Don't Let Coronavirus Cancellations Ruin Your Summer Plans (or Finances)!
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
2020, this was going to be my year of family fun! By February, I had all our spring/summer activities planned, booked, and ready to go! I was finally going to see the Dave Matthews Band live for the first since having my son. My husband and I were going take our son to his first baseball game on Memorial Day. We had a fully booked Christmas in July trip to visit my sister-in-law in Albuquerque. We even got our son all signed up (and paid) for summer camp, and booked our annual end of summer beach trip with friends.
And then...came COVID. Like a hurricane forming off the coast, we saw it building up and braced for impact as best we could, but never could have imagined the damage and devastation that it would cause. We have been extremely fortunate to be relatively unscathed by it, at least for now. If my biggest gripes are some ruined summer plans, then I have many blessings to be thankful for, and very much am.
With the Coronavirus pandemic hitting the U.S. in early March, we knew that the longer it went on, the more likely our "Year of 2020 Family Fun" would start to be impacted. Here's how we handled adjusting to cancelled plans and how we manged the financials around those changes.
Credit or Refund?
As companies and businesses are grappling with the difficulties of maintaining their operations while also abiding by statewide stay-at-home orders, and knowing some customers may not be quite ready to rejoin the public, many are offering the choice between a credit or a refund to those who have already purchased goods or services, but cannot use them for the planned date, such as airplane tickets, sporting events, and concerts.
Some companies have offered a 100% credit for future use, with some even offering a 125% credit rather than requesting a refund. In the case of refunds, some are offering full refunds (100% including any fees & taxes), while others are offering a full refund minus certain deposits and fees. The question then becomes "which should I choose, the credit or the refund?".
Let's take my scenarios for example:
1) Baseball Tickets
I had purchased 3 game tickets plus a parking pass to the Memorial Day Baltimore Orioles game. The game was essentially cancelled (postponed to an unknown future date), so The O's & Ticketmaster gave me the following options:
Take a credit of 125% of the full purchase price (tickets, parking pass, fees, & taxes) good for use at a future regular season home game in 2020, 2021, or 2022.
Take a refund for 100% of the full purchase price (tickets, parking pass, fees, & taxes)
After discussing it over with my husband, we took the following into consideration:
We are both fortunate to still be working at this time and have a fully funded emergency fund in case anything changes, so the couple hundred dollars in refund would not be critical to our financial survival at this time.
We both felt confident that we would attend another baseball game within the next 2 ½ years and would be able to use the credit before it expires.
A 125% credit is essentially like getting a 25% return on your money and based on how things are looking, I don't think anyone is going to be getting a 25% return on the market anytime soon.
For those reasons, we decided to go with the credit. It made the most sense for our personal situation.
2) Concert tickets
I had purchased two (2) tickets to see the Dave Matthews Band in July 2020. In May, they announced that the tour date had been pushed by one year and gave us the following options:
Keep our existing tickets and attend on the new 2021 date.
Receive a full refund (100%) for the ticket purchase.
If you know me, or have at least read my Winenance bio, you know I am a HUGE Dave Matthews Band fan. I have loved them since the 3rd grade! Marie and I would go see them every summer (sometimes even twice a year)! Since this was the first time in almost 7 years that I would have been able to see them live, I was pretty bummed about the date getting moved, but grateful for the options they gave us.
Again, I considered my financial situation which is currently pretty stable and my personal preference (uhh...yeah I want to see DMB live!), so I opted to keep my tickets.
Take the Refund
In the case of my 3rd scenario (Trip to Albuquerque), I had quite a bit more to consider. We had purchased plane tickets, booked a rental house, and reserved a rental car. In total, we had already plopped down over $2,000 and the trip hadn't even happen yet!
When it became more obvious that we were not going to be able (or feel safe) to travel, we agreed that getting a refund would be the best option. That is a significant amount of money to have held up in credits on things that we may or may not use before the credit "expires".
Luckily the rental car was just a reservation, so no money had been committed yet. I was able to cancel our reservation without issue. Additionally, our VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) allowed cancellations with a 100% refund if cancelled by May 12th, so we were able to get our full amount paid (plus deposit) back.
The trickier part were the plane tickets. We had purchased our tickets in February, just a few weeks before Coronavirus "hit the fan" in the U.S. During the first week of March, the ticket prices had already started to go down. At that time, COVID was not as much of a "time to panic" situation as it would later become, so I decided to get a credit for the lower ticket price.
Southwest allows you to "change" your previous purchased tickets for the same flight and get a credit for the lower price difference. With that change, we had a $545 credit that could be used for a future flight, as long as it was used by February 2021. Again, not realizing the impact COVID would have on travel so far out, I felt confident we would find somewhere to use the credit within the year.
Once things started getting a lot worse, we kept monitoring the airlines to see how they were handling things. Luckily I got an email from Southwest saying that they had extended their travel credit expiration: "Funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020, will have an expiration date of September 7, 2022".
That was good news, because it at least meant we had almost 2 ½ years to get comfortable flying again, however, that was still a lot of money to have tied up and I would have much rather preferred a full refund.
A couple weeks later, I got another email from Southwest notifying me that my flight times had changed. My non-stop to and from flights had both been changed to flights with layovers. I checked the flight schedules, and it looked like Southwest had basically cancelled all their non-stop flights.
Anyone traveling with young kids knows that you want to simplify the "logistics" of travel as much as possible. For me, that means direct flights and not having to worry about booking it across a busy airport with a 6 year old in tow to switch planes. The new flight times and layover options were just not going to work for us, so I called Southwest to get a full refund.
The customer service agent I spoke with was very helpful and while at first he tried to get me to take a credit, I just kept emphasizing that the new flight times did not work for us and there are no other flight times that would work for us. He didn't push back too hard (I imagine he got a lot of calls similar to mine) and requested a refund for me.
Refund or Bust?
I have spoken with others who have had difficulty getting airlines to fully refund their tickets. Many airlines are only offering credits unless the flight gets cancelled. In that case, I offer two ideas:
Play the waiting game and hope the flight gets cancelled.
Hope that the airline changes your flight times (like in my case) and then press them to give a refund based on the new times not working for you.
If you really don't feel comfortable traveling at the scheduled date, then consider taking the credit. Hopefully you will be able to use it at a later time.
Companies, especially small and local businesses, understand that whether you have been impacted financial by the crisis or not, this is a very hard time for everyone. From what I have seen, a lot of these businesses are trying to be flexible and provide their customers with options that will work for them, but also still allow the organization to maintain their operations and pay their employees.
In the case of my son's summer camp, they have been extremely flexible in terms of options for credits, refunds, partial cancellations, and activity options for the kids. Camper safety is #1 for them, which I appreciate, and since we love the camp and want them to continue for many years to come, we were glad to take the credit for future summers.
What's Right for You?
Since everyone's situation is different, you need to consider what is most critical and realistic for you. If you have recently lost your job or your income has decreased, it may be more important for you to get your money back on some of these purchases, so you can use it to pay for necessities.
If you are fortunate enough to still have stable income, then you need to take into consideration whether you would really use or need the credit later on, and would you use it before it expires (if applicable). In the case of the baseball tickets, it was just a good return on our money and would allow us to get better seats next time. For the concert tickets, it was a choice based on a lifetime of love for my favorite band.
If you are in a situation where you need a refund or credit for services paid, but not yet rendered, reach out to the business and see what their options are for you. Make sure you know what will really work for you, and push (politely) to get what you need.
So what are some changes that you have had to make to your summer plans and how have you handled them? Any tips for getting refunds or credits? Share your comments below and join the conversation!
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