Unwinding a booked trip: How-to and what to do next?


By my rough calculations I should be about 500 miles off the western coast of Chile right now, happily ensconced in a LAN business class seat next to my wife as we wend our way to Easter Island for the Memorial Day Weekend holiday. Alas, instead I’m sitting on my couch at home having just cancelled the last bits of the trip. Being healthy is far more important that going on the trip so we’re focused on that. But I’m also not going to simply throw away the trip completely. There was a decent amount of work to be done to unwind all the bits I had assembled.

Flights

Our trip consisted of two separate reservations. One was the American Airlines sale fare from NYC to Chile for ~$950 in business class. I booked that as an open-jaw into Easter Island and out of Santiago so that we could see both. I added on an award via British Airways Avios from Easter Island to Santiago.

For the AA ticket I did what I’d normally do on a non-refundable trip where I need to make a change; I called and begged. OK, not quite that bad, but that’s basically what I did. Alas, the agent reviewing the record stood firm and even with a doctor’s order not to fly the $200 change fee plus fare difference was going to stand. Don’t get me wrong – I still am coming out ahead in the long run paying the fee versus buying travel insurance given how many tickets I buy – but I was a bit miffed that even with a doctor saying she couldn’t fly there was no waiver of the fee. And so I did what seemingly everyone else does when "wronged" by a company. I got passive aggressive on Twitter.

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The @AmericanAir team took a look at the record and after a handful of DMs eventually agreed to waive the $200 change fee for us. I’m calling that a win. Honestly, I couldn’t expect them to honor the fare, too, particularly given that I had partner segments in there. I would’ve preferred that, obviously, but I’l take what I can get.

For the second flight it was a bit easier to manage. The Avios reservation has a published cancellation fee schedule ($40/ticket) and I figured that was a reasonably small penalty for getting our 25,000 Avios/ticket refunded. The BA website actually made the cancellation process pretty easy. A few clicks and I was done:

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As an added bonus, I actually wasn’t charged the $40/ticket to cancel. I had only paid $13.42 in taxes on each ticket and the refund process had me forfeit that portion of the refund but didn’t charge me anything extra. It seems that their refund process (at least online) doesn’t have the means to initiate a charge as part of the transaction. So if the taxes/fees are lower than the threshold that’s all you pay. It actually makes Avios even more valuable for domestic US trips now, in my opinion; refunds are essentially free.

Hotels

It turns out that my procrastination in booking a hotel for Santiago worked out in our favor; I hadn’t booked one yet so there was nothing to cancel there. For Easter Island, on the other hand, my 4-night booking at Inaki Uhi was complete and I was past the refundable cut-off point for the booking. Fortunately I had been in communication with the proprietor via email and after I explained the situation he was graciously willing to waive the penalty. I do expect that we will eventually make our way to Easter Island and I fully intend to stay as his property when we do; that he was willing to waive this only reinforces that plan to me.

Other

Again with the procrastination bit…there really wasn’t anything else to cancel or change. No rental cars, tours or similar. Turns out I don’t usually book many of those things when I’m traveling anyways.

What next??

And so I’m sitting here, wondering what to do with ~$950 each in American Airlines credit. There are plenty of options, obviously. None are going to be as awesome a deal as Easter Island in business class but certainly we can still have some fun. Maybe Brazil, Central America or diving in the Caribbean. Using AA to Aruba and then hopping to Bonaire and Curacao, too, has been on my list for a while so maybe that’ll be part of or plans for this summer. Roatan, Honduras has also been on the list for a while but that’s Saturday-only service and I’m not sure I want to be in one place that long. Or maybe I’ll just make a couple mileage runs out of it, hopping around for no particular reason. That’s not too likely (especially as my wife certainly wouldn’t appreciate it) but it is an option.

Ultimately the lesson here – at least for me – is that the plans may have changed from what I initially expected them to be, but we didn’t really lose much in the process. In hard costs I’m out $26.84. I think I can handle that. Even if American has stood their ground the total would be $426.84; still not horrible considering our annual travel budget.

What would you do with $950 in credit from American? Where would you go?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

24 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this real life change. Indeed, such handling details bring travel closer to our real daily lives.

    Get well soon, Linnea.

  2. That’s pretty good for AA. When my fiance’s grandfather passed, we tried to change/cancel our UA flight. And they wouldn’t let us w/o the change fee. (We already booked a Vancouver trip beforehand). We ended up going to Vancouver for a day before heading to SF for the funeral. It was cheaper to buy a YVR – SFO then it was for the cancellation/change fee.

    1. @Vince: UA’s current policy is that you pay the fee and then, with proper documentation submitted, you get a refund save a $50 administrative charge. They aren’t perfect about it at all – I recently had to fight for a friend who had it wrongly enforced – but that’s the official policy last I checked.

