While there’s plenty of hopeful and anxious discussion about starting to re-open the country in May, no-one really expects much to happen that month, and in all probability, the next year or longer will be spent fighting a series of skirmishes with the virus. We loosen up on social distancing and it comes back, we tighten up and it goes away, we loosen up again, it comes back again, and so on. This is a cycle that is likely only to end either when most of us have been infected and (hopefully) gained immunity, or with the release of a vaccine or easy/fast cure, and none of those outcomes are expected until at the earliest, some time next year.
So, what about your travel plans in the next some months? If you’ve not yet made any plans, we suggest you hold off doing so unless you’ve found a tremendous deal and can cancel at any time right up to the start of your travel without any penalty. Pay for everything by credit card, so if there are problems, you can dispute the payments with the credit card company.
If you have already made plans and payments, we suggest you anticipate the probability of these plans falling through. But – and here’s the key point. Don’t call up your airline, hotels, and whatever, and cancel now. Wait until they call you up and cancel on you.
The thing is that if you cancel, you’ll probably be facing cancellation fees. But if they cancel, you’ll most likely have a choice of either a full-refund or a greater than 100% credit for future travel. So have them call you to cancel, not vice versa.
But of course, try not to get locked into a game of “chicken” with each side daring the other to cancel first. Understand what might be happening, and what your cancellation liabilities might be if they don’t cancel and you need to cancel, yourself. Do you have trip insurance and would it cover a cancellation?
The Danger (and Opportunity) of Future Travel Vouchers
Be careful if accepting vouchers for future travel. There are three immediate concerns.
The first is what happens if the travel company goes bust? If you’d already got your money back, you’re in good shape. But if you have a piece of paper giving you the promise of future travel, you’ve probably become one of many “unsecured creditors” and have little hope of getting any of your money back – maybe you might get one or two pennies on each dollar, a year or two later; more likely, you’ll get nothing at all. When travel companies crash, it tends to be a hard crash with no remaining assets to liquidate and distribute to creditors at all.
The second concern is that any future travel voucher probably has an expiration date on it, and might also be non-transferable. There is sure to be other fine print as well.
What happens if virus problems, or the outcome of a destroyed economy and its impact on you, mean it is neither convenient nor desirable for you to travel prior to the voucher expiring? What say, for some reason, you’re totally unable to travel?
A third concern is to beware of fine-print that might mean you can’t use the voucher to buy a super-special discounted tour product the company is offering. Maybe the tour you booked was $5000 and you get a voucher for $6000. Then the company starts selling the same tour in the future, at a special low price of $4000. You decide to use your voucher for that, and you’re either told “the voucher applies to the normal tour price, not to special promotions”, or you’re told “yes, you can use the voucher, but we don’t give back any change, it can only be used for one single transaction and tour, and any balance remaining is lost”. If you’d taken the $5000 cash, you’d now spend $4000 to buy the tour again, and have $1000 left over. But the voucher, which seemed to be promising you even more money, ends up giving you less than cash would have done.
If you decide to bet on your good luck and to accept a voucher, the first offer from the company may not be their best offer. When they offer you a voucher, find out how much it is for, when it expires, can it be spent in multiple parts or must it all be spent at once, and if it is transferable to anyone else. Ask if you can see a sample of the voucher and the terms and conditions attached to it. If you’re one of our ultra-elite Platinum level supporters, then send it to us and we’ll check it over and read through and make specific suggestions about how you should respond.
When you know all these things, and understand all the fine print, you can negotiate from that. Extend the voucher validity, make it transferable, increase the amount, include a free upgrade as well, whatever you can think of, go ahead and ask for and see what you can get. Otherwise, think carefully about the security of cash in your hand and maybe just insist on your cash being returned to you.
If they balk, explain you’ll complain to your credit card company, to your state attorney general, to their state attorney general, and to any states that license them as sellers of travel. And if that threat doesn’t spur them to action, do as you threatened.