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Travelers likely to have fewer penalties from canceled trips

This could be the Christmas of canceled or changed trips. Many of us were hoping to spend the holidays with loved ones, only to decide travel is too risky.

It might be a holiday at home this year. AAA said 75% of Americans will not travel because of concerns stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are one of the many canceling travel, know this up front:

“You’re not going to get your money back,” said Crystal Reyes, a leisure travel agent with JBSA.

Instead, you will likely get credit.

"But they’re giving you time,” she said. “They’re giving you a year or two years to use the credits.”

Carefully read the cancellation policy.

“Make sure that you’re really, really reading the fine print,” Reyes said. 

Go directly to the airline, hotel, car rental agency or travel agent to cancel. However, if you booked online:

“A lot of people booked through third party sites, so, you know, your Travelocity, Hotwire, any of those, so to speak,” Reyes said. “You have to go through them directly.”

Also, be aware that canceling can require a lot of time and even more patience.

“You’re going to be on the phone with a vendor for a good two, three, five, maybe six hours—just depending,” Reyes said. “Sometimes you can’t even get ahold of someone. You’re talking to a robot.”

Yet, it might be easier than ever to recover airline miles when you cancel.

“Typically, you would have to spend anywhere from $75 to $200, and that’s just strictly the cancelation or the change fee,” said Steven Dashiell, a credit card expert with Finder.com. “They may be waiving fees in certain cases, but you have to make sure your flight is eligible based on their policies.”

He broke down how each airline is handling returning miles. Hotel points should be easy to recover.

“Getting hotel points back to your rewards account is pretty simple, pretty straight forward as long as you make the cancelation within the policy,” he said.

Understand having travel insurance might not help you get a full refund.
“People automatically assume that if I purchase insurance I’m going to get all my money back,” said Reyes. “That is not the case. A lot of the insurance companies have modified policies and such to where COVID is not a covered reason.”

Research travel restrictions if you do decide to take a trip.

“Some cities have quarantine requirements,” Reyes said. “We have customers that, for instance, they think Hawaii, 'Oh, it’s part of the U.S. We can still travel. It’s not international. Let’s go to Hawaii.' But Hawaii at one point had a 14-day quarantine period. So, if you were going to Hawaii for seven days, you were stuck in the hotel for all seven days. You weren’t able to go anywhere.”

Plus, arrive early to the airport if you fly.

“Anticipate lines being extra-long because you have social distancing measures,” Reyes said. 

She also advised to travel smart. 

“Be safe, just take precautions,” Reyes said. “Travel with your household.”

The good news is that, this year, you are less likely to pay a penalty if you make changes to your holiday trip.

AAA said most people who do decide to travel will go by car. Road trips will account for 96% of holiday travel and 6.6 million Texans will travel by car. That is a decrease of at least 25% compared to last year. Gas prices are expected to be 30 cents lower than last year as well.