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Second thoughts about holiday travel? Here’s how to cancel your trip and recover your money.

The CDC has warned Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving and avoid nonessential travel. If you already have flights or hotels booked, there’s still time to cancel.

SAN ANTONIO — Despite the CDC warning Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving and avoid nonessential travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, the TSA said more than 3 million people were screened Sunday, making it the busiest air travel day since March.

RELATED: CDC recommends Americans don't travel for Thanksgiving amid rise in COVID-19 cases

RELATED: Sunday was busiest air travel day since March, despite pleas to stay home

You may wonder why people are still traveling, even as coronavirus numbers begin to rise. And the answer is likely money. 

A common reason people give when refusing to cancel their travel plans is that they don’t want to lose out on the money they’ve spent. But if there were a way to recover the money spent on flights, hotels, and rental cars, would it make a difference? 

If you’re considering canceling your nonessential travel plans, Christopher Elliott, chief advocacy officer with Elliott Advocacy, said that there is a way to recover your money. 


When it comes to flights, if you cancel ahead of time, you can get a credit or voucher for a whole year from the date of your booking, Elliott said. However, if your airline cancels your flight, then you’re entitled to an immediate refund within five to seven business days, a policy that some airlines aren’t being upfront about. 

If the airline doesn’t refund you within five to seven business days after canceling your flight, Elliott said the first course of action is to reach out to the airline and ask them what the hold-up is. If they still don’t give you your money, then you may be able to dispute the charges on your credit card and get a full refund that way. 

Elliott pointed out that it is important to cancel your flight before you are supposed to leave rather than just failing to show up. “If you just don’t show up at the airport, they’re going to consider you a no-show and they will cancel your reservation. They’ll charge you for the flight and they’ll keep your money.”


When it comes to hotels or other rentals, “you should be able to get all of your money back as long as you give the hotel enough advance warning,” Elliott said, “usually 24 to 48 hours.” 

If you have a nonrefundable rate, it can get a little trickier, but there is still a course of action for you. “Call the hotel or the agency that your booked it through and say, ‘You know, it’s a pandemic out there and I don’t feel comfortable going,” Elliott said. Point out the CDC warning and ask nicely for a full refund. At the very least, you should be able to get a partial refund or a credit. 

Elliott did warn that some hosts are canceling guests’ reservations and keeping the money. If that happens and the host does not offer a refund, Elliott said that you can file a credit card dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act. “You are entitled to get a full refund for products that you paid for, but were not delivered as promised,” he said.

Cancel online

For both flights and rentals, Elliott said you can avoid waiting on hold for hours by going online to process your cancelations. Most airline sites and hotel sites make the process fairly easy. If you have a travel agent, your agent should be able to take care of all of the cancellations for you. 

And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to cancel, Elliott suggested that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“This is really an unprecedented Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s holiday travel season, and it’s just very weird to have the CDC tell us not to go anywhere, but that’s really good advice," he said. "Probably the best holiday advice that you’re going to get is just to stay home.”

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