The well-known COVID-19 pandemic has brought the travel industry, several countries, and our social lives to its knees. Airlines are requesting bailouts, travel companies are shutting down, and people are left to cancel their travel plans amidst vague guidance and sensational news stories.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it can be hard to keep your cool when you’re stressed, worried, and thrown off of your normal routine. This is especially true if you also have to cancel your long-awaited travel plans. Unfortunately, when a global pandemic or other disaster strikes, airlines, hotels, and booking agencies start scrambling to hold onto their profits and their customers.
Like many others, my mom and I were forced to abandon our plans to take a Caribbean cruise when we heard news of the virus spreading on cruise ships. It was my first time planning a cruise and canceling the trip was definitely stressful. From long hold times with the cruise company to figuring out the rules of travel credits and vouchers, canceling travel plans due to something out of your control can take a huge toll on you and your family.
Here are some tips on how to cancel your travel plans in an emergency to prevent additional stress.
Stay calm and practice patience.
When you need to cancel travel plans, the first thing you probably do is call customer service. Please remember that customer service representatives are not your enemy. I’ve worked in several call centers and front desks early in my career and I can honestly tell you that yelling or insulting customer service representatives will not help you. They are often limited to a script or prompts to address issues, and they may not have tons of information or clear directions from management, especially in a crisis. Unfortunately, call center staff are frequently the last to know about new policies, guidance, or resolutions, so please be patient with them.
Now, if the customer service representative is just being rude or disrespectful, you have every right to ask for a manager or a senior representative. Make sure that you keep your cool because calls are often recorded and several companies will use the recording against you if you are being belligerent or disrespectful.
Patience is the most important virtue when you need to cancel travel plans during a crisis. If you are calling to cancel your trip due to a global outbreak, I’m sure that thousands of others are in the same boat. Expect long hold times, website crashes, and delayed responses. Call the travel company when your mind is fresh and use headphones to prevent holding your phone for too long. Trust me, a stiff arm and neck will only infuriate you more.
Make sure that you check the company’s website to see if they offer alternatives to long hold times, such as a callback feature, online forms, or social media.
Prepare your documentation and have it ready when you call.
Before you contact the travel company to cancel your trip, prepare all of your documentation, including confirmation numbers, guests’ names, dates, and booking information. Having this information handy before you call will make you feel prepared to make your request. I’m sure no one likes feeling frantic searching for papers while you’re talking to a customer service representative.
I use TripIt to store all of my confirmations and itineraries together. It’s simple to login and access my information so I’m not shuffling through papers while I’m on hold. I also have a separate email account for travel information and I create inbox folders for each trip. If I need to access an original email, I can simply click into that trip’s folder to locate it.
Read and understand the cancellation policies.
Ideally, you should understand the cancellation policies before you book your trip. It is crucial to review them again before you call to cancel your travel plans. You can save yourself a ton of frustration from sitting on hold for two hours just to have the representative repeat the policy to you because you didn’t read it.
This is especially true when you use third-party booking sites like Costco Travel, Expedia, Hotwire, etc. They are simply the agents that book the travel and not the actual supplier. Be sure to review the supplier’s cancellation policy prior to booking your trip through a third-party site. It is standard that the booking site will default to the individual airline, hotel, or tour cancellation policies, which may not include receiving a full refund.
Follow the news and social media for the latest updates.
When global or local incidents occur, situations can change rapidly. The COVID-19 pandemic caused chaos around the world. For instance, travelers had to double pay their hotel fees when BookIt closed suddenly, cruise ship passengers were stuck onboard for weeks, and Costco Travel’s call center closed due to an employee death from COVID-19. These fast-changing conditions caused panic, chaos, and confusions amongst travelers worldwide.
It is vital to follow your favorite news media outlet websites and social media pages for the latest updates. It is also helpful to read comments on social media or travel forums to see if people are experiencing something similar or have any tips. When I decided to cancel our trip to South Africa because of the drought in 2018, I read through several local news articles that explained the ongoing situation. I also read about people’s experiences on social media during the drought, including information about safety and potential disturbances.
Also, if you’re from the United States, sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) from the U.S. Department of State. STEP will alert you of travel advisories and safety conditions, and it will help the U.S. Embassy and your loved ones contact you in an emergency.
Contact your travel insurance and credit card companies.
It is vital to understand the travel insurance policy’s coverage limitations and the insurance company’s responsibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vast limitations of travel insurance, as many people found out that global pandemic declarations, border shutdowns, and panic were not covered reasons to cancel a trip. As unfortunate as this is, it is up to each of us to fully comprehend travel insurance policies prior to purchasing.
If you cancel your trip for a reason that is covered by your travel insurance, gather all of your documentation, including anything that proves your trip was cancelled because of a covered reason. Contact the travel insurance company and explain your situation thoroughly.
Booked your trip on a credit card? Know your credit card’s travel benefits, such as trip delay, trip interruption, or trip cancellation insurance. Contact the credit card company to file a claim and be prepared for a few questions and requests for documentation. Your credit card company may also work with the travel supplier to make sure that you either receive a full refund or a voucher.
Pandemics and other global incidents cause extreme stress, panic, and chaos for travelers, families, and businesses. Staying calm, organized, and informed is crucial to changing or canceling your travel plans the right way to avoid losing money or precious time. I hope these tips are helpful if you find yourself stuck in the middle of a global incident or panic.