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3 travel lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sky Harbor Airport
Posted at 9:31 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-01 02:15:39-05

PHOENIX — Did you have to cancel planned trips in 2020? You're far from alone.

Many people are still fighting for their refunds due to those changed plans. Between hotels, flights, and where you book, it could make a difference in how those refunds are -- or are not -- processed.

Here are three lessons learned during the pandemic about booking trips.

Maggie Chinea had planned a family trip to France in March, but then the airline canceled her flights because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When airlines cancel a trip, customers are supposed to receive a full refund. However, in Maggie's case, she said she was only offered a credit, something she did not want.

She's been fighting the airlines for nearly eight months trying to get her $2,300 back.

One of the biggest travel lessons we learned during the pandemic is that it's much easier to get a refund with fewer businesses involved. That's because her ticket mentioned British Airways, but the flight was operated by American Airline.

Yet, because she bought her ticket through CheapOAir, an online travel company, the airlines referred her to them.

Maggie said CheapOAir told her they did not see anything about the trip being canceled. She spent hours on the phone with them and the airlines.

Sara Rathner with NerdWallet.com, a personal finance company, said dealing with third-party websites can be a hassle to deal with if a problem arises.

"You have to go with their terms and conditions. It might be different from conditions of airlines, hotels or car rental companies," she said.

Also, some sites may be more flexible -- or less flexible -- than others.

This leads to another travel lesson learned in 2020 -- read the fine print.

"Understand before you book what your rights are. What's available to you about rebooking or canceling trips?" Rathner said.

Hotels and home rental companies and websites can have very different cancelation policies. For example, if you cancel a flight, what do you get back? A refund or a financial credit? If a credit, when does it expire? What are the rules about the cheapest rates?

Another big lesson to remember when booking future travel concerns is that low-cost rates and non-refundable fares mean just that -- no refunds.

"If you’re paying the lowest amount possible but dealing with the least flexibility, that could come back to bite you," said Rathner.

Refundable tickets may cost more, but they sometimes offer more protections regarding a cancelation.

Travel insurance is another option, but most policies do not cover what would happen, such as cancelation a trip because of COVID-19 concerns.

"If the cancellation was out of an abundance of caution and not an actual illness, the only recourse you'd have with insurance is if you paid extra for cancel for any reason coverage," she said.

Back to Maggie, she was tired of fighting with the airlines and the website. So, she reached out to the Let Joe Know team.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said because of how Maggie bought her tickets, "unfortunately that means any possible reimbursements go through the original booking source, in this case, CheapOAir." British Airways had a similar response.

CheapOAir refunded Maggie $105, but finally agreed to refund more. Maggie emailed us with an update: "Wow, can't believe it. Just in time for the holidays."

CheapOAir refunded almost all of Maggie's money, but kept more than $200 in non-refundable charges.

Since the airline canceled these flights, Maggie should have been offered a refund months ago. But we're glad she finally got most of her money back.

Need help? Here are a couple of resources to remember.