How To Get Your Money Back When Cancelling Non-Refundable Travel – COVID-19
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If you have non-refundable bookings that are affected by COVID-19, chances are you are offered some form of future travel credit or certificate by your travel operator if you decide to make non-voluntarily cancellations. While different operators offer different types of vouchers and credits, they vary in degree of flexibility and usefulness. Personally, I still prefer to get money back if there is even a remote possibility to do so. It is only fair when airlines are trying all the dirty tricks in the book to keep your money.
Use Your Credit Card's Travel Insurance!
If your circumstances fall within your credit card’s travel insurance parameters, then you should absolutely consider making an insurance claim instead of accepting credits or vouchers. I will use a recent claim I just filed with my credit card’s insurance provider as an example. The card I used is the Canadian American Express Business Platinum Card, and the type of insurance I claimed is trip cancellation insurance (which covers up to $1,500 CAD per trip). In order to put a valid claim together, the following conditions must be met:
- Your trip has a covered reason for cancellation. In my card’s insurance provider’s case, a trip booked before the Canadian government issued an avoid all nonessential travel restrictions is a valid reason (Canada issued a global travel advisory on March 13, 2020; so if your ticket was purchased after this date, your claim will not be eligible). Different insurances have different requirements, but generally a government-imposed do not travel notice qualify. Make sure you check with your insurance provider.
- Your booking must be cancelled already. It doesn’t matter if it’s cancelled by you or the tour operator. In my case, I voluntarily cancelled a United ticket.
- You will not be receiving travel credits / certificates from this cancelled booking. So if you are due to receive credits or vouchers from cancelling your trip, make sure you decline it.
Claiming Trip Cancellation Insurance on a United Ticket
I had to cancel a trip in December to the US, and currently United’s policy is that you will receive future flight credit or electronic travel certificate if you voluntarily cancel your flight (involuntarily cancellation or schedule change of 6+ hours are now eligible for refund – but be prepared to battle airlines for it). I’m not too interested in collecting vouchers and credits as the future of travel is anything but certain at this moment. So I decided to claim travel insurance through my credit card. For those who are interested in finding out how to do it, I put together a quick guide below.
Step 1: Cancel The Trip
I made a few calls to AMEX travel insurance and United Airlines to make sure I would actually be able to claim insurance by cancelling my trip; I recommend you do the same thing if you are to submit a trip cancellation claim, just so you are not in for any surprises. As my ticket was booked directly on United’s website, I was able to cancel online directly on united.com. Note that as I booked my trip before March 2nd, my ticket is also covered under United’s fee-free change and cancel waiver (I would be receiving future travel credits by cancelling that I can use in the next 2 years, but I still prefer to get money back)
Now, notice that as soon as I cancelled, the future flight credits are immediately available for me to use. I needed to do something about this to make my claim eligible because if I receive any vouchers or credits, my claim will be denied. From my AMEX card’s insurance policy:
You are covered for amounts that are not reimbursed through refund, voucher or credit.
Step 2: Decline Vouchers / Credits From Airline
Now this part is tricky. Not all airlines may give you this option. But I confirmed with United that if I formally make such request they would notate my booking with the request so when the insurance claims agent check (and they will), United can provide confirmation. Which means all I needed to send an email to United (and I will follow up with a call as well, just in case this email does not get read by UA quickly).
Step 3: Submit Trip Cancellation Claim
After filling in your basic information. It is time to provide documentation:
I will break these documentations down one by one:
- Supporting Documents – This is the reason of your trip being cancelled. I took a screenshot of Government of Canada’s travel advisory for United States (as this is a US trip) showing it has a avoid non-essential travel notice.
- Booking Invoice – This is the receipt from United showing my booking.
- Proof of Payment – A record on your credit card statement relating to your booking’s payment. This is why you want to save your credit card statements!
- Airline Ticket – This is your actual ticket – which I obviously do not have as I had not yet checked in for my flight – so it is not needed in this case.
- Proof of Cancellation – I used United’s cancellation email. I recommend you take a screenshot of your browser after you cancel your trip just in case the cancellation email does not come through.
- Refund Statement – This is the email I sent to United declining refunds.
And that is it! That’s all I needed to do to submit my trip cancellation claim.
If you are cancelling your trip as a result of COVID-19, you should be considering all avenues to get your money back. Don’t settle for credits and vouchers if you can get money back. Especially these days when future of travel is a big question mark, if not very grim. If you have a credit card that provides great travel insurance, such as the AMEX Business Platnium card, then you should consider claiming trip cancellation insurance. But be careful of the terms and conditions. You will need to make sure your insurance covers pandemics / travel advisories, and it will be up to you to decline vouchers and credits (and prove it) in order to make successful trip cancellation claims.