Lifestyle Travel

How We Got 100% of Our Trip Refunded During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sadly, we won’t be visiting Japan this year (photo taken on our 2018 trip to Japan)

March 14, 2020 update

  • Airbnb has updated their extenuating circumstances policy to include the entire world. You can now cancel your reservation for a full refund. (But check the details—only specific dates are covered at this time).
  • Canada and other countries have finally declared Level 3 travel advisories for the entire world. This means you may now be able to access trip cancellation coverage through your insurance provider.
  • I’ll continue to update the helpful resource list at the end of this article as I come across helpful website and services. See the list for the newest addition, COVID-19 Refund Tracker which aggregates the refund policies for various carriers.

March 11, 2020 update

As we all become more knowledgeable about the coronavirus, my opinion about it and its effect on us and the world has changed. I no longer believe this is ‘not that bad’ (as I wrote in my article about cancelling our trip to Japan).

I’ve written a new post to share the new knowledge I’ve gained. I’ve also listed resources in the post so you can also get informed and do your part to slow this pandemic down.

Read: The Coronavirus is a Bigger Deal Than I Thought

A heartfelt thanks

To all the agents I spoke to, and all the companies you work for—thank you. Every single one of you was exceedingly patient, sympathetic and generous.

I cannot fathom the financial losses your companies and industry are facing. And yet, all of you have shown the utmost in ethics and compassion during a very turbulent time. 

Your customers notice this, and we are grateful. I, for one, plan to rebook my future travels with you (and I’m sure I’m not alone). Let’s hope for brighter days again soon.

Minimizing the losses

In my previous post, I wrote about my rollercoaster journey and eventual decision to cancel our trip to Japan. As coronavirus cases mount, more and more travellers are likewise revisiting their spring break travel plans.

Unfortunately, many of us have discovered that fears about coronavirus are not an eligible reason for refunds. Typically, only travel bookings for countries with level 3 or 4 advisories qualify for full refunds or trip cancellation coverage.

In our case, Japan was still at a level 2 advisory, which disqualified us from most refunds. (Though that has now changed.) 

It might not be that bad

In the days since we decided to cancel our trip, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to maximize our refunds. Through some hard work and diligent research, I’ve whittled our losses down to $0.

I’ve learned a lot, and I thought I’d share my knowledge to help others in a similar situation. If you’re feeling lost or despondent over the losses you may incur by cancelling your trip, don’t lose hope! In this article, I’ll outline exactly how we were able to get most of our money back.

Move fast… and slow

My first recommendation is to first move fast, then slow it down and be patient. Let me explain:

Move fast

If you have even an inkling that you may want cancel your trip, move quickly to learn about the cancellation policies for each of your bookings. You’ll want to get on this quickly so you don’t miss crucial deadlines where you could get all or most of your money back.

There may be a variety of cancellation policies offered within each booking platform you use, so check each booking separately—even if they’re through the same company.

Slow it down

Sometimes, it pays to wait. If you’ve determined that some of your bookings will incur a change fee or are 100% non-refundable, it might be best to sit on them and wait. Here’s why: 

  • If the travel advisory goes up to a level 3 or 4, you’ll either receive a full refund from the company you booked with, or your trip cancellation insurance will kick in. (Update: This is what’s happened for us—we will now receive full refunds for all of our bookings because Canada has declared a Level 3 travel advisory for the entire world.)
  • The company may update their policy and offer refunds for a wider range of bookings. (Update: This also happened for us—in recent days, some companies changed their internal policies to allow for full refunds or credits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
  • If you panic and cancel immediately, you may disqualify yourself from receiving refunds if either of the above should come into play. (But this may not be the case for you—get the full details from your booking agency and travel insurance.)

Just think of it this way: the money’s lost to you already. It won’t get any worse between now and the final deadline to cancel. You may as well wait in order to give yourself a better chance of receiving more money back.

I’ll share more details and specific examples where moving fast, then slowing it down got us thousands more in refunds.

JAL flights

These are the steps I took to receive a 100% refund for our JAL (Japan Airlines) flights:

Step 1: Contact the booking agency

I’d booked our JAL return flights through Flighthub, so I called them first. The agent told me they could only follow JAL’s cancellation policy—which at the time, was only offering refunds for flights to and from China. 

