Kassian is shunning hotel chains, which have already begun tightening their cancellation policies as travel restrictions ease. Instead, she prefers independent hotels. “Many are generous with last-minute cancellations,” she says.
Experts say travelers look for such guidelines when planning their vacation.
“Flexibility is no longer a luxury,” says Jeffrey Galak, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “It’s a requirement.”
Several recent policy changes reflect this requirement:
- Before the pandemic, only first or business class airline tickets offered the flexibility to change your itinerary without paying a fee. All but the cheapest economy class tickets are now rebookable.
- Many hotels and vacation rental websites have changed their refund rules as a result of the pandemic, allowing guests to cancel their stay without penalty.
- Cruise lines once adhered to strict refund rules that made tickets non-refundable as the departure date drew near. Today, many customers allow you to cancel and receive a store credit and, in some cases, a full refund. Many cruise lines still don’t have cancellation fees unless you book a special fare.
How do you find flexibility in an industry that until recently boasted about being inflexible? One option is to hire a travel consultant.
“In uncertain times like these, it becomes increasingly important to book through a reputable travel agent who has relationships with verified and trusted tour operators,” said Robyn Davis, managing director of Global Eventures, a corporate events company.
Davis urges travelers to choose their advisor carefully and ensure they are licensed, insured and accredited by the International Air Transport Association. A knowledgeable travel consultant puts a trip’s full cancellation policy in writing, recommends a travel insurance policy with every booking, and is there to help if you need to cancel, she says.
You can also look for flexible policies. For example, the Vrbo website and app allow users to filter properties by cancellation policy, with the most lenient policy offering a full refund up to 14 days before check-in. If you are flexible about your travel dates, you can also perform an undated search to find other accommodations available in the area.
Some companies are particularly flexible this summer. JetBlue Vacations, for example, allows customers to rebook their flights for free up to seven days before departure if they book a round-trip and a hotel together. There is also a Plane to Port Commitment for cruise passengers.
“When a customer misses their cruise departure due to a JetBlue flight delay or cancellation, we help them get to the next port of call,” said Andres Barry, president of JetBlue Travel Products.
Shelley Ewing, President of TierOne Travel, is a fan of Disney Cruise Line’s flexibility. The company changed its cancellation fee table and expanded its refund window to allow some guests to cancel up to 60 days before departure on select cruises.
Ewing also recommends Royal Caribbean, which allows some travelers to cancel up to 48 hours before the departure date and receive a refund of the full amount paid as a future cruise credit. (As always, these terms are subject to change.)
Travel insurance can offset some of the cancellation risk, experts say. “There are certain types of travel insurance that offer maximum flexibility for your trip,” says Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance, an expatriate health insurance site.
There are two types of insurance. Standard travel insurance covers named perils such as: B. an unexpected cancellation or a death in the family. A cancellation policy for any reason is exactly what it sounds like and allows travelers to recover a large percentage of their spend.
“You can cancel for any reason, typically up to two days before departure, for a refund of up to 75 percent of prepaid non-refundable expenses,” says Chelsea Capwell, a spokeswoman for Travel Insurance Master, an online aggregator for travel insurance travel insurance However, you must take out the policy early to get coverage for cancellations for any reason – typically within 1 to 21 days of the first trip deposit being paid.
Everyone wants flexibility this summer because nobody knows what’s going to happen. We could get another wave of coronavirus cases. The war in Ukraine could spread. And you can do all of those things – hire an agent, research the most flexible policies, get insurance – and still find yourself on the wrong end of a strict policy.
Too often travelers throw up their hands and walk away. But that overlooks the most effective strategy for making your vacation as flexible as possible: ask. If you need a late check out, contact the front desk. If you need to shorten your stay, ask. If you need to reschedule your stay or want a refund, there’s no harm in asking.
For the first time in years, maybe even decades, the travel industry wants to be as accommodating as possible. Galak, the Carnegie Mellon professor, surmises that the travel industry’s unprecedented flexibility is a limited-time offering. But while he believes politics will tighten again over the summer, he doubts they will return to their pre-pandemic rigidity.
“Consumers just won’t take it,” he says.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.