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Wondering About Weather Issues and Travel Cancelation Fees?

With all of the winter snow advisories these past two weeks, chances are your travel plans have been affected.  Whether you live in a snow-covered city or not, your flight may be cancelled. Interruptions due to weather in any major hub city have cascading affects throughout the system. Your trip may be delayed by hours, by days or totally cancelled. The last thing you want is the cost of cancelation fees for a plane seat you will never sit in, a hotel bed you will never sleep in, or a rental car you will never drive.

So what are your options when it comes to rebooking a flight, hotel or car rental when these weather issues occur – and with no change fee?

Flights

The airlines will generally post a broad announcement on their website.  Read these as the airlines provide the areas involved and the rules on rebooking.

If you are at the airport when your flight becomes very delayed or cancelled due to weather, do the following:

(a)   Get in line to talk with the gate agents; or

(b)   Get in line at any customer service line for your airline; or

(c)    Go back through security and get in line for a Departure gate agent.  You will need to go through security again if you do get rebooked on a later flight that same day, but chances are the line will be shorter.

Note: (b) and (c) only work when the airline is not giving out meal or hotel vouchers for flights due to issues beyond their control (weather, namely).  For mechanical and other issues where the airline is responsible, you will want to get in line to see the gate agent for your flight as they will have the vouchers.

Once you are in one of the above lines, immediately phone the airline from your cell phone (see my Travel Gem for  27-Jan-2010 that talks about why you always want these important phone numbers in your mobile phone). Why are you phoning the airline if you are also standing in line?  Because you’re hedging your bet that you may get through to an agent quicker on the phone than waiting your turn to get to the front of the line.

The agent on the phone can help rebook your airline ticket, but again, if the airline is giving out food or hotel vouchers, you will need to get in line for the gate agent in order to get these. This way you have a better chance of snagging one of the last available seats on a later flight before the others in line! So always call the airline directly to get rebooking assistance even if you do then have to stand in a line to get your vouchers.

Phew…so confusing for flights, because it all depends on who is responsible – the airline or the Man upstairs.

When it comes to change fees, regardless if the flight delay is weather related or mechanical related, airlines will generally waive them. To ensure that you do your part, always contact an airline customer service representative or gate agent as soon as you become aware of the issue. Do not assume that your flight is cancelled just because you were watching the Weather Channel and decided to stay sofa-bound rather than head to the airport. Assume that there will be a change fee or cancelled ticket if you do not do your part and contact the airline immediately.

Hotels

Like the airlines, the hotels are more prone to waiving a cancellation fee if you contact them with a weather-related issue.  And just like the airlines, contact your hotel as soon as you know there is going to be a significant delay or cancellation in your plans.

A hotel is more apt to waive the cancellation fee if they can verify that there is a winter storm warning where you live or where your hotel is. They may check www.weather.gov to verify the weather issue, according to a Hilton rep.

With a number of hotels now offering an Advanced Purchase rate, you may think that this is a total loss if you do not show up. When you book a hotel room and prepay the rate, you are generally committing to showing up no matter what. You take the full risk for the room reservation in exchange for a lower rate.

However, even hotels offering an Advanced Purchase rate are waiving cancellation fees due to weather. I repeat again . . . call the hotel immediately upon knowing you have a weather issue.  They are more apt to waive the fee with your proactive contact to them rather than you waiting three or four days to see if the airport ever opens up again.

Car Rentals

Some car rental companies are now charging a ‘no-show’ amount if you book a rental car and, uh, never show up. Be safe and follow the same rules as listed above for hotels. It’s only fair to the car rental companies that you call and cancel your reservation and explain the weather-related reason. They then have a chance to rent the car to someone else.

Restaurants

Yes, there are even issues with restaurant reservations. Just about this time last year, my husband booked a reservation for Valentine’s Day at a beautiful Italian restaurant that I had always wanted to go to. Being the very-busy holiday for restaurants, a $50 fee was imposed if we did not show up.

While he had every intention that we would be there (he was surprising me with his restaurant selection), we didn’t make it. My flight coming home was way oversold so I was rebooked on the next-day flight.

My husband called the restaurant, explained my flight dilemma, and they were kind enough to book us on the next night (Feb . 15th) and did not impose the $50 fee. This actually worked out great since the restaurant was much quieter and we could really enjoy a wonderful leisurely meal.

So lesson learned . . . always ask the rules on cancellation when you book anything. And if the worst happens and your best-laid plans end up changing, immediately contact all parties involved and ask for the best options to remedy the situation.

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