That would’ve meant $200 per ticket in cancellation fees in order to receive a refund—a total of $800 for my family! The agent then offered me three options: 

  1. Wait for JAL to change their cancellation policy, in which case I might get a full refund.
  2. Wait for the Canadian government to declare a level 3 or 4 travel advisory for Japan, in which case I would get a full refund.
  3. Cancel on the spot and take her one-time offer of 50% off the cancellation fees. 

Given the still-high cost of $400 to cancel our tickets, I opted to wait for options 2 or 3 to occur. BUT we had to be careful to cancel at least two days before departure

That’s because you’ll be considered a no-show once the flight takes off. At that point, you forfeit your entire ticket price, with no recourse for refunds. So be very careful to mind the date!

Step 2: Stay calm and wait

We wouldn’t lose any more money by waiting, and it was our only chance to receive a 100% refund. So I calmed myself and simply waited. If you’re feeling panicky and just want to cancel, do whatever it takes to stay calm and wait! 

It very well could pay off—as it did for us…

Step 3: Check (and keep checking) for updates

Over the next few days, I checked and rechecked JAL’s cancellation policy—and my patience was rewarded. A few days later, JAL’s website stated that our tickets were eligible for 100% refunds! 

If I’d followed through on my panicky thoughts, I may have taken the agent’s offer to reduce our cancellation fees, and lost out on the full refund. It pays to wait!

Step 4: Check for travel advisory changes

If your airline doesn’t change their cancellation policy, the next step is to lean on any trip cancellation insurance you may have. The policy we had through our Rogers World Elite Mastercard was tied to the Canadian government’s travel advisories.

If the advisory went up to level 3 or 4, we’d receive coverage from Rogers for a full refund. As of this writing, Canada has declared a Level 3 travel advisory for the entire world. 

I’m very thankful that JAL so generously offered us full refunds, but now that there’s a Level 3 advisory, we would also be able to access Rogers’ trip cancellation coverage.

RESULT

Full refund (100% of $3,000 in flights back)!

Jetstar flights

These are the steps I took to receive a 100% refund for our Jetstar flights:

Step 1: Contact the booking agency

We’d booked two Jetstar flights to fly from Tokyo to Okinawa, and Okinawa to Osaka. Unfortunately, the tickets I’d purchased were 100% nonrefundable, so we were faced with a $700 loss. 

I’d booked these flights through Flight Network, so my first step was to contact them. They told me there was nothing they could do except to follow Jetstar’s cancellation policy. At that time, Jetstar was only refunding select international flights—so I was out of luck.

Step 2: Stay calm and wait

We wouldn’t lose any more money by waiting, and it was our only chance to receive a 100% refund. So I calmed myself and simply waited. If you’re feeling panicky and just want to cancel, do whatever it takes to stay calm and wait! 

Once again, waiting paid off…

Step 3: Check (and keep checking) for updates

Over the next few days, I checked and rechecked Jetstar’s cancellation policy—and my patience was again rewarded! As of March 10, 2020, Jetstar began offering free changes or refunds for select domestic flights. 

Note: only flights departing between March 5–31, 2020 (inclusive) are covered, and refunds are in the form of flight vouchers. See Jetstar’s travel alert page for more details. 

To access my refund, I got on a live chat with a Jetstar representative, who was able to efficiently handle my refund request. We will now receive 100% of our $700 in flights refunded as flight vouchers!

The vouchers do have a six-month expiry, but I’m still thankful to have received them. We’re fortunate that we already know we’ll use them when we rebook our trip to Japan in 2021, so the expiry shouldn’t be an issue. 

Note: We don’t need to fly within six months—we just need to use the vouchers to book a reservation in that time.

Update: Jetstar still has not sent me a confirmation of my credits, and I also worry that they may go under due to the COVID-19 financial devastation. 

Now that Canada has declared a Level 3 travel advisory, I’m hoping I can get a refund in cash from my Rogers Mastercard trip cancellation insurance.

RESULT

Full refund (100% of $700) in flights refunded in the form of flight vouchers.

Airbnb

These are the steps I took to receive close to 100% back for our Airbnb bookings:

Step 1: Check the extenuating circumstances policy

The first step is to check Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy to see if your booking is eligible for a refund. At this time, it only includes specific bookings in China, Italy and South Korea. 

