Sheri Gatens’ Sedona stargazing adventure had to be cancelled due to heavy clouds in the sky. Gatens assumed the tour company would reimburse her for the event, but the $421 she paid for four tickets was still somewhere.
The tour operator claimed to have issued a refund via the third-party company through which Gatens booked the experience. But Viator, the booking platform, kept sending her messages saying it couldn’t refund tickets cancelled within 24 hours of the start of her tour.
“I wrote Viator to explain that we did not cancel the tour,” said Gatens, a retired medical technician from Bluffton, South Carolina. “The company for which they sold the tickets had cancelled due to inclement weather.”
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Gatens isn’t the only one. As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, more travellers are finding it more difficult to obtain a refund from a travel company, even if the company promises one.
“Most travel suppliers are returning to pre-pandemic cancellation policies,” says Helen Prochilo, owner of Promal Vacations, a veteran travel advisor. “This is how suppliers operated prior to COVID, and travellers must return to the old way of doing business.”
What is the traditional method? Every refund is a battle. Using every trick and strategy in the book to ensure your money is returned. And avoiding the most common refund blunders.
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Why are vacations nonrefundable?
Why are so many aspects of your vacation nonrefundable? It’s simple: Even if you cancel, the company will incur costs. They must compensate their tour guides, cleaners, and luggage handlers.
“Many guests don’t have a deep understanding of how hotel employees are scheduled and paid,” said Stephen Fofanoff, general manager of Domaine Madeleine, a boutique hotel in Port Angeles, Washington.
If you cancel at least two weeks before your stay, he will give you a full refund. He also plans his employee schedules two weeks in advance to ensure that the hotel is adequately staffed. Employees can use this time to spend with their families.
“This means that if a guest cancels within two weeks, we still pay all of the staff associated with the cancelled stay,” he explained.
What are the methods for not losing money?
When you request a refund, you do not have to lose all of your money. Here are a few strategies used by professionals:
Understand the refund policies.
“A lot of people simply do not read the rules,” said Stephanie Goldberg-Glazer, owner of the boutique travel agency Live Well, Travel Often. “Go over the terms and conditions. Check to see what is and isn’t refundable.”
So, what is and what isn’t? Around 48 hours before your stay, the first night of a typical hotel reservation becomes nonrefundable. Cruises are typically nonrefundable two weeks before departure.
Organize a flexible travel company.
Not all businesses have reverted to their old ways. Amtrak, for example, waived change fees until late fall and offered refunds on “value” and “flex” fares. “Of course, when there is a cancellation, we always refund fares,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari. A travel advisor can assist you in locating the most adaptable options. Southwest and JetBlue have a reputation for having more consumer-friendly policies.
Pay more if you want to cancel.
Consider a more flexible but more expensive fare instead of the cheapest ticket. This also applies to tours. For an additional fee, Edward Lyimo, owner of the African safari tour company Pristine Trails, offers a 100% refundable booking option. “This allows our travellers to receive a refund if they cancel for one of many accepted reasons, such as COVID, injury, pre-existing medical conditions, or the death of a family member,” he explained.
It’s true that Viator has a policy that guarantees a full refund for cancellations made at least 24 hours before an experience’s start date. However, as Gatens pointed out, she had not initiated the cancellation. And Viator had already been refunded by the tour operator.
Viator says Gatens’ tour was refundable.
“We frequently see traveller requests come through the wrong inbox and thus may be overlooked,” said Viator spokesperson Brianna Ary. “It is critical that travellers work directly with customer service to address their concerns. Otherwise, they are unlikely to receive the prompt and effective response that they require.