Tips for Dealing with a Trip Cancellation

Cancelling a trip can be painful, not only to your wallet, but to your heart. I just recently had to cancel a big road trip because we had a lot of last minute expenses. Being the good adults that we are, we decided to cancel so we can get our affairs back in order and really enjoy our trip next year.

Knowing you are doing the right thing, cancelling a trip, doesn’t make it hurt any less. I actually went into a state of depression for a few days dealing with it like a loss. All the built up expectations and excitement, the endless hours planning and planning the trip to make it just perfect – then it’s just gone. But, after dealing with that, you move on and start the cancellation process. What should you do if your trip gets cancelled?

Make it a Part of your Booking Process to Have a Backup Plan

You are organized and planning a year- 6 months ahead of your actual trip. You have it roughly planned out where your main destinations will be and you are ready to get booking. Keep in mind, no one can predict what is going to happen that far ahead in time: Loss of a loved one, financial insecurity, political upheaval, flight cancellation, medical emergency, losing your employment, burglary, fire or other disasters, the list can go on….Always make your booking with the consideration that you may have to cancel, and if you did, what would that look like.

I want to avoid someone on the phone telling you this:

Make your Bookings Knowing the Cancellation Option

The most common types of cancellation policies and fees are:

  1. Non-refundable – if you cancel your reservation, you’re responsible to pay the total price
  2. Loss of Deposit-refundable – Some will have cancellation, but loss of deposit (Airbnb, Bed and Breakfasts, and activity reservations regularly do this)
  3. Cancellation free during cancellation window – if you cancel your reservation within “X” days, you will not be charged. But if you cancel after that date, or never check in, you’ll have to pay 100% for the first night (
  4. Exchange – no cancellation – if you have a trip interruption, some sites would rather not cancel but exchange your reservation for a new date (airline tickets, hotels directly,…) this often comes with a change fee, but it’s much better than losing out on your whole ticket cost.
  5. Cancellation with higher priced room – If you are willing to pay a bit more for the same room, you will be given a cancellation option for full cancellation anytime. Or pay for a slightly less priced room, but if there is a cancellation you have to pay 100% for the first night.

A few extra dollars per night, is well worth it versus all the time it’ll take for you to try and negotiate later on if something were to happen.

Make your Bookings After you Finalize your Research

Booking sites are out for their best interest and don’t have time for those wasting their’s. So be warned: If you book and cancel repeatedly, one can get banned from a reservation site.

This happened to me when I used, making initial reservations in the multiple cities we were going to visit, 4-5 months in advance. I would cancel the reservations as I did more research and developed a better idea of where I wanted to stay.

I probably made and re-made 10 reservations before I got put on their black list. Had I know I would get banned, I would have been more judicious in making the reservations.

133travels | Trip Advisor Message Board | 3-12-2012

Why should I pay for a reservation that I’m not using?

Think of cancellation agreement as a commitment between you and your booking site. When you make a booking, you commit to the terms and conditions. If hotels/flights/activities allowed everyone to book and cancel at the last minute, they wouldn’t make any money off of you, and they wouldn’t have enough time to sell the room/flight/experience to someone new.

Cancellation fees serve as a strong encouragement to cancel as far in advance as possible. This opens up the opportunity to book again work with someone else in enough time to still turn a profit. If the reservation is not cancelled in an appropriate amount of time, the cancellation fee serves as a business “compensation” for losing money by missing out on an opportunity you denied them.

Try to NEVER book through a 3rd party

Expedia, TripAdvisor, these companies want to do it all for you. They want to help travelers get what they want and if they can be the ones to supply it, they will. Third party booking companies are horrible at offering refunds for cancellations and will almost always not give you any.

With hotel reservations, it can be tricky as cancellation policies are up to the hotel, not the booking site, and the third party site does it’s best to pass that penalty along exactly as the hotel defines it, but many times this is overlooked.

Booking directly with the company or airline is always best. They usually offer cancellation policies or are more willing to talk to you into rescheduling your visit so they don’t lose out on business and your wallet won’t take a hit.

Pick an airline that waives change fees should you need to reschedule your trip date. Carriers such as: Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Alaska Airline are really friendly about waiving high change fees, which can cost upwards of $200 for domestic and $500 for international.

It is also safe to book through aggregate sites like Skyscanner or Airfarewatchdog where you can still book directly at the end of your search.

Really Read the Cancellation Policy for Big Ticket Bookings

Cruise lines are notorious for being unforgiving and denying a cancellation refund. Lines, such as Norwegian and Carnival, treat name changes the same as cancellations. There is also the “cancellation policy exception,” which warns that a specially priced promotion is nonrefundable.

Document everything

Whether you are booking independently or with a travel agent, while making your reservations make a note of their cancellation policy. Knowing this ahead of time, makes cancelling easier as you’ll know what to expect and what to ask for.

  • Receipts for expenses.
  • Refunds received already
  • Copy of your resort invoice/vacation rental contract or confirmation.
  • Documentation that explains the cause of your trip cancellation or interruption. – Police report, Employment Termination notice, Airline verification letter, etc…
  • Copy of unused tickets, payments/deposits made
  • Copy of booking reservation cancellation policy/penalties.

Trip Insurance

I personally have never purchased Trip Insurance, but I don’t want to dismiss it’s importance for peace of mind. If you do purchase travelers insurance, you’ll need to submit documentation showing why the trip was canceled and what reimbursement will be needed.

Know the difference between a Trip Interruption and Trip Cancellation

If you are in the middle of a trip and you experience disruption that slows you down or ends up sending you home all together, that is a trip interruption.

This is post-departure coverage and require reimbursement for unused travel expenses that are forfeited as you have to end your trip and return home. Insurance is also extremely helpful as they also provide additional reimbursement to cover the costs from having to buy additional tickets to return home. AND, if your trip is interrupted, but you are able to rejoin the trip, some plans will also provide reimbursement to help you re-joining your originally planned trip!

By comparison, if plans have changed that force you to miss more than half of the total length of your trip, this is a trip cancellation.

This is pre-departure coverage that reimburses you for non refundable trip costs if you have to cancel your trip.

Help When You Need It

  • If you need help, get in touch with the booking site’s customer service department. Travel sites have a relationship with their suppliers and may be able to get you a better deal.
  • Be flexible when discussing options. If you cannot get a full refund, maybe you can change your reservation or obtain credit for a future reservation. It never hurts to ask!
  • Do not book multiple segments on the same itinerary to save a few dollars. If your trip is interrupted while travelling to city A, B, and C, may be able to get a full refund if you book each travel day separately – you can also cancel separately. Booking a multi-city ticket is harder to refund when you’ve already used part of it.

Making The Actual Cancellations

Photo Credit: Bruce Mars | Pexels
  • Gather all your documents and have them on hand when you make your calls or emails. Often your reservation documents will provide the cancellation phone number or link to contact.
  • Have the credit card or check receipt that you used to make the reservation booking.
  • Provide as much information as possible to the clerk so finding your reservation is simple.
  • The sooner you call or email to make a cancellation, once you know your trip is cancelled, the better. The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that carriers allow free changes and refunds within 24 hours of booking a reservation. So call your flight carrier ASAP to make changes or canceling your trip without being penalized.

Cancelling a trip is never fun, still, regardless of the reason, there are strategic, pain-free ways to cancel your plans and obtain a full refund or without paying a sky-high fee. Plan smart and start planning for the next trip.

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