If your booking isn’t included in this policy, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Check the cancellation policy for your booking

I admitted in my previous post that I didn’t take the time to check our Airbnb cancellation policies in detail. When I decided to dig in, I was pleasantly surprised to see how clear Airbnb makes it: 

This is so clear and easy to understand—I feel pretty dumb now for not taking the time to check it out!

We unfortunately missed the first deadline of March 2 (not shown) where we would’ve received 100% of our money back. Now, the next deadline is March 11. If we cancel before then, we’ll receive a full refund, minus the $127 service fee. 

Step 3: Figure out your actual cutoff time

Take note of the last line in the screen cap: “Cutoff times are based on the listing’s local time.” THIS IS IMPORTANT! Be sure to find the cutoff time for each cancellation date—then convert it to your local time.

In my case, according to this handy dandy time converter, 3 pm Japan Standard Time on March 11 is 10 pm Pacific Standard time on March 10—that’s almost a day earlier! Missing this deadline would’ve cost us another $547!

Step 4: Stay calm and wait

As with my flights, it will do us no good to cancel any earlier than March 10th. We won’t lose any more than that, but we could lose the chance for a 100% refund. So… time to meditate, do yoga, or whatever it takes to be patient!

Step 5: Check (and keep checking) for updates

I’m continuing to check Airbnb’s site and the Canadian government’s page for updates. If Airbnb adds Japan to their list, or if the Canadian government raises the advisory to a level 3 or 4, we’ll get 100% of our money back.

Update: Airbnb has updated their extenuating circumstances policy to include the entire world. We will now receive full refunds for our Airbnb bookings. 

RESULT

Full refund (100% of $2,000) in bookings refunded by Airbnb.

Booking.com

Our Booking.com apartment rentals were so easy to cancel! There was no deposit charged, and they offered free cancellations up to 14 days before check-in. 

RESULT

No charge for $940 in apartment rental bookings. 

CIBC Aventura points

Typically, bookings made with points are very flexible. Often, there are no change fees and last-minute cancellations or changes are allowed. We found this was the case with the hotel nights we booked with our CIBC Aventura travel credits and points.

We had up until 48 hours before check-in to cancel with no penalties, but I cancelled immediately. The credits and points were credited to our accounts soon after. 

RESULT

Full refund for $346 in hotel bookings.

Car rental

We booked a car rental for Okinawa through Klook.com and also had a very easy, pleasant experience with the cancellation. I believe it was a 48-hour window prior to car pickup to cancel for free, but I opted to cancel immediately. 

RESULT

Full refund for $130 car rental.

Japan Rail passes

The cancellation policy for Japan Rail passes requires us to mail the printed vouchers back to them via trackable mail within three months of the date of order.

Upon receipt of the vouchers, they’ll process the refund—minus a 25% cancellation fee. At this time, they cannot confirm if we’ll get 100% back if the travel advisory for Japan goes to level 3. 

However, if it came to a level 3 advisory, I would also be able to claim the cancellation fee through my Rogers World Elite Mastercard trip cancellation insurance. For now, I’ll hang on and wait until the two-month mark for a travel advisory change.

If that doesn’t come through, I’ll have to settle for mailing in our vouchers for a 75% refund.

Update: JapanRailPass.ca sent me their updated refund policy today*, which reflects the Canadian Government’s Level 3 travel advisory. We’ll now receive 100% of the train passes back as a credit or we can opt to receive a cash refund minus a 20% fee. 

But I’ll contact Rogers first to see if I can get a full refund through my trip cancellation insurance.

*Unfortunately, they don’t display this policy on their site. However, they are quite responsive by email, so contact them directly for more details.

RESULT

Full refund (100% of $1,444) in train tickets refunded.

Priority Pass lounge passes

Last but not least—time to deal with our lounge passes. We have until next February to use them, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be flying anywhere until we take our rebooked trip to Japan next March.

While these were free and didn’t cost us anything out-of-pocket, they’re worth a lot and I’d hate to see them go to waste. I’ll try my best to get around the expiry for these passes… see the When All Else Fails section to learn how.

