If you’re worried about the latest rise in COVID-19 cases, or the possibility of yet another surge, then you’re probably thinking about canceling your next vacation. And you might be wondering: How do the professionals call the whole thing off?
It turns out travel advisers have learned a new set of skills during the pandemic, at least when it comes to canceling a trip. And it’s not just how they cancel but when. Along the way, they’ve also picked up some insights into how to ensure a trip is cancelable in the first place.
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Stay off the phone
Here’s one trick the pros learned after COVID-19: Never call to cancel a trip. If you tried, then you already know what happens. A cheerful voice announces that the next available representative will assist you … in six hours. I’ve even heard from travelers who had to wait up to half a day to talk to someone.
Travel professionals say it’s better to cancel online or by email. It’s fast and you’ll receive a confirmation by email, which is essential to ensure that the cancellation has been processed. Otherwise, I hope you’re patient.
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Read the terms and conditions
“The best way to cancel an already booked trip is to check the terms and conditions and read the fine print for penalties,” says Matthew Kondrup, president of Matty K Travel Group, a travel agency in Wantagh, New York.
He says while many companies are accommodating when a traveler has to cancel a trip because they have COVID-19 or another illness, they’re less understanding when your reason for canceling is because you’re nervous about traveling. You’ll find out about your rights to cancel in the fine print of your purchased policy.
Know your rights
If you cancel planned travel, you normally have to pay some kind of penalty. But if the company cancels your trip, you may be entitled to a full – and fast – refund. A lot of people don’t know this and accept a credit when an airline or cruise line cancels.
“Most Americans aren’t aware that they can usually get a refund when an airline cancels,” says Kunal Sawhney, CEO of the Kalkine Group. Your rights to a refund are spelled out in the airline’s contract of carriage or the cruise line’s ticket contract. It’s definitely worth reading before you try to cancel.
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Review the COVID-19 loopholes
Many companies have made special allowances for COVID-19-related cancellations. The terms are often prominently displayed on their websites, so you can’t miss them. Just in case you do, they’re also spelled out in your terms.
“Many suppliers will allow cancellations, refunds and credits in the event of a COVID-19 complication,” says Shelley Ewing, president of TierOne Travel.
For example, tour operator G Adventures has a “Book with Confidence” policy that lets you cancel and rebook a tour up to just 14 days prior to your departure date. If you test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of departure, it offers even more flexible rebooking terms.
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Call your travel insurance company
Your travel protection should cover any part of your vacation that the airline, cruise line, or tour operator won’t refund. “I always recommend that my clients purchase a good travel insurance policy to minimize the financial hit of travel cancellations,” says Toni Gault, a travel adviser with Cruise Planners.
Look for a policy that not only pays for your nonrefundable expenses but also offers coverage for medical assistance and air ambulance transport back to your home. You might have to buy separate a separate policy for the assistance and transport, but at upwards of $200,000, the cost can be staggering if you don’t have coverage. After you book your trip, you only have a limited time to get insurance that will offer the full coverage benefits you need.
Think before you cancel your trip
But wait. Do you really need to call off your trip? I talked to Chris Mattmann, a frequent traveler who works for NASA in Pasadena, California. He recently flew to Boston for a combination business-leisure trip. He considered canceling in the wake of the delta surge but decided against it.
“‘I’m fully vaccinated, and I believe that the vaccines are safe, and prevent severe disease and hospitalization,’ he says. ‘My advice is that you have to measure the risk against that of other activities that you would always engage in.’”
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How to make your trip easier to cancel
Cheaper = less cancelable. “Look carefully,” advises Carolyn Paddock, founder and CEO of the luxury travel advisory service In-Flight Insider. “Sometimes it’s not abundantly obvious that lower rates may be for the nonrefundable or partially refundable rooms.” But they are. “Basic” or “bare” fares can come with so many restrictions that making a change is impractical. Travelers have to throw the tickets away and start over.
Timing is everything. “One of the best ways to make a vacation more cancel-friendly is to book your travel insurance at the same time you make the first payment toward the trip,” says Tim Dodge, vice president of marketing for Arch Insurance. If you wait too long, you could miss your opportunity to have maximum trip coverage. Travel insurance companies usually require you to buy the policy within 10 to 21 days of your booking to get all the coverage.
Consider a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy. It’s pricey – usually between 10% and 12% of the value of your trip. “With ‘cancel for any reason,’ travelers are not limited to canceling for the reasons listed by the insurance provider,” explains Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners. “Instead, they are given the opportunity to cancel a trip for any reason they choose – including fear of being exposed to COVID-19 and its variants.”
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