Tiny Earth globe over the surface covered with the multiple bank note bills

Put your pitchforks down. This isn’t an argument about the health, merits or fears raised by the global pandemic. This is entirely about helping you get the best possible solution – aka money back in your pocket – when your travel plans change due to concerns, or avoiding missing out on travel when the world returns to normalcy.

It’s not nearly as simple as you think, it’s changing by the day and there’s actually a good reason not to proactively cancel your travel plans.

Don’t Proactively Cancel

In the last week, nearly every travel brand around the world sent out emails to customers detailing flexible options for new bookings, refund options for existing bookings and news about how they’ve finally decided to start actually cleaning.

In the same week, the landscape of where and when you can actually travel in the near term changed dramatically. Stop proactively cancelling your travel reservations, until you absolutely need to, because each day brings new, often better possibilities and outcomes.

By letting a government or travel brand make the decision for you – aka a cancellation or new travel restriction – your opportunities and chances to get a full refund or a positive result are wildly better than proactively cancelling before you absolutely need to, or any group advises to. As harsh as it may sound, if your destination isn’t part of a government imposed ban – it’s technically your choice.

If you were a European no longer wishing to visit the USA last week, with a ticket booked months before, you’d likely have been out of money for cancelling an airline ticket last week. In some cases, you might not have received anything back.

Fast forward to…

Today, that same person would be eligible for a full refund, or at least a voucher for the entire amount, since the United States Government initiated a restriction against anyone who’s been to a Schengen area country in Europe, or the UK and Ireland within 14 days of proposed arrival in the United States, effectively banning US – Europe flights for 30 says.

The US Government isn’t the only brand with evolving policies. In the last 72 hours, Hilton, Hyatt, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, American, United, Marriott and more all changed, relaxed or modified cancellation or change options.

Similarly, if an airline cancels a flight, particularly involving travel to or from the European Union, your rights to a refund, re-routing or other outcome are far greater than if you initiated the change.

With such a dismal drop in travel demand, the likelihood of a flight getting cancelled anyway goes up daily, and when your flight is cancelled, rather than you proactively cancelling, it’s a totally different situation.

Again, if you panic cancelled weeks ago, you’d likely have no recourse for getting any change fees, cancellation fees or money back, since you did so voluntarily due to your own concerns. If you legally can’t travel because of a government restriction – it’s an entirely different ballgame, and those restrictions are happening daily.

Whether you used points, miles, or cold hard cash – the best thing you can do is to wait to make a decision until you absolutely have to. In most cases, if a government bans all non essential travel, your options for getting money or miles back will be far greater than if you’re just panicking right now and know you don’t want to go.

Yes, even if you know in your heart that you won’t be going, it’s still better to wait to cancel, just to see if any new restrictions or developments force your airline, hotel or other travel entity to offer better or more formal refund, or exchange options.

Best case – a vaccine is rushed out, order and safety are restored and you can get back to exploring this big beautiful world.

For people worried about getting points back, wait until just before the day your travel reservation stipulates you must cancel before losing out on something. Hopefully, before that date, the travel brand will offer more relaxed options, or a government will force them to and you’ll have a better outcome!

It all makes perfect sense. There’s hardly ever been a more fluid, ever changing situation in modern travel, and proactively cancelling only makes you less likely to recover your expenses. Wait it out while they play it out and hope for the best. You just might get it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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19 Comments

  1. This is spot on. Take a look at all of your bookings for a trip (flights, hotels transport, excursions, etc.), find the one with the earliest “cancel by this date to get a full refund” and that becomes your deadline to decide.

  2. One a year traveller here!
    Would BA normally give Avios points back if they cancel a flight if they were used to part pay for a flight?

    1. If it’s a non-refundable ticket under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t get the Avios back, but you would get taxes and fees back. If however it’s cancelled by them, or becuase of a US government issue etc, then you can demand everything back. Hope that helps.

    2. Thanks Gilbert – yes I should of said if BA cancel -I have no intention of cancelling myself -I am going if I can!!

  3. Hey Gilbert, I have a question regarding EU citizens that are now affected by the US imposed travel ban. What recourse is available? My buds were scheduled to arrive Saturday from Spain and now that’s ka-put! Could you provide insight from that perspective?

  4. Good points made. I have a decent amount of upcoming middle east travel in August. I’m still going until I’m mandated that I can’t.

  5. Hey Gilbert, thanks for this piece of advice about waiting . I’m a legal permanent resident in the US and I’m supposed to be in Paris on the 20th of March, I was trying to cancel a hotel booking but the hotel manager says it’s non-refundable since there’s no travel restrictions in France, however, the travel restrictions in the US for people who have been to the Schengen area for the past 14days will apply to me. What should I do if you have any advise on this matter. Thanks

    1. Hey Joey, I think the manager is being ridiculous, but if you’re a permanent resident, you can go to Europe without issue and the 14 day ban doesn’t apply. Is it a chain, or boutique?

  6. If your airline/hotel/tour company goes bankrupt, you likely will regret not accepting their earlier offer.

  7. And remember, the phone lines are crazy busy, so you might not want to wait until the absolute last minute if you need to speak to a human to cancel a complicated reservation.

  8. What’s your advice in the reverse direction? Should you book things with points or for cash now for some time in the future for the deals now?

  9. Hi Gilbert. We were due to have a weekend break booked with BA Holidays going to Helsinki from London on Friday morning. We received an email from BA offering us a voucher but only if we apply 48 hours before the outbound flight ( Friday 07:55) . But given UK Government advice not to travel, should not BA offer a refund? I tried ringing BS but got cut off. I would like a refund but will accept a voucher if I have to. But I don’t know how to apply for a refund so I might have to make do! What do you think ? Cheers Steve

    1. Hey Steve, unless government is saying not to go, you may be stuck with a voucher. I don’t believe it currently is, but if they cancel I think you’d be due a refund. In the meantime, keep trying to reach them.

  10. what planet are you from gilbert. you are advising me to risk being stranded by waiting for the airline to cancel on me? then how do i get home?? look at what westjet did to its customers? grow a brain

      1. Nothing prevents you from buying another ticket or calling to discuss your options, but if you’re not in a place of evacuation, cash does a lot better for people in hard times than airline vouchers. Particularly when you can’t fly…

  11. first off you cant get a hold of air canada unless you are prepared to be on hold for 4 hrs like i was from 10pm to 2am. are you familiar with what westjet did?? as announced today, air cda is ceasing march 31. if they would have announced they were ceasing march 29 i would have been stranded. it would have been a huge risk to wait air canada out like you suggestso i did buy a ticket while on hold–it started at $384 and went to $2088 by the time i got through.. maybe they would have pulled a westjet and not given anybody options for not getting stranded. not sure what you mean by cash vrs vouchers

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