The airlines have sold non-refundable tickets for a long time, and they can sell them because they cut the prices for those tickets and travelers buy them to save money.
These days, many lodging establishments, tour operators, and other travel suppliers are getting in the game of non-refundable reservations too.
For example, nearly every bed and breakfast has cancellation policies, and many hotels now require travelers to reserve non-refundable rooms to get the best price on their stay.
Selling non-refundable seats or rooms limits the financial losses for a travel supplier – it also significantly limits a traveler’s options when they experience an unexpected event that causes them to cancel their trip.
The decision to forego a trip will require you to contact all airlines, hotels, and any other travel suppliers where you made reservations and paid money ahead of time. While we don’t (for obvious reasons) recommend traveling without travel insurance, there are some ways you may be able to use to save your trip investment if you have to cancel.
Depending on the reason you have to cancel your trip, you may be able to recoup some of your trip costs using your credit card travel protection plan.
While the travel protections offered by your credit card simply don’t stack up to a real travel insurance plan, they do offer some protection for trip cancellation if you’re cancelling for reasons covered by the rules of your credit card. Those reasons are typically limited to severe illness or injury, or the death of yourself, a close family member, or your traveling companion.
The maximum trip costs with your credit card are also very limited (some as low as $500), but again, something is better than nothing.
Recognize that the travel supplier with whom you made a reservation is simply trying to keep the money you gave them and some will be happy to reschedule your trip to a later date rather than giving you a refund.
This is one way for you to recover some of the money you spent on the trip, and you may have to pay a penalty to reschedule. At least you won’t lose the entire amount.
Depending on the rules of the business with whom you are cancelling, you may be able to get a credit voucher for a future trip instead of a cash refund. Again, the travel supplier is a business that needs to make enough money to stay in business and they’re usually much more inclined to let you use the money you spent for a future stay than hand over a refund.
If you booked your travel through a travel agency, your travel agent may have the pull to get you some sort of credit. You may need to show proof of the reason you are cancelling in the form of a detailed doctor’s note or a death certificate, but depending on how much you spent, it could be worth it.
In the event you don’t succeed with your first request, ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. Calmly explain the situation and ask that they please help you out. If you’ve been a loyal customer in the past (and they know it), you might mention that fact.
Be willing to compromise and consider giving the manager some options that will help you out. You never know, you could hit them in a generous mood or soon after they got reprimanded for poor customer service.
As a last resort, you could try gifting the trip or selling it to someone else – perhaps a friend, neighbor, or family member. You’ll still have to pay a change fee to transfer the tickets to a new flyer but at least the trip investment won’t go to waste.
Then, reconsider your stand on trip cancellation insurance. It’s really not as expensive as you might think – especially when you take our 5 Rules for Saving Money on your Travel Insurance Plan into account. If you’re booking non-refundable airline seats and rooms, you can save a lot of money on your trip – often more than enough to cover the cost of a simple travel insurance plan that will refund your trip expenses as long as you’re cancelling for a covered reason.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.