “Sometimes you’ll find a manager or receptionist who can waive cancellation penalties or let you reschedule your stay without an additional cost.”
Being Unprepared For Cancellation
If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s the importance of flexibility. As such, booking a trip without penalty-free cancellation options is a mistake you should strive to avoid in the planning process.
“I recommend purchasing airline tickets that do not have change fees and booking hotels that you can cancel without a penalty within 24 to 72 hours in advance,” said Laurie Garrow, a professor of civil engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and president of the airline research organization AGIFORS. “If you are the type of person who is going to worry about getting COVID while on a trip, I recommend purchasing travel insurance to help ease your mind.”
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Not Planning A New Trip.
Canceling plans can feel disappointing, especially if it was a big vacation you were looking forward to.
But you can help cope with those emotions by thinking about or even booking a trip for another time. Psychology research over the years has suggested that the mere act of planning a trip can boost your mental health.
So take some time to research other travel options and put together your dream itinerary. Plus, if you’re simply rescheduling your trip, this means you’ll have time to snag some of those harder-to-get reservations that might not have been available on shorter notice.
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“I personally recommend at least planning,” The Points Guy founder and CEO Brian Kelly previously told HuffPost. “Just planning a trip releases endorphins, at least for me.”