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We ask a travel expert about refunds, cancellations, when to book and the future

Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 27, 2020

PHOENIX — Normally around this time, we would be talking about deals on summer travel and staycations. But, right now, many of you have shared stories of cancellations instead. So, I connected with a travel expert to talk about flex policies and scored you some other inside tips.

Sarah Gavin is the Head of Communications for Expedia Group. Here's our question-and-answer session!


Q: For nonrefundable trips that are being canceled, can you tell us more about what to expect from the airlines for the travelers?

A: There's a whole bunch of different ways that travel companies are really looking at making people whole. There are people who did nonrefundable travel to particularly places globally, where doing a full cash refund is a little bit tougher. So, those have waivers or vouchers. And there are some places where there are true cash refunds, but even in the cases of the vouchers, we're seeing companies be far more flexible. It's not like you have to use this in 90 days or even in the next year. It might be, you've got two years to come back and use this voucher with us. So, like I said, the industry is really coming together to try to be as flexible and creative as possible.


Q: You told us that nonrefundable flights are normally cheaper, but that might change?

A: Typically, a lot of us book nonrefundable air tickets or hotels because it's less expensive... What I'm hoping is refundable tickets will be less expensive than the nonrefundable would have been a couple months ago. So, that you can really have your cake and eat it too, if you will. You get the deal, and you still get the flexibility.


Q: There are a lot of deals out there that might entice people to travel now. So, should we book?

A: Generally speaking, I will say, you know we take our cue from science. So, from the World Health Organization and from our local governments. And right now, we would say, stay put! You'd be better off just staying where you are and sheltering in place if you can... People are going to come back to travel in ways that are most comfortable for them. And the good news is, there are going to be plenty of good deals out there that make all of those options really possible.


Q: There is some great competition between airlines. So, since we aren't traveling right now, should we book now for later in the year to take advantage of these prices?

A: It's going to be different for everyone. You know, I think there are folks that are in the higher-risk groups that we would probably say, hold off. Or if you're going to book something, book it further out into the year. And if you do book, book it refundable. But, frankly, if you're going to book refundable, there isn't much of a down side to catch some of these deals while they're out there. As airlines start to put more planes in the sky, we will see more routes coming back. But, there are a lot out there to be had if you're looking for a great place in the late summer, early fall.


Q: When calling an airline, wait times can feel like an eternity. What do you recommend?

A: You've got more people calling... While wait times are higher, the online self service tools are so much better than they were. And actually, that's going to be a really nice side effect of this entire thing from across the travel industry. From here going forward, it's going to be so much easier on sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity or elsewhere in the industry, to manage your trip online without ever having to talk to someone again.


Q: You mentioned you spoke with a friend who was supposed to attend a wedding in late July. If someone is in a similar situation, whether it's an in-state, cross-country or overseas trip, do you recommend booking still, canceling or waiting it out?

A: I think the biggest things we hear... I'm so sick of being in these four walls. When can I travel again? My guidance for folks who are sort of in that spot, with eminent travel where it's super obvious you shouldn't go is to wait a little bit. I mean think about how different the world looked a month ago. Imagine how much different it could look in a month. So, if you're looking at travel you have in the second half of summer, if you aren't super high risk, then I would council folks to just sit it out for a little bit, give it a couple more weeks, maybe until mid-May depending on when your travel is, and see what happens.


Q: If we do book a trip now that we will take in the future, is it true that Tuesdays are the best days to find the best deals on airfare?

A: There's a little bit of an urban legend and a little bit of truth to it. So, it comes from way, way, way, way back in the day when travel agents sat there, and you'd call them up or go in and say ,what do you have? The way that airlines would file their flights meant that very early Tuesday morning tended to be the best time to get them. So, there is historical truth to it. Some of the old systems still sort of work that way. But, there are better ways to get bigger savings.


Q: Hopper and other websites track flights for travelers and send alerts when it's at the best price to book. Typically, a flight changes prices around 19 times per day. Though, there are many recommendations on how to save while booking, and of course, doing research is part of that. What do you suggest?

A: Packages are probably the biggest ones. Well, I can save 20 or 30 dollars on my trip from getting up at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. Well, when you book a flight and a hotel together, both of the separate prices have hidden prices, or opaque prices is what they're called (when booking individually). Both of them can discount more (when they're together in a package), than worry about what the broader world sees as their price. And so, you can save a lot of money. We're in Seattle, and we go down to Cabo all the time... For us as a couple, we can save a thousand dollars... We took all the family to Cancun, and we saved like 2500 dollars on a trip (because of the package we selected). And that is so much worth the extra sleep of not getting up early on a Monday or a Tuesday, and you save so much more money than that.


Q: Have you seen all the same measures being taken from airfare accommodations to resorts and hotels?

A: Resorts and hotels, I have to say, have really stepped up. Think about small hotels that have 30 or 40 rooms and themselves are small businesses. We've put out some policies for folks to say, here's what we need to do to make our customers whole. And I'm amazed, at even how these small businesses, have said our business is really hurting, but we still believe in doing what's right for the customer. We're going to step up. So, if you're traveling in the next month or so, there's a very good scenario out there, where you can get your refund or your voucher fully online, not have to talk to folks, and really feel like you've been taken care of.


Q: What does the future look like for cruises?

A: I think cruising is a very interesting one for obvious reasons. I think the peak cruise time really picks back up again in November. So, the key will be, what does the cruise industry recovery look like by then? But, I think, by and large, the cruise companies understand it's not an appealing thing to go cruise. And most of the ships are not cruising at all right now. But, they certainly have an incentive to try to get people back to cruising once this thing is over and it becomes the next season.


Q: This COVID-19 pandemic has changed the comfort level in traveling. I've heard several stories about the air being safely filtered on planes. What do you know about that?

A: So in Seattle, Alaska Airlines is our home airline up here, and they have a really good video that I just stumbled upon recently about their air filtration now. It's essentially- the healthiest air you can breathe, is on airplanes. It's really fascinating. Again, necessity is the mother of invention. And this is going to change travel, the way we travel long-term. I think for the better in a lot of ways.


Q: What other advice do you have?

A: The World Health Organization actually has an entire section within the Coronavirus part of their site that's all about travel. And they continue to produce really good, quality content. So, I would encourage folks to check that stuff out as well. We live in this very modern world where that kind of data is at our fingertips. And just make sure you're getting it from good credible sources for anything that's related to this virus.

What questions do you have? Let me know!