Experts say the summer of 2022 will break many records. Highest prices. The biggest crowds. The worst service. But here’s one they don’t talk about: record cancellations.
It could happen. With the economy in shaky ground, some travel experts privately fear we’re headed for a cliff. If inflation continues to rise and the stock market continues to fall, it’s only a matter of time before Americans start canceling their vacations.
The countries latest Financial Security Index shows how close we are to a mass cancellation event. Americans feel less secure financially than they have in two years. They saw price increases in gas (92%), groceries (88%), restaurants or takeout (76%) and, of course, travel (60%).
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“Summer travel plans for many Americans will be tough this summer,” says Chelsie Moore, director of wealth management and financial planning at Country Financial. “There’s a 50 to 50 chance the big undo will happen.”
How to cancel your vacation without losing all your money if the big cancellation happens? And is there anything that stands out this summer when it comes to canceling your vacation?
Read the terms and conditions of your purchase
Did you take a few minutes to review the terms? You’d be surprised how few travelers know if their airfare or hotel stay is refundable. (Short answer: Airfare, probably not; hotel, probably.)
“For travelers who have to cancel their trips, the most surefire advice is to carefully read your terms and conditions before booking,” says Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique Explorer, a luxury tour operator.
Where to find the terms and conditions? Each time you book a travel component, you should receive a document with the conditions. You can also find the conditions on the websites of your travel agencies. Airlines call it their contract of carriage or conditions of carriage. Cruise lines have a ticket contract. Tour operators have a passenger agreement or terms and conditions.
I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy read. But if you take a few minutes to review the document, you’ll know what to expect if you have to cancel.
Consider travel insurance
If you are still finalizing your travel plans, you may want to consider a travel insurance policy. And not just any policy, but a “cancellation for any reason” policy.
“Most trip cancellation insurance limits you to a shortlist of cancellation reasons,” says Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance, a company that sells health insurance to expats. “With Cancellation for Any Reason Insurance, you can typically recover 75% of your prepaid non-refundable expenses.”
Travel insurance typically costs 4-8% of the prepaid, non-refundable cost of your trip. However, a ‘cancellation for any reason’ policy may cost you 10% of the non-refundable cost, or slightly more.
Is travel insurance worth it? What to know before booking your next trip
Let the negotiations begin
Ready to cancel? You may be able to recover some – or all – of the value of your trip. Depending on the circumstances, it can be a negotiation, experts say. Tour operator Zuleta personally negotiated a refund of non-refundable airfares just by politely asking. Yes, it still works.
“Many airlines and hotels offer vouchers or refunds for future trips if you cancel now,” says Fred Hoffman, a frequent flyer who edits camping advice site The True Wilderness. Don’t forget to file a travel insurance claim. If you haven’t purchased travel insurance, you may still be covered if you booked the trip with your credit card.
Ideally, you won’t have to negotiate anything, so it’s worth knowing when you can get a full refund. Typically, if a company can’t provide a service you paid for, you get a full refund.
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Laura Einsetler, commercial airline pilot from Los Angeles, expects a higher volume of delays and cancellations this summer. If your airline cancels a flight, you get a refund no questions asked within seven days (at least you’re supposed to, according to the government).
“I’m honestly concerned that it’s going to be a mess this summer travel season,” she says.
But the travel industry mess may be your ticket to a refund.
If you haven’t booked a vacation yet, consider rescheduling
Bottom line: It might not be summer for vacation.
“COVID-19 and inflation have hit the wallets of many Americans,” says Mike Martinez, president and CEO of financial planning firm M Martinez & Associates in Metairie, Louisiana. “It’s completely understandable to adjust, postpone or cancel your vacation this year if you can’t afford it.”
So if you haven’t decided on going somewhere, the best advice might be to stick around. Take a stay. Wait for the clouds of economic uncertainty to lift. Start budgeting and planning a summer 2023 trip that won’t put you in more debt.
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Here are three key strategies to get the refund you want
Patience. Your sense of timing is important when trying to recoup the value of your vacation. You’ll want to start the process as soon as possible to avoid missing cancellation deadlines. And you’ll also want to give the company as much time as possible to respond to your request. Most travelers want an immediate refund or credit. But if your situation means you have to ask for a little respect for the rules, it takes time.
Persistence. Travel agencies have created systems designed to refuse customers requesting refunds. You are redirected to a chat session where you talk to a customer service bot who has no authority to help you. Or you call a phone number that sends you to voicemail hell. Stay the course, experts say.
Politeness. Perhaps the most effective weapon in our undoing arsenal is your politeness. Use your pleasures and thank you. It’s much harder for a rep to hang up on you when you’re being nice (even though I’ve had that happen). Travel professionals have seen the no-refund rules bend because one of their customers kindly requested it.