Update: I’m still working on this. I received a reply from Priority Pass, but they directed me to CIBC, who gave us these passes for signing up for the Aventura Visa Infinite. I haven’t been able to get through to CIBC, so I’ll have to keep trying.

RESULT

A possible loss of $340 in lounge passes.

When all else fails

The last step to take in any of these situations is to (politely) plead your case. Because the coronavirus situation is so serious and beyond our control, it seems that most companies are trying their best to be sympathetic to customers’ refund requests. 

Final tally

Here’s the final tally of what we paid and what we’ll get back:

BookingCost of bookingAmount refundedAmount lost
JAL flights$3,000$3,000$0
Jetstar flights$700$700 in flight vouchers$0
Airbnb x 2 reservations$2,000$2,000$0
Booking.com apartment rentals$940$940$0
CIBC Aventura points$346$346$0
Japan Rail passes$1,444$1,444 in credits$0
Priority Pass lounge passes$340$0$340
TOTALS$8,900$8,560$340

In the end, we’ll only lose $340 for our lounge passes. But I suppose it doesn’t really count as a loss since we didn’t pay for them. That means we’ve officially received 100% of our money back!

Be hopeful!

None of my refunds were the result of insurance coverage*—they were all a result of knowing and taking advantage of available cancellation policies at the right times. 

By being patient, and checking for updates to cancellation policies, we will receive 100% of our money back. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get similar results once you look into your cancellation policies.

*But I will try to use my insurance coverage to get cash refunds instead of the credits I received.

Summary

Here are the general steps you can take to maximize your refunds for a cancelled trip:

  1. As soon as possible, get details for all your cancellation policies and insurance coverage (so as not to miss key cancellation deadlines).
  2. Contact your booking agencies to find out how they’re handling cancellations.
  3. Check the refund policies of the companies you’ve booked with.
  4. Check for travel advisories for the country you’re travelling to.
  5. Stay calm and wait for updates to refund policies and travel advisories.
  6. Keep checking for updates—they can happen quickly and without notice.
  7. If all else fails, plead your case as politely as possible with each company.

With planning, time, and effort, you may also get most of your trip expenses refunded. Best of luck to you!

What about you?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve had success cancelling your trip and getting money back. Also, please share any tips you have so that other travellers might learn and have better success with accessing refunds.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Joe
    March 9, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    Sorry to hear you’ll miss this trip. Hopefully, you can go soon. Nice job canceling the bookings. That sounds like a ton of work. I’m lucky that we haven’t booked anything yet. Maybe if things improve we can visit my parents in Thailand later this year.
    How long did it take you to cancel all these bookings?

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 9, 2020 at 9:09 pm

      Hi Joe—thanks for the sympathy and kind words. It’s taken me about 6 hours over three days to get all our bookings cancelled. Not nothing, but not terribly arduous! I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with every single company I’ve had to cancel with. Everyone has been so patient, understanding, and helpful. That’s a silver lining in all of this.

      You’re so lucky that you haven’t booked anything yet. I think we should know in a month or two how things will go. Things finally seem to be getting better in China now, so it helps give all of us an idea of how things will play out. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your trip to Thailand can go ahead later this year.

  • Reply
    Tawcan
    March 9, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Sucks that you don’t get to go to Japan but it’s probably for the best. Not worth taking the risk. Nicely done on getting full refund on most things!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 9, 2020 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Bob—thanks for the sympathy and kind words. All these nice messages from online friends and strangers have helped make the cancellation sting a little less.

  • Reply
    Maria @ Handful of Thoughts
    March 10, 2020 at 6:21 am

    You’re right Chrissy, it never hurts to ask. What do you have to lose? I’ve often found that asking politely has great results. Sometimes you will hear no, but sometimes you will hear yes and make it all worth it.

