The breaking news hit me with a bang. With only one month to go until our meticulously planned trip to New Zealand a major earthquake had struck Christchurch causing significant damage.
You have been planning and booking your dream trip and suddenly your life or your destination situation changes. You need to either cancel your trip outright or make major changes. How can you make the changes or cancellations with confidence?
Plan for the Possibility of Travel Changes and Cancellations
As you cannot foresee the future it is important to set yourself up for the possibility of future cancellations and changes when you first start booking your vacation.
Purchase travel insurance before you start booking your trip. Carefully select your travel insurance policy by reading the terms and conditions to understand what each policy will and won’t cover to decide if it suits your personal situation. Obtain advice on other people’s experiences with that particular insurer, travel forums are a good place to get information from other people who may have used that insurer and had to make a claim.
Travel Booking Terms and Conditions
Before you commit to a booking read the vendor terms and conditions to understand what your options are if you need to cancel or change your booking. Cheap flights are notorious for having very strict change and cancellation conditions. Sometimes you can purchase an airfare which is slightly more expensive and has better flexibility. It can be worthwhile to spend the extra money in comparison to the fees charged for changes.
Some travel insurers will not provide insurance cover for specific travel companies. A recent case in Australia was when Strategic Airlines went bankrupt in early 2012. Most travel insurers had a specific condition that they would not provide cover for Strategic as they were obviously aware that the airline was in trouble. Many travellers were left without a refund because they did not understand this condition before they booked.
As you book the elements of your trip ensure you keep all confirmation paperwork and emails.
Register Your Travel
Before you depart you should register your travel plans with your government. As a result your government will be aware that you may be in the area if something happens.
Decide Whether to Depart
Another aspect of planning your trip is to decide whether to actually go to your destination. Leading up to your trip and while you are travelling you should maintain some situational awareness of your next destination through news reporting. In addition, you should re-read your government travel advisories for your destination before you depart. If the situation has changed for your destination then you should explore options and decide whether your planned travel should proceed.
What to Do When You Need to Change or Cancel Your Travel Bookings?
Travel changes and cancellations can result for many reasons. You may lose your job or have a family member become seriously ill. Or your planned destination may experience a significant natural disaster or war. Or perhaps one of your travel providers has gone bankrupt. These events can happen either before you leave or while you are travelling.
If you need to completely cancel your trip (either before you leave or while you are travelling) then call your travel insurer first to discuss what has happened and confirm whether your insurance will cover the situation. Your insurer may require documentation to prove your situation, and will provide advice on what you need to do to cancel your trip and get the paperwork you need to make any insurance claims.
If you are in a situation where you cannot get help from your travel insurer then your next step is to contact your closest government embassy to request assistance. If you have previously registered your travel plans your government will be able to initiate action quickly if the situation warrants it. Recent examples where travellers received government assistance include the civil wars in Libya and Egypt, the conflicts in Syria and the Japanese tsunami. In these cases the governments of travellers provided emergency transportation out of these countries as a result of the civil airlines not providing services. But if they do not know you are there then they cannot help you.
If your holiday will go ahead but you need to make some changes you should start by getting your confirmation documentation and checking the cancellation terms of the affected portions of your trip. If the changes and/or cancellations can be easily done then start calling and emailing. If you are unsure call your travel insurer first.
Keep a log of each call or email, and also keep track of the specific person you spoke with and what they advised. In the event you have any issues your log will provide a clear record of your attempts to change or cancel your bookings.
Our Travel Change Experience
As a result of the first Christchurch earthquake we decided to change our itinerary which required several changes and cancellations. For the majority of changes we received a full refund. Our itinerary changes were largely as a result of new travel advice issued by the Australian government after the earthquake.
Most businesses quickly refunded money which we had paid. However one operator required us to go through a very cumbersome process to obtain a refund, which required us to make multiple calls and we finally received our refund approximately 8 weeks after we first requested it.
Throughout the process we kept a log of when we had called, who we spoke with and the advice they had provided. We did not end up using the log but it is useful to have detailed information of the actions you have taken to recover the money if you need to pursue alternative methods to recover your money.
Have reasonable expectations that changing and cancelling your holiday will be a tedious but achievable process if you have travel insurance. Overall most travel vendors will be happy to help you with expectations that you may book again with them at a later time. If you are in a situation where you require government assistance then ensure you stay in contact with your embassy so you can take action quickly as the opportunity arises.
Have you ever had to change or cancel your trip, and did you have an amiable or horror experience? Share your experience in the comments below.
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