Experts say the summer of 2022 will break many records. Highest prices. Biggest rush. worst service. But here’s one they don’t talk about: record cancellations.
It could happen. With the economy on shaky ground, some travel pundits are secretly worried we’re heading for a cliff. If inflation keeps rising and the stock market keeps falling, it’s only a matter of time before Americans start canceling vacations.
The latest Country Financial Security Index shows how close we are to a mass cancellation event. Americans feel less financially secure than they did two years ago. They’ve seen increases in the price of gas (92%), groceries (88%), restaurants or takeaways (76%) and of course travel (60%).
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“Summer travel plans for many Americans will be difficult this summer,” said Chelsie Moore, director of wealth management and financial planning at Country Financial.
How can you cut short your vacation without losing all your money when 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 conditions? 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 trip, the most foolproof tip is to read their terms and conditions carefully before booking,” says Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique Explorer, a luxury tour operator.
Where can you find the General Terms and Conditions? Every 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 companies. Airlines refer to this as their contract of carriage or conditions of carriage. Cruise ships have a ticketing agreement. Tour operators have a passenger contract or general terms and conditions.
I won’t pretend this is an easy read. But if you take a few minutes to review the document, you’ll know what to expect when you have to cancel.
Consider travel insurance
If you are still finalizing your travel plans, you should consider travel insurance. And not just any policy, but a “cancel for any reason” policy.
“Most cancellation policies limit you to a narrow list of cancellation reasons,” says Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance, a company that sells health insurance to expatriates. “With trip cancellation insurance, you can generally recover 75% of your prepaid, non-refundable expenses.”
Travel insurance typically costs between 4% and 8% of the prepaid non-refundable cost of your trip. However, a “cancellation for any reason” policy can net you 10% of the non-refundable cost or a little more.
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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 may be a trial, experts say. Tour operator Zuleta personally negotiated a refund of the non-refundable airfare simply by politely asking. Yes, that’s still possible.
“Many airlines and hotels are offering vouchers or refunds for future trips if you cancel now,” says Fred Hoffman, a frequent traveler who runs camping advice site The True Wilderness. Don’t forget to apply for travel insurance. If you don’t have travel insurance, you may still be covered if you used your credit card to book the trip.
Ideally, you won’t have to negotiate anything, so it’s helpful to know when you can get a full refund. Generally, if a company is unable to provide a service you have paid for, you will receive a full refund.
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Laura Einsetler, a commercial pilot from Los Angeles, expects a higher volume of delays and cancellations this summer. If your airline cancels a flight, you’ll get a no-questions-asked refund within seven days (at least, according to the government, you should).
“I’m honestly concerned that there might be a mess this summer travel season,” she says.
But the travel industry mess can be your ticket to a refund.
If you haven’t booked a vacation yet, consider postponing it
Conclusion: This might not be the summer for a vacation.
“COVID-19 and inflation have hit the wallets of many Americans,” said Mike Martinez, president and CEO of financial planning firm M Martinez & Associates in Metairie, Louisiana. “It is entirely understandable that you would adjust, postpone or cancel your holiday this year if you cannot afford it.”
So if you haven’t decided where to go yet, maybe the best advice is to stay here. Make a stay. Wait for the clouds of economic uncertainty to clear. Start budgeting and planning a 2023 summer trip that won’t put you in debt any more.
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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 reclaim the value of your vacation. You should start the process as soon as possible in order not to miss any notice periods. Also, you should give the company as much time as possible to respond to your query. Most travelers want an immediate refund or credit. But if your situation means you have to ask for a little rule bending, it takes time.
Persistence. Travel companies have developed systems designed to turn away customers asking for refunds. You will be redirected to a chat session where you will speak to a customer service bot that does not have the authority to help you. Or you call a phone number that sends you to voicemail hell. Stay the course, experts say.
Courtesy. Perhaps the most effective weapon in our cancellation arsenal is your courtesy. Use your requests and thanks. It’s a lot harder for a rep to hang up when you’re being nice (though it’s happened to me). Travel professionals have seen no-refund rules bent because one of their customers kindly asked for it.