Tips & Tricks: To Cancel or To Postpone a Trip during COVID-19? <UPDATED>
Updated: May 24
COVID-19 messing up your plans? Yeah, it has messed up my plans in several instances! *HUGE SIGH* At this point, just about anyone who planned to travel in March and now April will probably experience some sort of interruption -- flight cancellation, conference cancellation, or precautionary steps. Never have I heard of a global shutdown, which is basically where we are at. Countries are blocking borders left and right. States are putting in policies for people to self quarantine. All is for good reason. Now more than ever, it is important that we do our part and STAY HOME #quarantinelife #flattenthecurve. Don’t worry, these places will still be there once we get through this.
Three Major Keys: PCP
PCP no longer just stands for your Primary Care Provider. In this case, it stands for:
Polite: Politeness goes a LOOOONG way. Everyone is super frustrated-- whether it's because your plans are being cancelled or you are the one helping someone who needs to cancel their plans. No one ever anticipated the global impact of this virus! We are all aboard the #strugglebus, although at this point, it is a struggle train. It is a matter of what stop you are getting off. Be understanding of who you are speaking to on the other line as it is just another human trying to do their job. People are more likely to help you when you start off with, “Hello! How are you? I could really use your assistance today” and concluding with, “Thank you so much! I greatly appreciate your help today.” Wouldn’t you?
Cooperative: This might be the most difficult to practice as being cooperative requires you to be flexible! However, this is also needed. Every company has their own policies. At the end of the day, the travel industry is losing billions of dollars during a short period of time. The airline industry is especially trying to hold on to their coins. Hence, they are more likely to grant you a credit versus a refund. The hotel industry, however, from my experience, is more willing to refund you. I like to think that they are doing this favor with the hope that you will return the favor one day and rebook the hotel. Getting credit is better than getting nothing at all. Therefore, be willing to settle for that if you have no success. Also, think of the community and not just yourself. This means that if you do not have travel plans coming up in the near future (within 72 hours), wait closer to your travel date before making that call or follow the online protocol on websites.
Patient: Patience is a virtue, now more so than ever. Patience may look like waiting 30-45 minutes on the phone for someone to pick up. It may be having to call 10 times before you get a live agent. It may also involve waiting 4-5 business days for that refund to deposit into your account. Most travel companies have made the honest disclaimer that they are trying to help customers with travel plans within 72 hours. As a result, you may experience lots of frustrations before you get someone to help you.
My Experiences of Trip Interruptions & Cancellations:
Experience #1: Chicago
It started off when I received the disappointing email on March 8th (2 hours after I finished packing) that my first conference was cancelled. I took this news hard as it was my opportunity to present at a national conference on a topic that I am passionate about. Although I was willing to travel at that point since the virus had not spread the way it has now, I also knew deep down it was best.
Although my conference was cancelled, my flight was not. I was tempted to just buy my own ticket to Chicago and spend a long weekend since I had already booked a separate hotel, purchased tickets to events, and had plans to reunite with a friend. My mom told me to take several seats (not exactly in those words haha) and so...I did.
My school called to cancel my flight through United Airlines, hotel, and conference registration for the first part of the trip. My school was able to easily cancel the hotel and conference registration since the College Board cancelled. However, my school was not able to get a refund for the flight. Instead, they granted a flight credit under my name for one year under the date. I guess there is more reason for me to go to a conference within the next year.
In regards to my personal plans, I was very concerned because I booked a non-refundable “Hot Rate” hotel room through Hotwire. Patience came through here. I called Hotwire’s Customer Service, which put me on hold while I was at work. Politely, I acknowledged that I was asking for a refund for a hotel that I know typically is not refunded. However, my conference was cancelled and I had no control over that. I was able to find someone who then called the hotel directly. The hotel agreed to grant me a refund, so Hotwire proceeded with the refund. Politely, I thanked the customer service agent extensively for helping a sista out!
Unfortunately, I was unable to get a refund for the theater show and Jazz ticket I purchased. The theater told me over the phone that they do not grant refunds so I offered the extra ticket to my friend, in an effort to be cooperative about the situation. For the jazz ticket, I received no answer after contacting the organizer through EventBrite. I may try through my travel insurance.
I hope I am granted the opportunity to speak at next year’s conference. I also want to at least make a leisure trip to Chicago sooner rather than later (at this point, within a year).
Verdict: Trip Cancelled.
End Gains & Losses: $224.20 in refunds. $88 in lost money. $282.80 in Credit.
Experience #2: Indianapolis
The same day that I received notice about my conference in Chicago was the same day that I received notice about another educator conference: the Milken Educator Conference. 2 losses in 1 day. I knew this was coming if a national conference had cancelled.
Fortunately, this was a conference that was fully paid for, so I had not lost any money on my end aside from hope and excitement. Of course, I had plans to explore while there, but I had not booked any events ahead of time. I hope this conference is rescheduled and not cancelled, as I am looking forward to meeting the other Milken Educator Award Winners!
Verdict: Trip Cancelled.
