girl looking at flight cancellations board at airport

When you need to cancel travel for reasons beyond your control, you have plenty of options. (Photo: Yelizaveta Tomashevska/ iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Tips + Trends

10 Tips for Dealing With a Canceled Trip

A last-minute canceled trip isn’t the travel memory you want to share with your friends. Whether it’s extreme weather, illness or travel advisories, trip cancellations are frustrating. Can I get a refund? Is it possible to make alternate travel plans? You have several options to handle a canceled trip for reasons beyond your control, even if you book a cheap flight.

Read the Cancellation Terms

It’s important to review the cancellation policies from your travel provider and any travel insurance policies. Knowing what’s covered and what’s not can help you prepare for filing a dispute and knowing what your alternate options are.

Airlines tend to have the most restrictive flight cancellation policies as you usually can only get a full refund within 24 hours of buying your ticket. Most refundable hotel and rental car reservations have free cancellation up to 24 hours before check-in.

Consider Your Cancellation Reason

Why your trip is no longer happening greatly influences what your alternate options are. For example, if you are canceling the trip out of fear for an unknown event, you may have to take the loss. Taking the initiative to cancel your reservations before a local travel advisory goes into effect means you might forfeit your entire purchase amount.

However, you’re more likely to get a refund or credit when the carrier cancels your reservation for these reasons:

  • Extreme weather like a blizzard or a hurricane
  • Political turmoil
  • Local travel restrictions due to illness

Qualifying personal reasons can be if you or a family member falls ill and the physician restricts travel. Canceling for a job relocation or a military deployment are valid reasons, too.

worried woman on phone
(Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision)

Document Your Cancellation Reasons

The travel provider or travel insurance company isn’t likely to issue you a refund if you simply state that your trip is canceled. Plan on providing sufficient evidence to the travel provider if you need to cancel for personal reasons.

If you are filing a claim with your credit card or travel insurance provider, you will need to provide documentation from the travel provider stating the cancellation reason. Plan on furnishing a copy of your receipt and a copy of your travel dates. Don’t delete trip-related emails until the claims process is complete. They may come in handy, even if the messages don’t seem valuable now.

Pay Attention to Filing Deadlines

You will need to act quickly to file a claim. Each travel provider and insurance carrier may have different filing deadlines. Notifying each party as soon as you know about the cancellation is essential. After that, you have time to gather the necessary paperwork and statements.

Contact the Travel Provider

Your first step after learning your trip is canceled is to contact the airline, hotel, cruise line or tour provider you have the reservation with. For example, if you’re at the airport when the airline cancels your connecting flight, speak to the gate agent first. It’s the airline’s responsibility to make alternate travel plans to complete your trip in this instance.

Each carrier has different cancellation and rebooking policies. If the carrier cancels your travel, they may start the process by listing your travel alternatives in the initial notification message.

For nonrefundable travel, the carrier may initially request that you reschedule your travel for a later date. If you can’t finalize new travel dates yet, the carrier may issue a travel credit to book future travel at your convenience. You may get a full refund, depending on the situation and whether or not rescheduling is an option.

Ask the customer service agent if there are any fees for changes or cancellations. It’s possible they will waive these fees for extenuating circumstances, but that’s not always a guarantee.

Third-Party Booking Sites

It’s recommended to book your hotel directly, but if you book flights, rental cars or activities through a third-party booking site instead of directly from the travel provider website, you may have to contact the third-party to request a refund or credit. The booking site may handle the refund process, or they may advocate on your behalf to request a reimbursement from the travel provider.

Your reimbursement options depend on the reservation terms and conditions. A refundable reservation is going to have more flexibility than a nonrefundable reservation.

A common condition for nonrefundable reservations states, “No changes, cancellations, or refunds are allowed.” However, you might be able to get a refund or adjust your plans when weather or a government-issued travel advisory affects your itinerary.

flight cancellation board at airport
(Photo: Mimadeo/iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Check Credit Card Trip Protection Benefits

Which credit card you use to book your travel is more than how many rewards points you can earn in the process. Many credit cards offer travel insurance benefits for nonrefundable travel purchases. If the card you use to book your travel offers built-in travel insurance, it can be worth filing a claim. Pay attention to the filing deadlines. Waiting too long to report your cancellation forfeits your reimbursement options.

Qualifying Reasons

Eligible reasons can include:

  • Illness or injury for you or a family member
  • Death of an immediate family member
  • Physician-imposed quarantine or travel restrictions
  • Job relocation
  • Jury duty
  • Military deployment
  • Officially named hurricanes
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist attack or hijacking

In regard to natural disasters, you must book your travel before the event is officially named. You can get a refund for nonrefundable travel if a hurricane is coming when you book before the hurricane develops.

Ineligible Reasons

Credit card travel insurance policies don’t cover every event. Some of the reasons may surprise you. Your credit card will most likely decline your dispute claim in these instances:

  • Preexisting medical conditions
  • Traveling against the advice of your physician
  • The travel provider becomes financially insolvent
  • A declared or undeclared war
  • Trips exceeding at least 60 days in length

Some cancellation events don’t fit nicely into the coverage exclusions. Credit card companies may review disputes on a case-by-case basis.

Third-Party Travel Insurance

Buying optional travel insurance can offer more extensive benefits than those offered by the travel provider or your credit card company. The key is buying coverage before the cancellation becomes publicly known. For most travelers, that’s a hurricane if you’re taking a beach trip or going on a cruise.

Pricier policies cover more events and can have higher coverage limits than one that only covers catastrophic events. If you’re a frequent traveler, investing in an annual travel plan can be your best all-around option in regard to cost and coverage benefits.

Having travel insurance doesn’t guarantee you’re covered for every medical, weather or travel advisory–related cancellation. One exception is if you purchase “cancel for any reason” coverage. However, you may still need to cancel your trip at least 14 days from your trip’s start date.

John E. DiScala, aka Johnny Jet, has traveled more than 100,000 miles a year since starting his free newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. He was named by Forbes as one of the Top 10 Travel Influencers and writes about everything travel on Johnny now travels the world with his wife and their two children.