One hundred dollar bills currency
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Should You Book Non-Refundable Reservations and Tickets?

Think before you book.

Travel seems to keep getting more expensive these days — especially as a result of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — so saving money on airfare, lodging, rental cars, and cruises may be more challenging than ever.  Tempting as doing so may be due to potentially significantly lower costs, should you book non-refundable reservations and tickets?

Should You Book Non-Refundable Reservations and Tickets?

Paying less money up front is an interesting concept. Although other factors are involved, the general premise of how a non-refundable reservation or ticket works is that company collects your money immediately and has longer guaranteed use of it — which improves the cash flow of the company and even allows the company to profit from having it on hand — and in return, you get what is likely the least expensive discount…

…but risk is involved: what if something happens? What if you suddenly become too ill to travel; or your flight is canceled; or some emergency unexpectedly arises? Are you out of luck?

According to the terms and conditions to which you agreed when purchasing a non-refundable reservation or ticket, you are likely out of luck in two ways:

  • No refunds or changes are permitted at all, and you lose all of your money
  • Refunds or changes are permitted on a limited basis — but at an extra cost, which likely eliminates any savings you were to enjoy; and perhaps may actually wind up costing more than a refundable reservation or ticket would have originally cost

“As a One-Time Courtesy…”

If you have patronized the company over the years without a problem and you have a record of being a good customer, you might get the customer service representative of the company to offer you a “one-time courtesy” of changing your itinerary or offering a refund as a gesture of good will on a non-refundable reservation or ticket — of course, after he or she confers with his or her supervisor first — in the hopes that you will continue to do business with that company…

…but although the likelihood of that scenario occurring, do not count on this exception of the rules to happen. The problem is that some customers will abuse the courtesy, which in turn usually causes management at the company to be more restrictive about being flexible with the terms and conditions which were clearly set forth at the time of the transaction.

Sometimes a company will grant the good will courtesy gesture more than once; and sometimes new customers may be fortunate to have the “one-time courtesy” bestowed upon them — especially if the company is in a highly competitive business — but again: do not count on it happening. Rather, expect your request of an exception to the restrictive terms of the rate which you booked and reserved to be denied so as to mitigate disappointment.

One Way Out: When The Company Does Not Honor Its Terms

Coins penny dime nickel quarter
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

When the terms of what is basically a contract between you and the company are not honored for whatever reason, you have the right to request a change that better suits your needs.

As a simple example, if an airline sends a message to you that the departure of your flight has been changed to be three hours earlier or later than originally scheduled, you will usually be granted an opportunity to change your schedule in return that may be more convenient for you — such as a flight which departs at a more convenient time but initially cost more than the flight which you purchased — without any penalty or additional cost. You might even be granted the opportunity to cancel your flight and get a full refund without penalty if you persistently insist.

Another Way Out: Travel Insurance — But…

If you want one way to protect yourself in case something unexpected does happen, consider purchasing travel insurance — but be aware that depending on the policy you choose, travel insurance only covers certain items.

If you want more items to be covered or if you want the insurance policy in general to be more comprehensive, be prepared to pay more money — which, of course, will diminish the amount of money you were attempting to save on a restricted reservation or ticket in the first place.

Keep in mind that you are dealing with an insurance company, which will find any loophole possible to not pay out should something unexpected happen that should have been covered.

Some companies even offer insurance while you are booking your reservation or ticket: effective as of Wednesday, January 12, 2022, you can seamlessly purchase travel insurance policies from Allianz Partners during the process of booking a reservation at a hotel or resort property which participates in any of the 30 brands of Marriott International, Incorporated.

You Can Still Come Out Ahead Financially — Even If You Lose Your Money

Even if you have success saving money with reservations or tickets which include restrictions, you can actually still come out ahead financially.

One simple example is if the refundable rate at a hotel room costs $150.00 per night; but the restricted rate — which must be paid in advance and cannot be changed or refunded — is $100.00 per night. If each stay was one night and the fourth stay needed to be canceled without a refund, you still come out ahead: you would have paid $400.00 for three nights at the restricted rate instead of $450.00 for those same three nights at the unrestricted rate, which means that you still saved $50.00 overall.

Final Boarding Call

I have booked many reservations and tickets which were not refundable and not modifiable in the past. I do not remember a time when that worked against me. Maybe I have been rather fortunate in my travels over the years — although there have been times where I wished I could have been able to implement a change in my itinerary; but that did not significantly impact my travels adversely.

The obvious goal is to spend as little as possible on travel while getting as much flexibility as possible — in other words, choosing how much tolerance of risk you have versus how much reward you want, which can be a difficult threshold to straddle. You have to decide what is most important to you — and what you are willing to sacrifice — to ultimately achieve your travel goals financially.

If you are absolutely certain that your travel plans will not change — barring any unforeseen circumstances — booking a reservation or ticket in advance that cannot be modified or refunded could potentially be a good deal for you…

…but you must be prepared to face the negative consequences should an emergency unexpectedly arise or should something happen without warning.

Do you incorporate strategies when dealing with restricted reservations, rates, or tickets — or do you simply avoid purchasing them altogether?

All photographs ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

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