  3. I hope your wife recovers soon.

    Roatan is a fun little island to visit, though I agree a full week there is a bit much. It can be remedied by a separate commuter flight to San Pedro Sula and AA back home from there.

  4. Good for you. I have been dealing with my own Easter Island travel fun. LAN and its ever changing schedules has wreaked havoc on connecting flights and reservations. Such fun. I’ll be having to contact UA over an Avianca flight booked with miles that we no longer need thanks to LAN changing its schedule. Any ideas?

    1. @Pamela T: If you have no status with United then expect to pay to redeposit those awards. You could hope Avianca has a schedule change and get it for free, but there is some work involved there in keeping on top of things.

      @Edward: I used my CSP for this booking. I didn’t realize it but they do have trip cancellation insurance as one of the benefits. No idea if this is covered or not; seems I’ll be calling them shortly to find out.

      @Nick: The rules very much vary by airline and even by fare in some cases. I’ve seen some fares (TK, most recently) where they explicitly state no refunds for medical excuses. It really just depends.

  5. if you’re a diver and are considering BON, I highly recommend it – not like diving anywhere else – and getting there on the various island airlines is half the fun.

  6. Just curious to know what credit card you used to book your flights and whether or not it offers trip cancellation insurance.

  7. That’s too bad. Wishing your wife a speedy recovery.

    Easter Island is such an amazing place. The big cities of Chile are very blah in my opinion. When you decide to go to Chile, try to include a visit to Patagonia which is pretty much as interesting as EI but in a completely different way.

  8. Sorry to hear you had to cancel the trip, hope your wife feels better soon.

    About those vouchers…have you been to Barbados yet? You can enjoy the beach and check out the Barbados Concorde Experience Museum & Tour.

  9. Sorry to hear your wife is unwell and hope she gets better soon. I don’t quite understand why you don’t have travel insurance for this eventuality though? An annual multi-trip policy with worldwide cover is only around £60 or so for pretty comprehensive cover that would have then reimbursed these fees. It’s a nonrefundable ticket so I don’t really see why the airlines should have to cover it?

    1. I do carry travel insurance which covers us once we are actually on a trip, including medevac. I go to far too many places with sketchy healthcare to not do that. Beyond that, the rates I’ve seen for a US provider are much higher than what you’re suggesting to get anything resembling decent coverage. For the same potential $400 loss I can do much better on my own.

      Also, it does seem that CSP is going to at least let me try to claim it so I may be getting my money back after all.

  10. Ah, OK – perhaps it’s one of the few areas where we actually receive relatively good value on a financial product in the UK!! (see http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/insurance/cheap-travel-insurance for a good rundown of the sort of things on offer to us).

    I always have annual multi-trip insurance so I’m covered for these sort of post-booking, pre-trip issues! (it acutally comes as part of the Amex Platinum package here – although we don’t get the free $200 airline credit or fee-free foreign transactions so we probably still get a worse deal overall!). Obviously when abroad (for us that is particularly relevant when in the USA!) you’d have to be very brave to not have medical cover 😉

  11. Thanks for sharing Seth, and sorry to hear that your wife is not doing well, my best to her for a speedy recovery.

    In regards to your ‘new’ dilemma of what to do with those newly minted AA travel vouchers, I think that your idea of visiting the ‘ABC’ Antilles is great, especially the possibility of some scuba diving in Bonaire. On the other hand, you can never go wrong with visiting Brazil, especially the northeast, Salvador & Recife. These two great destinations are served by AA directly from MIA!

  12. @Edward: I used my CSP for this booking. I didn’t realize it but they do have trip cancellation insurance as one of the benefits. No idea if this is covered or not; seems I’ll be calling them shortly to find out.
    What is CSP and what other cards have cancellation benefit? Thank you.

    1. CSP = Chase Sapphire Preferred.

      I honestly don’t know which other CCs may have a similar benefit. I didn’t realize this one did until someone suggested I check it.

  13. I would hold the credit and take the next mistake fare/low price option. There may not be another Easter island deal, but maybe a new bucket list caliber trip will present itself in the near future.

  14. I guess I still can’t figure out why people don’t understand non-refundable means you don’t get your money back. The only exception is if the airline doesn’t keep its commitment. This whining and trying to get someone to do something when it shouldn’t is childish (which seems to be common amongst many FFs and point collectors).

    You seem to have no problems calling out people on other blogs yet exhibit similar behavior here.

    1. What whining? As I noted a couple times in the post I was ready to eat my losses and know that I still came out ahead overall.

      Did I ask for some flexibility because of an unexpected illness? Sure. Did I demand that they honor my routing and class of service on a different date without penalty? Of course not.

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