Tips to help travelers with inevitable changes

By Danielle Garrett, PlanIt Itineraries for The Aha! Connection

In the midst of this Coronavirus outbreak, many people are navigating the difficult decision to postpone or cancel upcoming vacations.   This can be stressful due to the many variables that need to be considered before making a final decision.  I hope the information below will help you during this uncertain time.  

 Where to start?  If you are undecided, start by looking at the cancellation policy for your accommodations and tours.  Note your last day for free cancellation.  Depending on your vacation start date, you may have time to watch the situation unfold over the next month or so.  May travel is looking less realistic, so rescheduling certain kinds of May trips now makes sense. Family summer vacations are tricky because your children’s school schedule doesn’t allow you to reschedule anytime in the near future.    Waiting until May to make a final decision on your summer trip may be a good option, but remember to check on your cut off day for cancelling!

Airlines are being very flexible.  Most airlines will allow you to make changes on-line, however, not all airlines have user friendly websites.  And if you are hoping for some further flexibility than what is being stated on airline’s travel alerts, you must call!  Agents have the ability to do much more over the phone.  It may take a long time to get through, but it’s almost always worth getting a live agent on the phone. 

Most of my experience is with Delta.  I have interacted a lot with Delta agents over the last 2 weeks and each time I have found them to be more than accommodating for my clients.  I have been very impressed with how Delta has handled waiving change fees even when it’s outside of the official time period; even not charging the difference in fare if rescheduling to future dates.  If you are not getting as much flexibility as you would like, ask for a supervisor or hang up and try again later with a different agent. 

MOST IMPORTANT, be nice!  Ask them how they are holding up!  We are all in this together and they are stressed too.  Kindness goes a long way!!

On a side note, I had an unfortunate situation with United this week.  In general they did not have a very helpful attitude, but the most disappointing thing was they tried to charge my client a $250 change fee per person (because May is currently outside of their official time period of waiving change fees).  This is something that Delta is not blinking an eye over.  Needless to say I was not happy and shamed United for not doing the right thing and taking advantage of this unfortunate situation for everyone!  I asked to speak to the agent’s supervisor, which she then put me on a fake hold for 10 seconds and came back to inform me that they would now waive the change fees.  My point in telling you this is you may need to push to get what you want.  And be careful of some airlines trying to get change fees from people when the reality is fees can be waived!  Enough of that….I feel my blood pressure rising! 🙂

For hotel or tour bookings that fall into a non-refundable time period, ask for a credit.  Most companies are already offering this option, but some are only giving a few months or so.  Ask for a one year credit and make sure to get this in writing!  Speak to a manager or supervisor if necessary.  I’ve had to do this several times already and was granted the request each time.  Remember this is all unprecedented, so there are no rules/policies in place for something like this, therefore, don’t take no for an answer. 

For an Airbnb booking, check your cancellation policy.  If you are in the refundable time period and choose to cancel instead re-booking new dates, make sure to check on the amount that is refunded.  Many times you will not be refunded the service fee, but a call to Airbnb customer service will typically end with them refunding you the remaining service fee.  If you are in the non-refundable period, call Airbnb!  They are being flexible resulting in Airbnb refunding even non-refundable bookings under their extenuating circumstances policy.

Reschedule your dates instead of cancelling.  This pandemic will affect the global economy, so in my opinion we need to do everything we can to return to our normal lives as soon as possible.  I understand the loss of jobs or schedule conflicts may not allow for this, but at this point I’m choosing optimism.  Places like Italy and other European destinations will need tourism to start back as soon as possible.  If you reschedule for the Fall for example, the worst thing that could happen is the need to reschedule again.  If we are still dealing with this virus come Fall, we all have much bigger issues than rescheduling our vacations.   If you are rescheduling your trip, make sure that you are re-booking a refundable rate even if it requires paying more per night.

Keep perspective!  This is a tough situation for all, but try to remember that for most of us it’s just a major inconvenience.  I had the experience of visiting Guatemala for a mission trip several years ago.  The living conditions were unimaginable, meals were a luxury, children were walking around with no shoes and clean water was non-existent for most.  I have found myself thinking about my Guatemala experience many times over the last 2 weeks.  We are all fortunate and will get through this time…hopefully with even more appreciation for our families and each other….which will make our next vacation with the people we love even better! 🙂 🙂 🙂