End Gains & Losses: $0 lost or gained
Experience #3: Montreal
This is a trip I had planned with my fiance for this upcoming Spring Break. About 2-3 weeks ago, I still had some hope about the trip. About a week later, Canada and the USA agreed to close their borders for travel purposes “until further notice.” On that note, I knew this trip would be a wash. Another sign was when a Canadian steakhouse cancelled my reservation. Petty much?
Seeing the exponential growth of the virus, I knew that I wanted to at least postpone this trip, potentially cancel. On March 27th, Amtrak emailed me the following below. Considering I did not receive a ticket, I knew then that I needed to cancel the trip.
I was able to easily cancel my Amtrak ticket through a texting option they offered. Peep how I was polite at the end even though this was a text message service. I am patiently waiting for the refund to appear on my credit card. I, at least, received a confirmation email.
From there, I took the first steps to get a refund for the hotel that I had already booked. Hotwire has offered an easier option which involves submitting an online form. I am patiently waiting for Hotwire to reach out to me. In an effort to cooperate, I am going to wait a week before calling over the phone if I do not get an email contact. I hope to make this trip happen within the next year!
Verdict: Trip Cancelled.
End Gains & Losses: $184 in Amtrak refunds. $501.93 in hotel refunds. Total gain is $685.93.
Experience #4: New Mexico
Clearly, I had several trips lined up! I booked this trip for Memorial Day weekend. However, I realized that this conflicted with the Class of 2020 prom, so I had been wanting to cancel this trip. However, with how this virus is going, I do not want to take any chances to travel until summer (hopefully by then, travel will be safe!)
Once I saw that I was able to get a refund for my Chicago hotel through Hotwire, I tried to get a refund for my New Mexico hotel within the same week. This required more patience as I was put on hold for extended time periods. I had to call back a few times before I could get a hold of someone. The customer service agent seemed hesitant at first to help me, but in dropping extra politeness, she was able to help. She called the hotel directly and they immediately agreed to grant me a refund!
Now, I still have my flight booked. I figured that I will patiently and cooperatively (following the policy of my Chase account) wait until it gets closer to see if my flight gets cancelled (as who knows if a couple of months from now, domestic travel will be prohibited). Currently, there are travel advisories against domestic travel. Looking up Jet Blue’s travel policy, the policies continue to evolve. I have hope to get at least a credit since I noticed that they are now granting credit for any travel up until May 31st. When I looked it up a couple of weeks ago, credit was only being granted for travel up until April 30th. I will keep you up to date!
UPDATE as of 5/19/20:
I got my refund for my flight to New Mexico, but it was not automatic. Tell me why JetBlue tried to be slick with me and offer a travel credit?! I booked my flight through the Chase Portal because I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card and wanted to use points. I got an email with the subject line, "Requested Email: Flight Cancel" and skimming the email, I saw a mention of a flight cancellation. My first thought, "Yes! This is what I have been waiting for." I was holding out until about a week before the flight to see if it would be cancelled. However, the email mentioned that they can only offer travel credit, which I thought was strange since they cancelled the flight. When I reread the email, I realized that they phrased it as if I AM the one who cancelled, "We regret to know that you need to cancel your travel due to the Global Coronavirus Outbreak."
Jet Blue, you played games with the wrong person! As a result, I called Chase and told them about the issue. The first time I called, they said that they would need to connect me with JetBlue. However, they hung up on accident before we were able to connect. The second time I called, Chase mentioned that JetBlue was giving travel credits automatically to those who booked through Chase but they can call JetBlue directly if I would like. Of course, yes! Almost immediately, Jet Blue approved my refund. Within minutes, Chase sent me an email that my points have been refunded!
Moral of the Story: Read your e-mails carefully! Know your rights as a passenger!
Verdict: Trip Cancelled.
End Gains & Losses: $282.84 and 15,856 points in refunds. Total worth in refunds: $520.69.
Next Memorial Day, I am speaking this trip into existence!
TOTAL: $1,430.82 in refunds. $88 lost.
Silver Lining: Saving money!
Should I cancel or postpone?
For transportation, wait as long as possible to see if the company cancels. If a country that you were planning to travel to has a travel restriction (example: Canada), the company has no choice but to cancel. COMPANY'S CANCELLATION = REFUND. I repeat, when a company cancels your trip, they MUST refund you. However, if you take the step to cancel the trip yourself, you may not be entitled to a refund (even with travel insurance). Instead, many companies are granting travel credit so they can hold on to your money!
The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier's control. - U.S. Department of Transportation
For domestic travel, there are currently no official restrictions, only advisories. As a result, you will most likely need to take the travel credit and postpone your trip. However, this can change throughout the coming months.
For hotels, I have yet to experience hotels reaching out to cancel. As a result, you will need to take that initiative. From personal experience, it is easier to cancel a hotel (even if it was originally non-refundable). If you booked through a 3rd party site such as Hotwire, follow the directions on their website. They are now allowing you to fill out a form to cancel regardless of the hotel room being originally non-refundable. If you call (especially if your trip is coming up within the next 3-7 days), make sure they reach out to the hotel directly to ask for a refund.
Check out the links below to read the policies of different airlines around cancelling and postponing trips.
Check out the links below to read the policies of different hotels around cancelling and postponing trips.