Experts say the summer of 2022 will break a lot of records. Highest prices. Biggest crowds. Worst service. But here's one they aren't talking about: record cancellations.
It could happen. With the economy on fragile ground, some travel experts privately fear we're headed for a cliff. If inflation keeps rising and the stock market continues to fall, it's just a matter of time before Americans start to cancel their vacations.
The latest Country Financial Security Index shows how close we are to a mass cancellation event. Americans are feeling less financially secure than they have in two years. They've seen price increases in gasoline (92%), groceries (88%), restaurants or take-out (76%), and, of course, travel (60%).
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"Summer travel plans for many Americans will be tough this summer," says Chelsie Moore, director of wealth management and financial planning at Country Financial." There's a 50-50 chance of the Great Cancellation happening."
How do you call off your vacation without losing all your money if the Great Cancellation happens? And is there anything that sets this summer apart when it comes to canceling your vacation?
Read the terms and conditions of your purchase
Did you take a few minutes to review the terms? You'd be surprised by how few travelers know if their airfare or hotel stay is refundable. (Short answer: airfare, probably not; hotel, probably.)
"For travelers who need to cancel their trips, the most foolproof tip is to read your terms and conditions closely before booking," says Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique Explorer, a luxury tour operator.
Where do you find the terms and conditions? Every time you book a trip component, you should receive a document with the terms. You can also find the terms on your travel companies' websites. Airlines refer to it as their contract of carriage or conditions of carriage. Cruise lines have a ticket contract. Tour operators have a passenger agreement or general terms and conditions.
I'm not going to pretend this is easy reading. But if you take a few minutes to review the document, you'll know what you can expect if you need to cancel.
Consider travel insurance
If you're still finalizing your travel plans, you might want to consider a travel insurance policy. And not just any policy, but a "cancel for any reason" policy.
"Most trip cancellation insurance limits you to a narrow list of reasons for canceling," says Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance, a company that sells health insurance to expatriates. "With cancel for any reason insurance, you can generally get 75% back on your prepaid nonrefundable expenses."
Travel insurance typically costs between 4-8% of your trip’s prepaid, non-refundable cost. However, a “cancel for any reason” policy can run you 10% of the non-refundable cost, or slightly higher.
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Let the negotiations begin
Ready to cancel? You may be able to recover some – or all – of the value of your trip. Depending on the circumstances, it can be a negotiation, say experts. Tour operator Zuleta has personally negotiated a refund of nonrefundable airfare simply by asking politely. Yes, that still works.
"Many airlines and hotels are offering vouchers or refunds for future travel if you cancel now," says Fred Hoffman, a frequent traveler who edits the camping advice site The True Wilderness. Don't forget to file a travel insurance claim. If you didn't buy travel insurance, you still might be covered if you booked the trip with your credit card.
Ideally, you won't have to negotiate anything, so it helps to know when you can get a full refund. Generally, if a company can't provide a service you paid for, you get a full refund.
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Laura Einsetler, a commercial airline pilot from Los Angeles, expects a higher volume of delays and cancellations this summer. If your airline cancels a flight, you get a no-questions-asked refund within seven days (at least you're supposed to, according to the government).
"I am honestly concerned about it being a mess this summer travel season," she says.
But the travel industry's mess can be your ticket to a refund.
If you haven't booked a vacation yet, consider postponing
Bottom line: This may not be the summer for a vacation.
"COVID-19 and inflation have hit many Americans' pocketbooks," says Mike Martinez, president and CEO of financial planning firm M Martinez & Associates in Metairie, Louisiana. "It is completely understandable to adjust, postpone or cancel your vacation this year if you can't afford it."
So if you haven't decided to go somewhere, the best advice might be to stick around. Take a staycation. Wait until the clouds of economic uncertainty clear. Start budgeting and planning for a 2023 summer trip that won't put you deeper into debt.
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Here are three key strategies for getting the refund you want
Patience. Your sense of timing is important when you try to recover the value of your vacation. You'll want to start the process as soon as possible to avoid missing any cancellation deadlines. And you'll also want to give the company as much time as possible to answer your request. Most travelers want an immediate refund or credit. But if your situation means you have to ask for a little rule-bending, it takes time.
Persistence. Travel companies have created systems designed to turn away customers asking for refunds. You get rerouted to a chat session where you talk to a customer service bot that has no authority to help you. Or you call a phone number that sends you to voice mail hell. Stay the course, say experts.
Politeness. Maybe the most effective weapon in our cancellation arsenal is your politeness. Use your pleases and thank you's. It's far more difficult for a representative to hang up on you when you're nice (although it has happened to me). Travel professionals have seen no-refund rules bent because one of their customers asked nicely.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How do I cancel my vacation? Here's how to get that money back.