    I’m sorry to hear that you had to cancel your trip. If you do end up going next spring break talk to your son’s teachers well in advance. As a high school teacher I often have students who leave for a week or 2 in the middle of the school year. With a bit of advanced planning that student comes back not too behind in their classes.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 10, 2020 at 1:03 pm

      Maria—this is such great insight for me! I’d read in a magazine that teachers secretly hate having to prep students to go on vacation, so I’ve always been so hesitant to ask! What do you normally suggest as a teacher? Does the student work ahead before they leave, do some work while away, or a bit of both? And is it *really* not too much to ask of the teachers? 😬

  • Reply
    Elise at Live Hard x Love Hard
    March 10, 2020 at 11:26 am

    I’m sorry you had to cancel your Japan trip! I’ve been going through all of these steps myself in the past week as well. Our wedding is supposed to be in France in June, so of course I am an emotional basket case right now! I actually just got off the phone with Chase and, unfortunately for us, our trip cancellation insurance with them will not cover anything corona related, even if the CDC, US or any national government completely bans entry/exit and all travel. Chase has managed to completely removed themselves from the situation, which is pretty frustrating. So, I’m taking your approach and just watching and waiting. Air France is currently waiving all change fees for flight dates up until June 1, so I’m thinking that may eventually get moved back. It wouldn’t help with all of the sunk wedding costs, but at least it would be something! Fingers crossed.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 10, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Oh, Elise! My heart breaks for you. I am SO sorry that this impacts your wedding of all things. That just feels so unfair.

      I am STUNNED at Chase’s response. What?! I have been so pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and generosity of all the companies we’ve had to cancel with. I can’t believe Chase would be that harsh. It doesn’t seem right that they won’t even cover a complete travel ban. Seriously—how often does something like this happen? Surely they have contingency funds to cover one-off events like this.

      At this point, you won’t lose anything more by waiting, so I agree that would be the wisest choice for now. I just found out a couple of hours ago that our Jetstar flights will now be fully refunded. They’ll be in the form of credit vouchers that’ll expire in 6 months, but it’s better than nothing. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you’ll have a similar outcome with Air France.

      In the meantime, I’m sending a virtual hug your way! Hang in there.

  • Reply
    Kris
    March 10, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Terrible to hear that you have to cancel your trip but hopefully you can reschedule it at some point. Great job on making the effort to see if you can get refunds on your bookings. Doesn’t hurt to ask and find out because you want to know if you can get your money back. Let’s hope you can get most of your money back when it’s all settled.
    We have travel plans to fly this summer but waiting to see on how this plays out before we make any bookings. If not, then we’ll take a few short road trips, not is all lost!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 12, 2020 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Kris—we hope to rebook the same trip at the same time next year. Let’s hope there won’t be another pandemic or other craziness in the world next year. 🙁

      We’re down to about $488 not yet refunded, but I’m still working on it (I’ll just keep asking until I have no one left to ask).

      Summer seems so far away as far as how this pandemic will play out. So much could change in that time… I hope we will all be free to move around and travel again soon. Until then, stay safe and healthy!

  • Reply
    shaidah
    March 12, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    Great post and very impressive that you have been able to get most of your money back from this trip. Sorry you can’t go, I know how much you were looking forward to it but I am sure you will make the most of Spring break with your boys!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 12, 2020 at 8:23 pm

      Hi Shaidah—thanks for the support, my friend. You know how much I’ve agonized over this decision! (Sorry for all the messages about it the last few weeks!) I’ve mostly made peace with our decision, and know it was the right move, given all the latest developments here in BC and in the rest of the world.

  • Reply
    GovWorker
    March 14, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Chrissy! I’m so happy you were able to get almost all of your costs refunded. I’ve been following along with your journey on Twitter. Hopefully with all of the travel restrictions and social distancing requirements you feel like you made the right decision. And I’m so happy to hear you got nearly all of the money refunded! I hope you can get your priority passes switched!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 19, 2020 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks, GovWorker—as it turns out, we’re getting all of our money refunded in full or as credit vouchers. I’m so grateful to all the companies we booked with. They were very generous.

      However, the Priority Passes are officially a loss. Both they and our credit card issuer said they can’t do anything about the expiry. Too bad, but at least we didn’t have to pay for them.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply
    Paul @ SideGains
    March 16, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Chrissy. In the UK now most people are facing a similar predicament. I mentioned to you on Twitter that we are all booked for a trip to North America in the summer and that may well be affected.

    We should be covered by insurance if this comes to pass… and we’re still 4 months away from our departure date… but who knows.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      March 19, 2020 at 10:56 pm

      Hi Paul—I’m so sorry that your trip to Canada may have to be cancelled. It’s unbelievable how many things are affected by this terrible pandemic.

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Covid-19 will die a sudden death, like SARS did in 2003.

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