How To Not Lose Money on Canceled Spring Break Trips as COVID Refunds Fade

Two happy young men giving their girlfriends piggyback rides at the beach.
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The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we travel both domestically and internationally over the past two years. We booked flights, made hotel reservations, and kept fingers crossed that a positive test within our traveling party or an outbreak at our destination wouldn’t force us to cancel long-anticipated plans.

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Even if it did, many airlines and hotels instituted temporary policies to either provide refunds or travel credit in the case of cancellation without fees. In other cases, folks had to fight for refunds from travel providers. But as COVID-19 cases dwindle, most of those policies are going away — especially if you’ve booked basic economy airfares or prepaid hotel rooms — and you could lose money should you cancel.

So as we look ahead to more travel in 2022, we’re far more aware than we were two years ago about the need to ask the right questions and take proper precautions to make sure we’re financially protected should travel plans change. COVID is less of a risk now, but there still are other timeless factors — such as bad weather — that could alter your vacation.

GOBankingRates asked travel experts for their recommendations on how to plan a trip that won’t cost you cash in the case of cancellation, and they overwhelmingly agree on one thing — buy insurance.

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Trip Insurance

Types of Trip Insurance

Different travel insurance policies provide different protections, and the experts recommend reviewing various policies to determine just what risks and incidents they cover. While trip insurance traditionally has been optional, many foreign destinations now require proof of insurance that covers at least COVID-19 medical expenses while in their country.

Joe Cronin, the president of International Citizens Group, Inc., outlined the various insurance options that his organization shares with international travelers who want to protect their health and finances as they travel abroad.

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“Trip cancellation protects your finances if you have an illness, accident or family emergency that requires you to cancel your trip or come home early. It will also reimburse you if your travel is delayed or your baggage is lost. And if you buy Cancel for Any Reason insurance and decide you just don’t want to go on your trip, then you can get most of the cost back,” he said. “If you are going on a $199 weekend getaway, trip cancellation insurance may not be worthwhile. But if you are spending a significant sum, it’s worth every penny.”

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Travel medical insurance could be, too.

“Travel medical insurance is designed to cover you while you’re in an area where your current health insurance does not apply,” he said. “Currently over 50 countries require travel medical insurance for at least some visitors, so if you don’t have it your trip could end before it even begins. Even if it’s not required by your destination, travel medical insurance protects your finances while you are overseas. You may be a healthy person, but if you are in an accident and break your ankle, or break a tooth, it could cost you a hefty sum to get treatment without insurance. If there’s a natural disaster, a political upheaval or a terrorist attack, travel medical insurance will also help you get home and protect your finances. Plus it will cover you if your baggage is lost, if your trip is interrupted or delayed or if your ticket is lost.”

Insurance Testimonials

Keri Baugh, who runs the family travel blog Bon Voyage With Kids, said her family, which includes three children, is insured for its many travels.

“While we have had many wonderful travel experiences, we have experienced canceled flights, lost luggage, sick kids (ruptured eardrums), medical visits out of our state and out of the country, hurricanes and more,” Baugh said. “And that was before the pandemic. In the last two years, we have changed our plans multiple times as the pandemic evolved.”

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The reality is that travel is imperfect and you never know what can happen and when it can happen. This has been especially true in the last two years, and when something DOES happen, it can be costly if you don’t protect yourself in advance.

Another travel blogger, Sierra Redmond of The Daily Impressions, said her family has an annual trip insurance policy.

“I have traveled frequently during the pandemic and one of the things that I felt kept my family and I protected during our travels was purchasing an annual travel insurance policy vs. purchasing travel insurance for each individual trip,” she said. “Not only did it save us money in the long run but our annual policy fit the travel requirements for many of the international trips that we took, such as Turks and Caicos and Mexico. We felt secure.”

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Cost of Insurance

Cronin said buying trip cancellation insurance will cost about 5% of the overall trip cost. At that calculation, insurance on a $1,000 trip would cost $50.

Medical travel insurance is tailored to the age of the traveler. “A good rule of thumb is that travel medical insurance will cost between $1 and $5 per day,” he said. Travelers can reduce the cost of their premiums by adding a deductible.

Cancel For Any Reason coverage is the most expensive. Squaremouth.com, which helps travelers find the best insurance for their trip, said such coverage will increase a policy’s premium by 40% to 50% and reimburses up to 75% of the trip cost.

Other Cost Savers

Insurance requires you to outlay some money, but there are a few other things you can do to protect your finances in the case of a trip cancellation or interruption that won’t cost much — if anything.

Challenge the Non-Refundable Rate Rule

New England Wanderlust recommends sending an email directly to a hotel you’re interested in booking to ask whether you can get a refund if you must cancel at the last minute — even if you choose a non-refundable rate. Not all hotels will do so, but others will agree to cancel the reservation or issue a voucher for a future stay. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Be sure to keep the email record of your conversation as proof of the agreement.

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Use Your Credit Card

Frequent travelers can benefit from having a credit card that offers travel benefits and insurance. The cards with the best benefits have the biggest annual fee, however, so weigh the fee and the reward before applying.

“Credit card travel insurance is a huge bonus while traveling right now. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve have coverage for everything from flight delays to canceled, nonrefundable tours,” said travel journalist Jen Ruiz, founder of Jen on a Jet Plane. Of the two, the Sapphire Preferred card is the least expensive at $95 per year, and it comes with additional benefits that could offset the fee.

Book Now, Pay Later

Ruiz also recommended travelers not pay up front for travel expenses that can be delayed.

“Whenever possible, utilize the ‘book now, pay later’ option so you don’t have to put down a nonrefundable deposit or potentially lose money if you need to change your reservations,” she said. “This may be a little more expensive than paying for the full amount up front — by 10% to 20% — but is worth the flexibility and peace of mind on everything from hotels to rental cars.”

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.
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