How to Avoid Cancellation Fees

When I travel, I try to plan as little as possible. Usually, I won’t even book my accommodation until I land. As unconventional as this may seem, this method works best for my budget and travel style. Since I usually fly on stand-by status, I never have a return ticket, and I don’t receive confirmation that I can actually board a plane until I’m at the gate. This can make effective planning nearly impossible.

This method of travel can be frustrating at times, but I’ve slowly learned how to handle whatever the airline may throw my way. Being denied entry to a full flight, among a myriad of other travel woes, has left me in many situations where I need to cancel a hotel or tour on short notice.

Here are some methods that I have found to be most effective for recovering lost deposits, and cancellation fees:

Travel Insurance

When booking a flight, there usually is an option to add travel insurance or  a flexible booking option. If you have any uncertainty about your plans, I highly recommend that you opt for these extras.

Accommodation websites usually offer similar services as well. For example, Hostelworld offers a flexible booking option for only $1 extra. This allows you to apply your deposit towards another reservation, should you have to cancel.

When traveling internationally, it’s always in your best interest to buy travel insurance. I use World Nomads, which is recommended by Lonely Planet. They offer excellent coverage at a great price and let you extend your policy as you go.

In addition to covering medical expenses and personal property, they will also provide coverage if circumstances force you to alter your trip.

Coverage for trip delays, cancellations, and interruptions is offered in their standard package. Certain conditions do apply, but they are not too restrictive. If you have proof of illness from a doctor, they will reimburse you for cancellation charges and more.

Additionally, credit cards often come with some form of travel insurance. For example, many airline credit cards offer perks like flexible booking. Always check with your credit card company to see if there are any advantages to your card that you are unaware of, as some offer full travel insurance as a courtesy. For information about these credit cards, check out this article from USA Today.

Book Through a Third Party

If you’re booking a hotel, make your reservation through a third party website such as Expedia or Not only do these services offer amazing reward and loyalty points, but they have the authority to override a hotel’s decision or refund policy. has refunded hotel cancellation fees for me on several occasions they did not have to. I make most of my hotel reservations exclusively through their website, as they are always pleasant to deal with and have a wonderful rewards program. So far, I have earned three free nights thanks to their loyalty program!

In the past, Viator has helped me out when a tour company refused to offer a refund.

Reschedule Your Reservation and Cancel Later

Some hotels will let you modify or postpone your reservation until the day of your reservation. If they won’t let you cancel, ask to change your reservation to a few days later.

This may give you some leeway, as most hotels only penalize you if you cancel less than 24 hours in advance.

Keep Your Hotel or Tour Provider Updated

If you have any reason to suspect you might not be able to make your original booking, don’t hesitate to contact the provider.

You may risk annoying them, but they will much more sympathetic if you do end up canceling. The worst thing you can do is be a no-show, especially if you are dealing with a small business.

Ask Nicely

When all else fails, the best tactic is to be polite. When have you ever felt inclined to go out of your way to help a rude person? If you have a good reason for canceling, explain your situation and convey your disappointment for not being able to fulfill your commitment.

Reiterate how excited you were about staying at that hotel, or participating in whatever tour. Express interest in using their services in the future. Even if they won’t offer you a refund now, they may let you apply your balance to a future reservation.

If all of these methods fail, cut your losses and enjoy the rest of your trip! Canceling a hotel or other service at the last minute is never ideal, but plans change! This is why I try my best to just go with the flow while traveling.

If you feel a hotel’s policy is unfair or unclear, consider leaving a review on Trip Advisor to warn others.

How do you deal with the stress of having to change or cancel plans?

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  • Reply
    Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver
    May 14, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    A great post. Some tips I’ve used others I haven’t tried before. I’ve found sometimes just asking can do it. We cancelled our last night at a hostel in Puerto Rico since we weren’t really happy with the place and thought we should explore elsewhere. They gave us a full refund. We ended up spending only $30 extra to stay at a four star resort. It all feel into place. Thanks for sharing some more tips.

    • Reply
      May 15, 2015 at 5:56 am

      Yes! Just asking should always be the first step 😉 Thanks for stopping by Megan!

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