Common Cents: How to Get a Refund on Vacation Travel


Travel plans, like life, can require being open to alternate routes to reach your destination.

Unfortunately, fees assessed for changes made to roads not traveled makes planning vacation travel difficult, especially in terms of money.

Considering the economic climate, planning a vacation 12 months from today can be risky, despite the travel deals being offered in these bearish times.

That leaves two questions: How do you remain nimble to unexpected travel changes? And, what are ways to minimize vacation costs due to a change of plans?

If there’s any doubt in your mind about your travel arrangements, spend a few extra bucks and shop around for travel insurance. For example, CSA Travel Protection provides estimates for travel plans, and the cost of insuring $1,000 domestic trip recently yielded a quote of $33.75 for my age group. That’s a little more than 3% of travel costs, and includes coverage for 100% of the costs for cancellations reimbursement in instances of sickness, injury or jury duty. For cancellation for any reason there’s an additional 50% charge of the quote rate, which means a charge of about $17 more for a total of $50 coverage.

Also, some vacation companies, like Carnival (Stock Quote: CCL), offer a vacation protection plan that covers trip cancellation, trip interruption and trip delays for an extra fee. Sadly enough, my mother booked a trip with Carnival for a family vacation and missed her boat due to airport delays. After numerous exchanges the cruise ship company denied a reimbursement due to lack of vacation insurance. Don’t let this be you. On the other hand, the airport offered a new flight as consolation.

The rules to get your money back based on modes of transportation vary. If you’re flying with JetBlue (Stock Quote: JBLU) there are two ways for a customer to get the entirety of their fares back: If they purchase a refundable fare, which is the highest fare currently available and allows customers to make changes or cancellations, or if JetBlue cancels the flight then the customer is entitled to a refund, says Bryan Baldwin, a spokesperson for JetBlue. “The regular fare allows you to make a change or cancel your flight but you will incur a $100 change or cancellation fee.” Yikes, that’s 14 times more than a pillow! It’s also a huge fee for flights that oft-times cost less than $200 when purchased in advance. On a trip out West, a friend and I changed our flights from San Diego International Airport to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport and were charged around $30 for the change two years ago, now the airline is citing higher fuel costs for the reason behind the increase. Virgin America also offers refundable fares that charge no fees for changes or cancellations, while tacking on a $75 for other fares.

Amtrak, meanwhile, offers a full credit to travelers that need a change the itinerary on an already purchased train ticket that has yet to depart the station. For a cash or credit card refund, a 10% fee is deducted from the ticket value.

If you’re not booking online ask your hotel, car rental service or travel service about their refund and cancellation policy. Choice Hotels (STOCK QUOTE: CHH) rules regarding cancellations and changes vary based on property. Many of the hotels will not bill your credit card if the change is made 24 hours in advance, but cancellation requirements vary based on management, so some may require a 48 or 72 hour policy.

If you are booking online, be wary of Internet deals. Check the rate rules before booking a hotel online at any major hotels. A search for rates at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach garnered room results for $369 a night. The catch: For the hypothetical stay beginning December 1 consumers only have until November 17 to cancel for a full refund. Afterwards any cancelation would result in a two-night charge assessed to your credit card. On the other hand, Hotel Orlando in Los Angeles, Calif. offers two different rates based on cancellation policies: For $219 travelers can snatch up a Web rate that allows NO refunds for cancellation, but for $30 more consumers can nab the best rate available rate up that allows refunds for cancellations with notification 24 hours in advance. Read the dotted lines or the small print.

NOTE: Last minute hotel arrangements are the only time I am confident about web deals. Recently, I scored a four star hotel in Washington, D.C. for $75 a night on using the name your own price feature. Due to the steep price cut or discount there is no change or no cancellation allowed for the feature, according to Brian Ek, a Spokesperson at For published costs and rates on Priceline change and cancellation rules will vary based on the specific supplier, and the refund policy is supplied before travels book their trip online.

If you’re like most of us, travel is in the cards for the future. How do you book your travel plans to remain flexible? Do you have a horror story regarding vacation travel plans? Share it with us.

Previous Common Cents Columns:

How to Cut Cable Costs

How to Reduce Your Cell Phone Bill

Each Thursday, Common Cents looks at curing common money problems. Write to or place your story suggestions in the comment section below.

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