Two Travel Lessons Learned in a Crazy Week

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Coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2…  We might not have settled on a name, but I am sure that little else is being talked and written about. Travel seems like a distant concern – even though I do worry about the livelihoods of those around the world whose ability to feed and house their families is completely reliant on tourism – and I have little desire to research and write about things that might become out-of-date before I hit the publish button…

Like many of you, I have spent a fair amount of time on the telephone this week, cancelling travel plans. I was due to travel to the United States for a family reunion, the kind of trip that you absolutely positively know that you will take. Until you don’t…

Lesson 1 – Don’t Pay the Taxes and Surcharges (on an Award Flight) Using a Payment Method that will Expire Before the Flight

11 months ago, I booked an award flight on Iberia, using Avios from Iberia Plus. For 42,500 Avios + 127 euros (roughly £110) I would fly from Madrid to Los Angeles in Business Class. Without thinking, I used my euro-denominated debit card to pay for the taxes and surcharges.

Fast forward to today, and my payment card had long since expired and been cut up into little pieces. Moreover, I had actually closed down the associated bank account because they wanted to start charging a monthly fee.

Will I ever see my 127 euros – minus the 25 euro cancellation fee? I doubt it…  at this stage I’ll just be happy with receiving my 42,500 Avios back. It was hard enough convincing the phone agent to process the cancellation request… and HUACA isn’t a viable strategy when it takes hours on hold to reach an agent.

Lesson…  One of the major attractions of award flights is their flexibility. You can cancel at almost any time for a refund, minus a small fee. But for that to happen smoothly… always pay your taxes and surcharges with a card, Paypal, etc. that will definitely still be valid whenever you might cancel!

Lesson 2 – Don’t Book Prepaid Hotel Rooms… EVER!

I can still remember the conversation with my partner, because it took place less than a week ago…

Room rates are collapsing. I’ve never seen anything so crazy. Should I book the $75 (£60) prepaid rate or stick with the $120 (£95) rate that I can cancel?

I decided to book the prepaid rate. After all, I KNEW that I was travelling and would need a hotel room near Los Angeles airport. A 40% savings was just too tempting… Four short days later, and I’m trying to call the hotel to beg for leniency, only to end up in a Marriott call centre asking for a waiver that the hotel chain isn’t going to provide.

Lesson… Even when you think that your plans couldn’t possibly change, they sometimes change. Book fully refundable hotel rates. You will save money in the long run… You will also avoid anger issues when hotels decide that “non-refundable” actually does mean non-refundable.


Even though a good travel insurance policy might be the best solution to travel mishaps – at least in times somewhat more normal than now – another alternative is to simply avoid thinking that your plans couldn’t possibly change…

Have you learned any harsh lessons this week? Let us know in the comments section…


  1. JAMES says

    But have all the (40%) savings you’ve made along the way booking non-refundable rates still ended up saving you money in the long run ?
    I would suggest so.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Not at all. I wrote a post about how easy it is to save money by waiting until the price drops before arrival. This was just one rare exception where the price drop required a last minute decision to book it prepaid, which still didn’t work out…

      But other people have different approaches and good luck to them…

  2. cinereus says

    Validity is not the concern. Having a relationship with the parent institution is the concern. There’s no issue getting refunds to expired cards nor, in my experience, to cancelled cards.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Fair point, but now that the American Express card churning game is over, are people still maintaining a relationship? Is Amex going to track you down because you have a refund on your cancelled card but are waiting patiently for your next chance to sign up?

      • cinereus says

        a) presumably if you’re doing the churning you keep a non-MR while waiting it out.
        b) im not churning. If you’re not making far more than the best SUBs with MS over however many months it is, you’re probably doing it wrong.

  3. Winnie says

    I had a refund from House of Fraser and Amazon a while back on my cancelled Amex Gold card (it was about £120) – phoned amex up and explained the situation, had the cheque sent to me within a week! Amex is super efficient as always

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