If you need to cancel upcoming travel plans but are unsure where to start or how to go about it, check out these tips.
Travel has essentially been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve seen the U.S. government issue a level 4 travel warning, dozens of nations close their borders and many of the world’s airlines ground their fleets.
It’s way more likely that you’re canceling a trip this week than planning or dreaming of a new one.
I finally made it home from the U.K. and, like most of you, I haven’t traveled anywhere farther than my kitchen in the past 10 days.
Home alone and curious about how not being able to travel was affecting others out there, I asked my Facebook community what their experience has been in canceling travel this week. I was not prepared for all the responses I got.
Just within my own circle of personal friends, I heard over 100 stories of trip cancellations. Some of these were positive – easy cancellations made online with points and cash refunded or vouchers issued. Others reported waiting on hold for hours, unresolved issues and losing what they’d invested on non-refundable travel. It’s really a mixed bag.
Taking all of their lessons learned, here are a few tips for when it’s your turn to cancel that trip that’s creeping closer on your calendar.
7 tips for canceling travel
Cancel where you’ve booked
The first thing to remember when canceling a ticket (especially a ticket purchase on a partner airline or via a credit card points portal) is that you must cancel the ticket in the same place where you booked it.
Don’t wait on hold in the wrong queue. If you transferred your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines to book a partner award ticket on Lufthansa, you most likely made your booking via United. You’ll also cancel that ticket via United.
Do your own research
Before you call or go online to cancel a ticket, it’s important to know what you want – and what you’re entitled to.
Check the website of the carrier or hotel group you’ve booked with to learn what refund or compensation you are eligible to receive. Having this information in advance allows you to ask directly for what you want.
While the majority of the airlines seem to be handing out flight vouchers for future use, it’s an actual DOT regulation that if an airline has canceled your flight, they should offer you the option of a refund.
Don’t accept an offer you don’t want
If an airline agent offers you something you don’t want (i.e. a reschedule over a refund or a refund with a change fee of any kind), you don’t have to accept what they offer. Get the name of the representative you’re speaking with and ask them to make a note in your file of the offer they’ve given – then try again later.
For example, I recently needed to cancel a domestic ticket on Alaska Airlines. Although Alaska had promoted a very flexible fee waiver on tickets, when I called to cancel, they said my ticket didn’t qualify and I’d have to pay a $75 fee.
I asked the agent to mark their offer in my file, then later had a friend with status call their MVP 75k line on my behalf with the same request. They refunded my ticket immediately with no fee.
Wait it out
If you have a trip on the horizon but your flight isn’t within the next 72 hours, the best course of action you can take right now is no action at all.
Airlines and third-party booking agencies are struggling to keep up with the numbers of cancellations they’re facing every day. Waiting until your trip is closer helps them help people who are supposed to – or need to – travel in the next days. Plus, waiting also works to your advantage as the airlines and hotel groups are changing and extending their waiver policies almost daily. Waiting gives you the leverage to let them cancel on you first.
While I have a ticket to head back to Europe April 26, and I know there’s no way that flight is going to happen, it hasn’t been officially canceled by the airline yet. If I choose to cancel now, American Airlines is offering me a credit to rebook my flight at another time (and pay the fare difference). However, if I wait until they cancel the flight on me, I should be legally entitled to a cash refund.
Consider a reschedule or raincheck
If you have to cancel travel booked directly with a small operator – like a privately-owned boutique hotel or a locally-owned tour outfitter – consider if you can afford to rebook or take a raincheck if you’ve already made a deposit. It doesn’t hurt to ask what their preference is, and to let them know your situation – you might be surprised.
In Hawaii, I’m told by a friend who runs a B&B on his coffee farm that rescheduling right now is a logistical nightmare. Even though he’s losing money, his preference it to cancel booking and reimburse deposits – so it’s a win/win.
Meanwhile, another friend in Tanzania has already used the deposits from guests for summer safaris to invest in the vehicle upgrades he needed to accommodate extra visitors. Cancellations and deposit refunds for his business in this context mean that his staff and their families lose and will likely go hungry until business picks back up.
Taking a raincheck for next season is a win/win here if you can afford it. It helps him stay afloat and ensures that you’ll still get to see the Serengeti when this all passes.
Be kind to yourself and others
If you find yourself on the losing end of your travel cancellation, don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t buy travel insurance or prepaid for a non-refundable accommodation to save a few bucks. You had no idea that an unprecedented global pandemic would cancel all of the travel in the world. Give yourself grace.
And while we’re on the subject of grace, don’t forget to be kind with all of the customer service agents you’re talking to at the airlines and hotels. They’re dealing with the same uncertainties that you are, and are just trying to do their job to help a lot of really disappointed and anxious people in the worst of times.
See related: How to redeem cash back
Contest the charge
This is last on the list because contesting a charge through your credit card should be your last resort. Only go this route when the airline, hotel or operator who has cancelled on you is completely negligent or unresponsive.
If you’re trying to cancel travel with a small business operator (as opposed to a big, corporate airline) do everything you can to settle the charge before resorting to contesting the charge. While this may help you get your money faster, these chargebacks cost a lot in fees for the creditor, and it adds another layer of expense to the small travel businesses who are already struggling.
Although it feels like the borders will be closed forever, someday soon we’ll all be traveling again. For now, stay home, get your travel canceled and keep dreaming of where you’re going to spend all those travel credits!