11 Foolish (and Costly) Mistakes People Make When Canceling Travel

You can lose a lot of money and time if you make these simple mistakes when canceling a trip.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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No matter how well you plan a trip, you can still end up having to cancel for any number of reasons. There are smart ways to cancel that give you the most flexibility. Unfortunately, there are also simple mistakes that make it more difficult to cancel, or that give you fewer options.

Avoiding the following 11 easy mistakes when canceling trips can save you money, time, and energy, and can ease the disappointment of having to cancel in the first place.

Not documenting everything

Aleksej/Adobe Man holding boarding pass

Make sure you keep track of all numbers, receipts, and communications related to your trip. Take screenshots of electronic boarding passes. Tag and archive email communications so you can find them again.

Also, know your confirmation number or record locator code. That number travels with you through changes and cancellations.

Not going through the app or website

travnikovstudio/Adobe Woman looking at phone

You can cancel in a few minutes on the app or website, or you can waste hours of your life on hold when calling an airline to talk to an agent.

Some travelers report having to wait for many hours on the phone when trying to reach a representative. If you’re canceling because of an emergency or illness, you don’t have time to wait.

Accepting airline credit

Robert Kneschke/Adobe Talking to agent

Airlines will often offer you credits or vouchers when you cancel a flight, but those lock you into flying with that airline again. If you find a cheaper deal or better flight on another airline, you’ll have to pay for it out of pocket. The money in the credit or voucher does you no good.

If you have to cancel, escalate until you get a supervisor who can refund your money to the card you used to pay for the flight. That way, you can use the money to purchase a flight on any airline.

Also, remember that if the airline cancels your flight — or even simply makes major changes to the flight — it has to refund the money you paid for the booking if you decide not to travel.

Assuming COVID-19 cancellation rules are still in effect

Day Of Victory Stu./Adobe Woman in airport

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021, many airlines had liberal cancellation policies that allowed passengers to cancel flights with no penalty if travel plans changed.

Those rules may or may not still be in effect at your favorite airline. So, make sure you know what the cancelation policy is before you cancel, and preferably before you book your flight. The airline’s cancellation policies should be posted on its website.

Not asking for more

Tyler Olson/Adobe Woman talking to gate agent

If the airline, hotel, or other company you’re canceling with doesn’t give you a refund, you can escalate and ask to speak with someone who has more authority. The first person you talk to is paid to refuse requests, so ask to speak to a manager. Then, make your request for a bigger refund or credit, or whatever else would make you feel complete.

Or, you can go through the credit card you used to pay for the flight or stay and see if they can help you based on their policies for travel purchases. The best travel credit cards often offer trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage.

Not reading the fine print

auremar/Adobe Woman checking into hotel

Before you cancel a flight or a hotel booking, check the fine print on the company website to make sure you understand what the terms and conditions are, and what penalties you’ll owe for canceling. If you don’t know what you’ll be charged for, you might end up with a horrible surprise.

Not understanding your travel insurance policy

Chanyanuch/Adobe Businessman sitting on suitcase

If you have a travel insurance policy, your cancellation should be easier and you should pay fewer penalties for canceling. But not all travel insurance policies cover everything.

So, make sure you read the actual policy to know what’s covered and what’s not, and the steps you need to take to cancel with the fewest penalties.

Buying the wrong tickets

DavidPrado/Adobe Frustrated woman sitting in airport

You can have a lot of headaches trying to cancel if you buy nonrefundable tickets when you book the flight.

On the other hand, if you spend a little more to buy tickets that are refundable or changeable, you’ll still be able to get the entire value of your ticket if you need to cancel or change flights.

Failing to ask about changing dates

franz12/Adobe Woman sitting in airport

With airline prices rising, it is possible that paying the fee to change a flight might be less expensive than getting a refund on the flight and booking a whole new flight. That is especially true if you need to change airlines to book the new itinerary.

Check your options and do the math to make sure you aren’t going to end up losing money by canceling instead of changing flights.

Canceling too early or too late

Goffkein/Adobe Frustrated woman at airport

If you cancel your flight too early, you might owe penalties that you wouldn’t have to pay if the airline cancels the flight. If a flight is repeatedly delayed, it can be tempting to cancel. But if you can wait until the delay turns into a cancellation by the airline, you’ll get a full refund.

However, there are times when waiting too long to cancel also can cost you. Most hotel room reservations can be canceled up to a set period before the beginning of the stay, usually 24 to 48 hours. If you know you’re unlikely to stay in that room, cancel while you still can, instead of waiting until the last minute.

Canceling at all

9nong/Adobe Woman looking at phone

Canceling has become the default response when COVID-19 cases flare up and you want to stay healthy or keep others safe. However, examine your specific circumstances and the details of your trip to make sure canceling your hotel or airfare is the best move.

Could you simply modify details to stay just as safe without having to toss out the entire trip? For example:

  • Could you drive instead of flying?
  • Would you be willing to wear N95 masks the entire time you travel?
  • Are you willing to cook or bring in food instead of going into restaurants to eat?

Sometimes, a few changes to your itinerary can help you save the trip instead of canceling it.

Bottom line

Idanupong/Adobe Family with flat tire

You’ll have a much easier time making the most of your money and canceling or modifying a trip if you purchase travel insurance. This coverage can pay off in other ways. For example, if you are injured or develop a travel illness, the insurance may pay to get you home more quickly and with medical assistance if you need it.

If you don’t have such coverage, at least pay for refundable tickets and hotel bookings.

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Elizabeth Rollins

Elizabeth Rollins has degrees in literature and business, and she's combined these loves into a career in writing about personal finance. Her special areas of interest are debt, value, budgeting, education, and retirement.