Airlines and other travel companies usually have strict cancellation policies.
Space is at a premium on airplanes, in hotels and on cruise ships, so it’s in the best interest of these companies to discourage last-minute cancellations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic turned the travel industry on its head this spring, those policies suddenly became a lot more lenient. Companies began to offer credits equal in value to the cost of the original booking, hoping to soothe their customers’ worries without giving up millions in cash refunds.
These credits often have strict rules governing how they can be used, so it’s important for anyone in this situation to keep their travel refund and credit information organized.
Here’s how a spreadsheet can help, turning your cancelled vacation into an exciting adventure to look forward to.
Why You Should Organize Your Travel Credit
While some companies have offered full refunds for those affected by the pandemic, others have only provided travel credit – which usually has an expiration date. If you don’t book something before that date, your credit will be lost.
“While some companies have offered full refunds for those affected by the pandemic, others have only provided travel credit – which usually has an expiration date. If you don’t book something before that date, your credit will be lost. “
The credit usually lasts for one or two years from either the booking date (when you bought the ticket) or the actual travel date (when you were scheduled to leave). This difference is crucial to understand, especially if you booked your trip six months before you were supposed to leave.
To use a personal example, my husband and I had booked a flight from Chicago to Dublin on United Airlines for May 2020. United said we didn’t qualify for a refund, but that we could put the value of the tickets toward a future reservation.
Our vouchers expire one year after the booking date. We booked the trip in October 2019, so we have until October 2020 to redeem the voucher.
Before I spoke with United’s customer service department, I had assumed that our tickets expired a year after the travel date, not the booking date. This is why it’s crucial to understand how your travel credit really works.
How to Organize Your Canceled Vacation Refunds
If you’re juggling multiple airlines and hotels, it can be incredibly helpful to compile the relevant information into a spreadsheet. This will simplify the process and make it easier to book future reservations.
Start by creating a spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Type of service/company i.e. airline, hotel, cruise, etc.
- Company name
- Booking date
- Original travel dates
- Total amount
- Credit/voucher expiration date
- Customer service phone number
- Notes: Include information like if the credit is transferable to someone else
Where to Find Travel Cancellation and Credit Information
The hardest part of organizing this information is figuring out exactly what the refund policy is for your specific situation. It will vary based on your original travel date and whether you or the travel company canceled the reservation.
It may also depend on the company’s cancellation policy. Because my husband and I had booked the cheapest flights from United, we weren’t eligible to get our money back in a full refund. We can only use the tickets as credit.
You may have received an email from the company with instructions on how to use your credit, but it’s better to visit their website since the policy may have changed. You may even have to call them to figure out your exact situation.
Once you’ve created the spreadsheet, you need to insert the deadlines. I recommend moving the credit expiration dates up a week, allowing for a grace period in case you forget to use the credit.
After that, go to whichever calendar system you use and add those dates in. You can also create recurring monthly reminders to use the credit. Sign up for emails from the travel companies so you can be notified if they extend the credit window.
How to Handle Travel Refunds
Some companies will offer a full refund in the original payment method. Make sure to track the refund because they don’t always go through.
If you know you’re due a refund, set a reminder in your calendar to follow up two weeks later. When that happens, check your credit card or bank statement for the refund.
If it hasn’t come through, contact customer service and set another reminder in your calendar.
The Tiller Money Approach to Tracking Refunds from a Canceled Vacation
by Janelle Delfino, Finance at Tiller Money
I hope you’re not like me.
I spent a couple of evenings back in January planning the perfect spring break vacation for my family, only to cancel the whole trip in March when we realized it would not be safe to travel.
I was left with 11 different reservation charges, from multiple vendors, with different return policies, and I was determined to get every penny of my money refunded.
Luckily, for the first time in my life, I have a daily routine of tracking my personal finances in an automated spreadsheet with Tiller Money. This literally takes me 5 minutes a day, and the results are amazing – a complete picture of my finances, all in one place.
Using Tiller Money’s Fountain Template, I have tracked my canceled vacation expenses and one by one checked them off as the refunds rolled in. If your spreadsheet or personal finance tool can’t do this, check out how you can access the Foundation Template for free in this post or simply sign up to try Tiller Money free for 30-days.
The key to my tracking is a spreadsheet with all of my bank transactions listed as below, where I appropriately apply a Category, Tag, and Note for each of my travel expenses. I save time and avoid manually entering these transactions with my Tiller Money subscription, but you could also enter each transaction on your own instead.
You can see I applied the Tag “Florida Trip” to the expenses associated with my canceled Spring Break trip:
I can then filter by Tags to just show all of my Florida Trip transactions. Using the Notes column I then match up the original charge to the corresponding refund.
Using Tags when categorizing your transactions is a great way to track any expenses you are expecting reimbursement for, whether it be from work or a co-parenting ex-spouse.
See more discussion and information on the Tags Report tool in this Tiller Money Community discussion.