The days have bled into weeks, which bleed into months, but somehow, summer is not too far away. Most colleges will be through with classes in a few weeks, Memorial Day is in a month, and aside from a bizarre blizzard, the weather is generally starting to heat up.
In eager anticipation of the year’s brightest months, many people booked big summer trips long before Corona was more than something to enjoy with tacos. But now, as we’re starting to hear murmurs of things opening up again, the possibility of those trips happening is, at least, conceivable. But should you cancel now to avoid losing money later? Or hold onto hope that it’ll be safe to travel soon? We found some travel experts to help you make the tough call.
Don’t mentally cancel far-off plans just yet.
Though nobody, not even the medical professionals sharing a podium with the United States president, know exactly when traveling is going to be safe — or worth doing — again, there is no benefit to writing it off just yet. Airlines, hotels, and pretty much everyone else in the travel industry have relaxed their cancellation policies, so it’s best to stay optimistic.
“There’s far too much uncertainty about when it could be safe to travel again,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “I’ve got a trip planned in July, for instance, that I’m waiting to see whether it’ll be okay to travel by then or not. I’ll plan to mentally decide in the weeks leading up to it.”
That doesn’t just hold true for flights either. Hotels and other lodging options like Airbnbs have become increasingly accommodating as well, so you can hold onto your reservation in hopes things clear up soon.
“Hotels, property managers and almost every travel company are being more flexible with their cancellation policies,” says Omer Rabin, managing director of short-term rental property management platform Guesty. “That gives travelers more confidence to book upcoming trips.”
Seriously consider rebooking if you can.
We’re in no place to dispense personal financial advice here, and nobody knows your personal situation better than you do. But if you’re in a spot where you don’t need money, rebooking your trip will likely be better for you and the travel industry as a whole in the long run.
“There’s a mental benefit from having a trip to look forward to,” says Keyes. “Will it be safe to travel later this year, or early 2021? I hope so. Given that airlines are waiving change fees on new bookings, travelers are in a uniquely advantageous spot right now. We’re awash in cheap flights, and yet we can also book flights with flexibility, knowing that if it’s not safe to travel come trip time, we’re not locked in.”
Rebooking also helps people like Airbnb hosts and short-term renters cover their mortgages, so the properties are still there when we’re able to travel again. Same for hotels.
“Our advice would be to consider re-booking…before canceling altogether,” says Rabin. “This could mean asking companies to rebook the same dates next year or look to later this year. Travelers should feel comfortable asking for discounted rates when re-booking trips as well.”
Wait as long as possible to cancel.
If you do resign yourself to giving up your summer vacation this year, don’t cancel anything until the last possible minute. That’s not just because we’re encouraging you to hope for the best, but rather because the longer you wait, the better the chance airlines cancel the flights first, entitling you to a cash refund instead of a voucher for future travel.
“Waiting gives the airline more time to cancel your flight,” says Keyes. “If an airline cancels your flight, by law you’re eligible for a cash refund. If your flight hasn’t been canceled yet, there’s still a good chance it will be by the time your trip date rolls around.”
On the other hand, if you cancel first, all the airline’s required to give you is a voucher for future travel. Which might be nice if you’re looking forward to getting the heck out of town as soon as you safely can. But not much use if you’re hard up for cash at the moment. Keyes recommends waiting until 24-48 hours before the flight to cancel.
Hotels, on the other hand, generally have policies that require cancellation within 24 hours, so you can wait a little longer with them too. Rental cars can usually be canceled without a penalty, and any excursions or tours usually give you 24 hours, or sometimes less, to cancel.
Obviously, the timeline is the most important thing to consider when canceling a trip. But you might also want to think about which things take the longest to cancel, and knock those out first.
“Historically, airlines have difficult cancellation policies to navigate, so it is best to tackle this first,” says Brett Holzhauer, a travel expert at Lending Tree. “Any hotels or accommodations should be next after this. After that, any rental car, excursions or other expenses.”
Know what your credit card and insurance cover.
Travel insurance has shown itself to be…unpredictable during the COVID-19 crisis. But when looking to cancel a vacation it’s at least worth researching which cancellations might be covered in case you decide not to go.
“Travel insurance provided by credit cards is a great tool,” says Holzhauer. “But it doesn’t cover all events. Your travel insurance will only cover your travel expenses if you come down with the virus or your doctor specifically instructs you not to travel. If you cancel your travel because you don’t feel comfortable traveling, your insurance policy won’t cover any lost costs.”
Basically, if you’re physically unable to travel, then you’ll get everything refunded provided you have the right insurance. But if you’re just leery about jumping on a plane right now, that’s fine, but your insurance company won’t help you out.
That all said, your credit card can also be a last resort when airlines refuse to refund a canceled flight. Most credit cards will refund purchases when a merchant does not deliver a purchase, and in the case of canceled flights that’s exactly the case. It’s never a guarantee, but always worth trying.