Tips if you need to cancel

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When heavy clouds covered the sky, it forced Sheri Gatens’ stargazing adventure in Sedona to be canceled. Gatens thought the travel company she used would reimburse her for the event, but the $421 she spent on four tickets was still there somewhere.

The tour operator said it issued a refund through the third-party company Gatens who booked the experience. But Viator, the booking platform, kept sending her messages saying she couldn’t refund canceled tickets within 24 hours of her tour starting.

“I wrote to Viator to explain that we did not cancel the tour,” said Gatens, a retired medical technician from Bluffton, SC “The company they sold the tickets for had canceled due to bad weather. time.”

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Gates is not alone. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, more and more travelers are finding it harder to get a refund from a travel agent, even when the company promises one.

“Most travel suppliers are reverting to pre-pandemic cancellation policies,” says veteran travel consultant Helen Prochilo, owner of Promal Vacations. “This is how suppliers ran their business before COVID – and travelers need to go back to the old way of doing business.”

What is the old method? Fight for every refund. Use all the tips and strategies in the book to make sure you get your money back. And avoid the biggest refund mistakes.

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Why are trips non-refundable?

Why are so many elements of your trip non-refundable? It’s simple: even if you cancel, the company has costs. They have to pay their guides, cleaners and porters.

“Many guests don’t have a deep understanding of how employees are scheduled and paid at hotels,” said Stephen Fofanoff, general manager of Domaine Madeleine, a boutique hotel in Port Angeles, Wash.

His hotel offers a full refund for cancellations made at least two weeks before your stay. He also schedules his employees two weeks in advance to ensure adequate hotel staffing. This allows employees to schedule time to be with their families.

“This means that if a guest cancels within that two-week period, we still pay all staff associated with the canceled stay,” he said.

What are the tips for not losing your money?

You don’t have to lose all your money when requesting a refund. Here are some strategies used by the pros:

► Know the reimbursement rules

“A lot of people just don’t read the rules,” said Stephanie Goldberg-Glazer, owner of Live Well, Travel Often, a boutique travel agency. “Read the terms and conditions. See what’s refundable and what’s not.”

So what is and is not? The first night of a typical hotel reservation becomes non-refundable approximately 48 hours prior to your stay. Cruises generally become non-refundable two weeks before your departure.

► Book a flexible travel agency

Not all companies have returned to their old ways. For example, Amtrak continued to waive its change fees through late fall and offered refunds on its “value” and “flex” fares. “Of course, we always refund fares in the event of cancellation,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. A travel consultant can help you find the most flexible options. Among airlines, Southwest and JetBlue have a reputation for having more consumer-friendly rules.

► Pay more to cancel

Instead of booking the cheapest ticket, consider a more flexible but more expensive fare. It also works with visits. Edward Lyimo, owner of Africa safari tour company Pristine Trails, offers a 100% refundable booking option at an additional cost. “This gives our travelers the right to a refund if they cancel for one of many accepted reasons, including COVID, injury, pre-existing medical conditions, or death of a family member,” said he declared.

Will Gatens get her refund?

It’s true that Viator has a policy that promises a full refund for cancellations made at least 24 hours before an experience’s start date. But as Gatens noted, she hadn’t initiated the cancellation. And the tour operator had already refunded Viator.

Viator says Gatens’ tour was refundable.

“A lot of times we see traveler inquiries come through the wrong inbox and therefore may be ignored,” said Viator spokeswoman Brianna Ary. “It’s important that travelers work directly with customer service to address their concerns. Otherwise, they’re unlikely to get the quick and efficient response they’re looking for.

Viator refunded Gatens $421.

How to get your money back (even if it’s non-refundable)

  • Do not wait : The best way to increase your chances of getting your tickets refunded is to request that your trip be canceled as soon as possible. Airlines have a 24-hour window to cancel tickets and receive a cash refund. “Most bus and train operators offer limited windows in which you are allowed to cancel a ticket for a refund,” said Bryn Culbert, spokesperson for ground transportation app Wanderu.
  • Get insurance: This is one of the best ways to protect yourself from a non-refundable trip. And not just any insurance, but “cancellation for any reason,” says Tom Peyton, who runs a tour operator specializing in diving. “During and after COVID, all the stations we work with are unwilling to refund at all,” he said. Travel insurance can guarantee that you will get your money back. (A “cancellation for any reason” policy will refund 50%-75% of your prepaid, non-refundable expenses.)
  • To negotiate: Although it may seem that a travel agency’s reimbursement rules are immutable, they are not. Managers can override a refund rule – if you know who to ask. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of customer service managers on my Consumer Advocacy site. A short polite email to one of them can get you a full refund.

Eric Goldring, president of Goldring Travel, said too often travelers have an all-or-nothing approach to refunds. But when a company refuses to return your money, there may be a third option. Many cruise lines will offer future cruise credit and airlines will offer flight credits. And in many cases, it’s better than nothing.

“When it comes to getting the best value for money,” he says. “It’s about playing chess, not checkers.”

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a non-profit organization that helps solve consumer problems. It publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and Elliott Report, a customer service information site. If you need help with a substance abuse issue, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected]

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