How to get refunds on travel and other deals made before coronavirus
Maybe a few weeks ago the performing arts camp for your kids and the guided white-river rafting trip for you and your spouse seemed like the perfect summer plan. But if you’re among the growing number of workers who’ve been handed a pink slip in the last few weeks, your summer now looks very different.
As of Thursday, 5.245 million more Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance, according to the Labor Department. The new filings bring the crisis total to just over 22 million in just four weeks, ending the decade-plus economic expansion. Economists expect layoffs to continue mounting in coming weeks as stay-at-home orders show no signs of being lifted.
Under that economic cloud, many consumers are having second thoughts about their summer plans. And for good reasons: The average summer vacation clocks in at $1,979, according to a survey from bankrate.com, the personal financial site.
“Even if you are able to travel, I don’t think it will make anyone feel better to go on a vacation they can’t afford,” said certified financial planner Rose Swanger of Advise Financial in Knoxville, Tennessee. “You’ll come back and feel more guilty than ever.”
But can you get your money back? It depends.
“Everything is negotiable, so it makes sense to speak up and see what you can get,” said Ted Rossman, credit card industry analyst with creditcards.com.
Experts share tips to help you try to get your money back.
With more people staying at home in an effort to “flatten the curve,” the travel industry is in a tailspin. The number of international airline seats was just 23% of what it was a year prior, said ForwardKeys, a data company.
When airlines cancel flights or make significant changes to an itinerary, they are required to make prompt refunds, says the Department of Transportation.
But airlines are issuing so many refunds for cancelled flights that asking for your money back due to a job loss may fall on deaf ears. Still, there are some strategies to pursue.
First, try to wait it out.
“If you’ve got travel booked between now and the end of June, you could roll the dice and see if the flight is canceled,” said Rossman. “If the flight is canceled, then you can get your money back.”
Most airlines are waiving their usual change fees for nonrefundable tickets, according to the website, The Points Guy. Canceling won’t get a refund, but you’ll be able to get a voucher to apply to future travel. Between hotels, meals and entertainment, you’ll still be saving money postponing your trip for after you’ve landed a new job.
Remember, you’ll probably have to use your voucher by a certain date.
Another avenue to pursue is travel insurance. Passengers who purchased travel insurance with their flight might be able to get refunded if they meet certain criteria, explained Kasara Barto, a public relations manager for Squaremouth, a site that compares travel insurance policies.
“The employment layoff benefit can reimburse prepaid, non-refundable trip costs if a traveler has to cancel their trip due to an involuntary layoff or termination of employment,” Barto said in an email.
Policies must have been purchased prior to the layoff, and “most policies do require that the traveler has worked for the same employer for a specific period of time as well, typically one to three years,” Barto added.
Most trip cancellation protections offered by credit cards only apply in a limited number of circumstances, such as illness, injury or death — not job loss.
Depending on whether or not the hotel you’ve booked charges a deposit to hold a room, you may be able to walk away without incurring a charge.
However, a non-refundable rate is something else. Nonrefundable, or prepaid rooms, give you a modest discount in exchange for paying upfront. These types of stays are more restrictive and are harder to get out of. But hotels have started to relax these cancellation policies too, said Christopher Elliott, a journalist and founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit that helps consumers resolve their travel disputes.
“All the big chains have allowed refunds for non-refundable rates,” Elliott said. For now, hotels have loosened their cancellation policies through April and part of May. You might want to wait (and pray) that travel restrictions will remain in place for dates later in the summer. In that case, you’ll get your money back.
Lodgings like Airbnb and VRBO operate under a different set of policies. With these companies, you’re not just dealing with a corporate entity, but mom-and-pop property owners, too. Airbnb has allowed refunds for stays through May 31. After that, the cancellation policy is up to each individual host. Vacation Rental By Owner, or VRBO, has left it up to individual owners to decide on their own cancellation policy.
“But the owners are saying, ‘My house is still available. You can still come, so I’m keeping the money,'” said Elliott.
Cruise lines have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis as several ships have been the source of outbreaks. As a result, some cruise ship companies have suspended voyages for the next few weeks.
For the most pat, cruise lines are offering full refunds. Some are also offering “enhanced value” refunds. You can get the full amount you spent on the cruise for future travel plus an addtional credit. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line will receive 125% cruise credit for a future cruise. Carnival Cruises, meanwhile, will offer you a 100% cruise credit and a $600 onboard credit per booked room for trips of at least six days and $300 for cruises of up to five days.
Most summer camps are operated by small local entities, like a church group or an art school. There might be more wiggle room in getting a refund.
“In these kinds of economic times, people may be willing to work with people you have been laid off,” said Dee Pridgen, a retired professor of consumer law at the University of Wyoming.
If you don’t have much luck, try the credit card you used to pay for the camp.
“Until you’ve paid off your bill, it’s still the bank’s money and they might help you try to get a refund,” said Rossman.
Another option: if you’re paying a camp in installments and have authorized credit card charges or bank withdrawals, cancel future ones.
“You can definitely tell the bank that you are revoking authorization for withdrawals,” noted Pridgen.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.