Travel Burnout Happens: Salvage Your Travel Rewards After Canceling a Trip

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INSIDER SECRET: If you feel like canceling a trip, not all is lost if you understand how to salvage the money and points that you’ve already spent. 

Last summer it happened. I had just returned from spending four months in Mexico. Before that, it had been five weeks in Arizona, three weeks in Asia and two weeks in Colorado. My husband and I were practically giddy when we finally walked through our front door and sat on the couch. “We’re never leaving again,” I said to myself while happily unpacking clothes, doing laundry and making dinner.

Two days later, Spencer was off to Chicago on a business trip and I was finalizing plans for a two-week vacation in Alaska that we’d planned for August.

Sometimes it’s important to take a break and reset, especially if you’ve been traveling a lot. (Photo by Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

Like many Million Mile Secrets readers, we’d been accumulating points in every possible way. We figured out which were the best credit cards for travel, and the right cards for everyday purchases on sites like Amazon. We amassed quite a nice collection of rewards to use for free travel.

We felt as if we were winning this game, so what better way to celebrate than to book another trip? Even if getting on another airplane sounded tiresome at the moment, I was confident that in a month we would be ready for a new adventure.

Travel Burnout Hit Hard

Something was different this time. Usually, we’d research everything about our new destination. Planning hikes, asking friends for restaurant recommendations, discovering if there was a charming little bookshop nearby (often, there is), and researching where to get coffee every morning. For me, that’s a big part of the fun. This time it felt like a chore to do the research. I wasn’t into it.

Though I sensed that Spencer was feeling the same way, I didn’t voice my trepidation. I figured we’d just push through and end up enjoying ourselves once we arrived. Then, a few weeks before we were about to take off, he spoke up. “I really don’t feel like going,” he said.

I knew the feeling of travel burnout would pass, but it was so nice to be on the same page as my travel partner — both recognizing that sometimes it’s totally OK to stay home. That’s something neither of us had acknowledged before and it felt like a weird but significant milestone.

Working to Cancel Plans

Of course, one of the unspoken problems of travel burnout out is the seemingly insurmountable task of canceling your bookings and potentially losing money and points that you’ve worked hard to earn. That concern held me back from saying that I simply didn’t want to go much earlier. But now here we were, feeling happy to stay home but I wasn’t going to let those rewards go that easily.

Step 1: Canceling our Airbnb

Without knowing it, I booked an Airbnb that had a “moderate” cancellation policy. I was in luck because I’ve never once looked at the cancellation notes when reserving an Airbnb.

Because we were more than two weeks away from our arrival date, I was able to get a full refund. Note that with a moderate cancellation policy, you can only cancel a reservation three times a year (after that, you won’t receive a refund for the Airbnb service fee).

Step 2: Canceling our flights

This might be the scariest part of canceling a trip, and rightly so. Dealing with customer service to reclaim the points that you spent to book the flight is often incredibly frustrating and difficult. There are a few airlines with policies that make me more confident when asking for a refund: Southwest has an amazing and user-friendly cancellation process and Alaska Airlines is typically very nice to deal with.

Fortunately, our flights were booked with rewards miles we earned on our Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card. After explaining that we wouldn’t be able to travel, the agent redeemed our miles without questions. I know that is somewhat unusual and wish that the process of canceling a flight wasn’t a big deal on other airlines, but I feel that it gives me more loyalty toward Alaska Airlines.

Step 3: Notifying our friends

If you’ve made plans to visit friends, let them know as soon as possible. We had been planning to stay with friends for part of our trip and this is what we were both looking forward to the most. When we realized that the trip wasn’t going to happen, we had to be honest and explain why.

Step 4: Relax in the backyard

Here’s the good part. There’s a reason that you didn’t really want to go on that trip. Once you’ve recognized that and you’ve made the decision to stay home, it can feel like a vacation (or a staycation) in itself. So enjoy your lack of plans and your ability to do whatever you like — no strings attached.

Lessons Learned — Understand Your Options

No one likes to imagine staying home from a trip once it’s booked., especially after the fun of planning it.

Things can come up, however. It’s not always travel burnout — work, illness, family issues — there are a number of reasons that your travel plans may change, so it’s important to understand your cancellation options.

Accommodation cancellation policies

Most hotels have flexible cancellation policies, but it always helps to check when you’re booking a room. VRBO and Airbnb operate on more of a case-by-case basis since the property owner can decide the cancellation policy. There’s a 99% chance you won’t need to cancel a reservation, but it offers peace of mind to know what the options are if you need to cancel.

Airline cancellation policies

Again, this is a case-by-case situation. Some airlines like Southwest have customer-friendly cancellation policies that allow you to make changes or cancel your flight online. Sadly, Southwest is a bit of a unicorn in this arena.

Other airlines such as United and Delta have strict cancellation policies if you buy the standard fare. Some airlines offer more expensive tickets with more flexibility for changing a flight. You can always call the customer service department to request a refund or credit when canceling a flight, and often you’ll be successful. This takes a little extra time and patience, but in my opinion, it’s worth it.

Remember: It’s OK to Change Your Mind

The main take away is this: If you’re not looking forward to going on a trip, don’t push yourself just because you’re afraid that you will lose the miles, points or money that you used to book it. Understand the cancellation policy with your travel accommodations and airline carriers. If you are faced with a “no,” remember our tips for chatting with customer service reps. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Have you ever experienced travel burnout? Did you push through or end up canceling your trip? Were you able to save most of your rewards points and dollars spent? Let me know about your experience in the comments section below.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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