So you want to cancel your vacation? In the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak, you probably can do it – and get all your money back. I have a few coronavirus refund tips that will help.
But should you cancel? Most travel companies now offer incentives to reschedule. Princess Cruises, for instance, is throwing in a generous cruise credit if you rebook your vacation.
That’s not the only reason to hold on to your travel plans. If everyone stays home, there might not be much of a travel industry left. And that’s not hyperbole. I’ve been hearing from people in the industry that if their customers stop traveling, they’ll be out of business soon. The airline industry is hitting up the government for $50 billion in grants, loans and tax relief.
My 76-year-old mother, who canceled her trip to Europe last week, turned down a full refund. She said it was morally wrong to ask for her money back. The refund rules were clear when she purchased her tickets and tour, she said.
“Besides,” she said, “they need the money.”
Mom, if you’re reading this, please stop here.
I specialize in helping consumers get refunds for all kinds of travel products. There are ways to get your money back, from negotiating strategies to card tricks. Here are some of the most effective coronavirus refund tips:
Negotiate politely. That’s the advice of Laurie Guest, an author who specializes in travel and customer service. Focus on maintaining a relationship with the travel company. “Consider the depth of the relationship,” she says. “You might say, ‘After years of working together, I hope we can find a compromise that works for both of us.’” Guest is also a proponent of postponing, but not canceling, a trip.Cite their own rules. Often, you don’t need a special waiver to secure a full refund. Airlines give refunds when they make a significant schedule change. If a hotel isn’t open, you get all your money back. And if a cruise line cancels your itinerary to avoid a coronavirus outbreak and tries to rebook you on another sailing, you have the option of canceling. The terms of purchase outline when you’re eligible for a refund. It pays to read your ticket contract or the terms of purchase.Hail them on all frequencies. Last week and over the weekend, a lot of readers were complaining about Expedia being unreachable by phone because of “technical difficulties.” Of course, there were technical difficulties; everyone was trying to call Expedia at the same time. But companies also have email addresses and online chat. They have Facebook pages and Twitter handles. No one wants to use them because they don’t get instant results, but those channels are often more effective.Invoke your loyalty. Frequent-flier and hotel loyalty programs have become increasingly convoluted and irrelevant, but this is one of those times when the color of your card might make a real difference. A business can see how much your business is worth. “Members of hotel and airline loyalty programs can press the service providers to reward their past and likely future loyalty,” says Marcia Flicker, an associate professor at Fordham University.Negotiate a little less politely. No, I’m not talking about throwing a tantrum – although I’ve seen plenty of those recently. If a travel company tells you to take a credit or leave it, you have options. A favored response is a little light social media pressure. Salila Sukumaran, a travel adviser based in Mountain View, California, says you need to be diplomatic. A friendly note on Twitter or Facebook may nudge the company into offering a refund. “If done tactfully and respectfully, such an act may get the money back,” she says. “However, if done poorly, you may be blacklisted by a small or medium-sized facility. People will remember the incident.”Leverage your credit card. When Rachel Sheerin had to cancel a trip, that’s what she did. She called American Express Platinum and asked for help. A representative stayed on the line while Sheerin negotiated a refund. “The Amex concierge is a game changer and has saved me lots of money,” says Sheerin, a frequent traveler and motivational speaker from Charlotte, North Carolina. Another benefit of making a credit-card purchase: If the company won’t offer a refund, you can dispute the charges.Be patient. A lot of travelers demand fast results, but that’s not always possible. In a few cases, flights left before travelers had a chance to cancel them. The airline wasn’t answering its phones. “Patience is key here,” says Philip Weiss, a frequent traveler who writes a travel blog about the nomadic lifestyle. If you want a refund for a canceled resort stay or cruise, put your request in writing as soon as possible and then wait. It could take a while, but eventually you’ll get your money back.Don’t forget, if they cancel, you get a quick refund. For example, if the airline stops flying to your destination, the U.S. Transportation Department requires that the airline process your refund within seven business days if you paid by credit card and 20 business days if you paid by cash or check. You don’t have to accept a credit if you don’t want to.
None of these coronavirus refund tips should be necessary. That’s because it shouldn’t take much to move a company in the right direction, particularly now.
“This crisis is a real opportunity for companies to show empathy and prove to customers that they are willing to go above and beyond,” says Evan Nierman, who runs Red Banyan, an international-crisis public relations firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Companies should not be focused on today’s crisis and responding in the moment. They should be focused on keeping their customers long term.”
But just in case you need to secure a full refund, now you have the means. What you do with this information is up to you. And I agree with my expert sources, including my mother. You might want to consider rescheduling your trip. You could save a whole lot more than your vacation.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.