When it comes to cancelling or changing airline, hotel or cruise bookings that have any kind of cancellation penalty, you need to know some critically important realities.

Nothing New Under the Sun 

When it comes to excuses, there is nothing new under the sun. There is not a story, excuse or scenario that the airline or hotel has not heard before…especially the death in the family; dog ate my confirmation; lost my job; my phone died; I thought I cancelled this in time–or I just broke up or divorced.

Different employees have different levels of authority to waive, reduce or cancel penalties. You need to figure out how far you must go to get some relief. Who are the final decision makers–and is it worth your time and effort?   

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Choosing by Price is Not Always the Best Option  

The cheapest fare, deal or offer is not always the best. More and more we are seeing multiple price options which might include prepaid non-refundable pricing, which means a  reduced price in exchange for locking in your rate. This may be the cheapest, but also could be the costliest option–if you need to cancel or make a change. Often it’s best to choose the best refundable rate until your travel date approaches–and you are very sure you will be taking that trip. Then you can change the type of rate you are booking.        

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There is Always Fine Print 

The onus is on you to read every last word of fine print to understand what risks you are taking–and what precautions you need to take. This might include buying trip interruption and cancellation insurance (which includes the very expensive option of change your mind.) I recommend this type of insurance to many of my clients who are lawyers or highly paid professionals whose time is very valuable. Another option is using the kind of credit card with perks and privileges that would reimburse you for covered events. The last resort, which should often be your first: Be authentic and tell the truth. There is nothing worse than being caught in your own fabrication.  Often, the non-refundable can be migrated into a future credit which is still a win as long as you are planning on visiting the same destination or using the same airline again within the prescribed time allotted for the credit.     

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Is That Their Final Answer?  

While there is a slew of new passenger protection measures, every country still has control of their own rules, from cancelling, to overbooking, compensation and charges. The US Department of Transportation has mandated any ticket to and/or from or within the US must offer a full refund within the first 24 hours of booking. American Airlines is the only exception which allows you a free 24-hour hold, and once you actually ticket a non-refundable flight on AA, there are no free cancellations.     

Next issue is where they must accommodate you is with schedule changes–usually of more than 61 minutes–to get a full refund or re-booking at no charge. Or, if the change causes a missed connection or breaks the minimum connection time rules.  

That being said, rules and regulations are very fluid and can change from the time of booking to the time of cancellation penalties and travel. Be sure to copy and file away the initial terms of agreement as they might not be what they are at the time of a cancellation–and the difference could work in your favor.  

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Personally Speaking

Over the years I have had issues with both airlines and hotels, so I can speak with some authority in these matters.  

In fact, I just had to cancel a Marriott Vacation property because they could not change a mandatory seminar time to anything else but the time they had given me when I booked it months ago. During the time booked, I had to visit my only living uncle who lives a few hours away and had been diagnosed with leukemia. I offered Marriott any other time or date to allow me to go from Newport Beach to Palm Desert, and after over a week they came back to tell me that they could not change the time at all. I had told them this was non negotiable for me, and so I cancelled. But by now, the package date had expired. In the end, I was able to negotiate it as an open credit, to be used until the end of July, which was more reasonable. When they could not give me a date at any of my requested properties, they extended until September, if I booked when they offered me the September date.   

I have, when necessary, double booked hotels when I’m not sure of area I need to be in. I have had to cancel because of most of the things I mentioned above–from death in the family to change of plans, weather issues. I recently had to argue about glitches in booking engines for online bookings that literally changed dates or booked deals with different fine print then what showed online. I have gone to bat for countless clients and I am fastidious about advising my clients to carry the best credit cards that offer them peace of mind for both trip interruptions. I show them how to compare clause by clause, which is the best insurance option for them.  

Is There Anything Else I Can Do?   

The issue of being prepared to protect yourself from anything other than sheer stupidity, will always be an important key in the whole travel experience.      

The bottom line is that without a travel “agent” specialist, you are on your own. Everyone can use someone with insider connections to advocate for you and to convince someone to make an exception or take pity on you. That is not going to be a booking engine.