The best-laid schemes of mice and men, according to a 200-year-old poem, often go awry. That’s doubly true for travel plans, which can be impacted by external events from unexpected weather to political upheaval as well as personal illness, injury, work demands, or family situations. If you’re forced to change or cancel your travel plans, it’s only natural that you’d like your money back. Unfortunately, airlines, hotels, and tour companies often have a different idea. What can you do?
Book Refundable Travel
If you’re booking travel and know that you may need to make changes, look for flexible options. If you book through major travel sites like Expedia or Travelocity or use a local travel agent, you should be able to find flights, hotel rooms, and car rentals with refundable options. Even Hostelworld offers an option for budget travelers to book hostel rooms that can be changed or canceled later. You’ll pay slightly more for a refundable hotel room and significantly more for a flexible flight, but if your job, family, or health situation puts you at high risk for last-minute changes, the higher rate is probably a bargain.
Buy Travel Insurance
If you book your travel through an agency or travel website, you will probably be offered an insurance option at checkout time. At that point, when you’ve finally assembled the perfect flight combinations and gotten a great deal on a room, you won’t have time to research or think about the insurance option. To prevent mistakes, do a little research beforehand. If you book with the right credit card, you may already be covered for illness, injury, theft, lost luggage, and even trip cancellation. If you’re concerned about health care or medical emergency overseas, if you’re participating in extreme sports, or if you’re carrying expensive electronics that won’t be fully covered by a basic policy, compare travel insurance online rather than buying the one-size-fits-all policy your travel vendor is offering.
Call the Airline
If your trip is canceled due to a weather or political event, you may be able to get a full refund or at least a full exchange for your ticket. Many airlines will even waive change fees when weather or travel advisories crop up. You can try calling your agent or travel vendor first, but often it’s the airline that makes the final decision. Some travelers who aren’t able to get a refund from either their airline or their travel agency have had success by complaining loudly on social media.
Cancel Cruises Early
Luckily, cruise lines tend to be much more understanding about last-minute changes than airlines. Most allow a full refund if you cancel well ahead of your trip. For a weeklong cruise, that might mean you have to cancel 75 or even 90 days ahead of the cruise. Mini-cruises of three or four days usually need to be canceled 60 days ahead of sailing. If you have to cancel closer to the cruise date, you’ll get a smaller refund. If you wait until two or three weeks before your trip, you might not get any refund at all.
Be Friendly to Landlords
If you’re booking a space through HomeAway, Airbnb, or one of the other holiday rental vendors, it’s usually up to the individual renter to decide whether you get a refund. On Airbnb, for instance, each landlord selects a refund policy when they create their listing, but those policies aren’t written in stone. If you write to the landlord, explain your situation, and apologize for the inconvenience, you may be able to persuade a landlord to bend their rules and give you a refund. Of course, if they’ve turned away other renters who wanted your dates or if you’re not giving them enough time to find another renter on a coveted weekend, they may stand firm and refuse to issue a refund.
In general, canceling early is always better than waiting until the last minute, so try to cancel all your arrangements as soon as your plans change. Next time you plan travel, build flexibility into your reservations wherever possible and make sure you have some insurance coverage.