How to Book Holiday Travel You Can Cancel

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The pandemic and all of its lingering drama continue to give travelers anxiety. But ironically, that same crisis has made the runup to the 2021 holidays a great time to satisfy your wanderlust. 

“This is actually a fantastic time for the fully vaccinated traveler,” said Nicole LeBlanc, travel advisor and owner of Mon Voyage. “Crowds in many destinations are lighter and the small inconveniences related to testing and document compliance are worth it.”

Even so, it’s more important than ever to have an exit plan. Travel agencies, hotels, airlines, tours, and cruise lines are all aware of the situation and many have beefed up their cancellation policies — but in the end, it’s up to you to pack a parachute when planning your holiday.

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Peace of Mind Isn’t Free — Budget Extra For Booking

One way to ease your mind is to buy a ticket or book a hotel that lets you cancel without fees — but expect to pay a premium to avoid paying a penalty.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Try to avoid basic economy tickets, as these will not give you the option to cancel without a fee,” said Trysta Barwig, founder of This Travel Dream. “I know the lower cost price is tempting, but if you need to change your flight or cancel, you might lose money.” 

Keep in mind that “refund” means different things at different price points. 

“You need to read over your ticket terms to find out if it will be a refund or a credit,” said Dannelle Gay, author of “Midwest Road Trip Adventures” and founder of TravelingCheesehead.com. “The cheaper the fares, the higher the chance you will get a credit, and that might only last 12 months.”

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Invest in Travel Insurance

Nearly every expert GOBankingRates interviewed recommended playing it safe with travel insurance — but when you buy it and from whom makes all the difference. 

“Never, ever book the trip insurance offered when you book your flight or hotel,” said Deanna Ford, owner of The Detailed Traveler. “90% of this only covers you in the most extreme of circumstances — death, terrorism, job loss, and natural disaster.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Instead, Ford recommends purchasing “cancel for any reason” travel insurance through a company like World Nomads or Travelex. 

“Without this coverage, COVID is no longer a valid reason to cancel your trip with travel insurance because it is considered ongoing and a pre-existing factor,” Ford said.

You might even be able to just add travel coverage to your existing policy.

“Check with your normal insurance carrier — I use the same guy we have house insurance through — and you can often get a better rate as a bundle deal,” said Gay. 

No matter where you buy, make sure to shop around — and never succumb to pressure to buy a policy from your travel agent.

“Travel insurance policies can vary by over 100% for similar coverage,” said Gay. “By doing a little legwork, you could save a lot of money. If you travel a lot, it might benefit you to consider purchasing an annual policy.” 

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Read the Fine Print

Guillaume Picard, co-founder of TourScanner, said that the majority of tour operators have updated their cancellation policies to satisfy travelers’ concerns over the last year — but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. 

“85% of our offers are now fully refundable up to 24 hours before the start of the tour,” Picard said. “We strongly advise our users to always double-check the cancelation policies before booking a tour as travel is still very uncertain.”

Rax Suen, founder of Nomads Unveiled, agrees.

“For travelers making their own bookings, it is firstly important to look out for cancellation terms and the qualifying criteria for refunds with each provider,” Suen said. “For airlines, I would double-check to see how refunds have gone for other customers in the past year to get an idea of how efficiently these are being handled. Also, make sure to check if the refunds come in the form of cash or only flight credits.”

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Choose an Airline With Flexible Policies

Just as it is with insurance, not all airlines are created equal. 

“For the holidays, travelers hoping to book travel that can be canceled easily should start with a flexible airline ticket that can be refunded or exchanged for credit,” said writer and adventure traveler Carlos Grider of A Brother Abroad. “This will vary by region, but right now, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are offering flight changes and cancellations without fees. On American Airlines, this applies to all tickets except basic economy. Throughout Asia, Air Asia is delivering similarly flexible policies. However, in Europe and South America, aim for tickets from budget airlines that are cheap enough that you can comfortably write them off as a loss if plans change.”

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Use the Filters on Your Booking Site

The top online travel sites have built-in tools to isolate only the packages that let you cancel your plans.

“When searching for accommodation on Booking.com, use the ‘free cancellation’ filter and choose only from the accommodation options that provide it,” said Veronika Primm, travel blogger at TravelGeekery. “That way you won’t be charged in the event of canceling your trip.”

Deals are there for the taking on lots of competing sites — but the key is to always use the filters.

“I find Hotels.com to be the clearest when filtering these options,” said Ford. “They are great about hosting a ton of accommodation options with a 24-hour cancellation policy.” 

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Or Consider Booking Direct

While travel sites make it easy to shop around and compare prices, that’s not always the best way to book a room if you’re concerned with canceling. 

“After booking flights, for tours, hotels, and any events, contact the management directly to confirm a flexible cancellation policy and potential discounts, and then book directly,” Grider said. “Eliminating third-party apps and sites will make a no-fee cancellation more of a possibility as hospitality management staff around the world have been extremely accommodating recently and are more likely to accommodate your needs if you book and contact them directly.” 

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Use a Travel Credit Card With Cancelation Perks

Everything you need from booking assistance to travel insurance to cancelation coverage might be included with that little plastic rectangle in your pocket. 

“Book every flight, tour, and stay with a travel-friendly credit card that delivers trip cancellation and interruption coverage and will handle accidental charges professionally and quickly,” said Grider.

There is, of course, no shortage of travel cards — take the time to shop around.

“There are some great ones out there, but my personal favorite and the one I use is the Capital One Venture Card,” said Ford. “This covers you for up to $500 in trip coverage and has some other great trip cancellation features. Certain reasons may not be covered so it’s best to check with the company before booking.”

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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

It’s a great time to travel, but thanks to the pandemic, booking is more confusing, complicated, and involved than ever before. It might be worth enlisting a pro to walk you through the process. 

“Use a travel advisor who can help you plan a more flexible trip to an appropriate destination,” said LeBlanc. “That advisor can also assist clients in understanding ever-changing entry requirements for destinations.”

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Last updated: Oct. 7, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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