smart spending

10 tips to clip travel cancellation fees

You booked a great vacation, but now your spouse is sick and you have to cancel. The question is: Will your money be leaving while you stay home?

Not all of it. Smart moves can help curb cancellation costs, although you usually can't avoid them altogether. In any case, the earlier you start, the better.

Here's your top 10 list to help see to it that if you have to cancel, the only thing you're losing is the trip:

1. Read cancellation policies before you book reservations.

Many times airlines and travel sites will have more than one set of change/cancellation policies. Travel consolidators sometimes get special rates on certain blocks of rooms, so not all their offerings will fall under the same cancellation/rescheduling policies.

For airlines, different types of fares get different treatment.

Buy an unrestricted ticket and you can usually exchange it without any penalties, says David Lytle, editorial director for Frommers.com. But, he says, "If you're like most people, you're buying a low-fare, restricted ticket."

Rescheduling fees run the gamut, frequently between $10 and $100, depending on the airline, the time/day/route and how you cancel, says Brice Gosnell, regional publisher for the Americas with the Lonely Planet, a leading travel publishing company.

Want phone help? Many times, that's extra, says Lytle.

There is one instance where you can change reservations for free: If it's the airline's fault (i.e., mechanical problems), the carrier has to reschedule at no charge.

Booking online? Before you reserve a specific flight or room night, look for a button with cancellation or rescheduling information. Click it, read it, then print it out.

To check airfare rules before you buy, look at the "conditions of carriage" section on the airline Web site.

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"It's a couple of extra clicks, but it's worth it," says Jennifer Paull, senior editor for Fodor's Travel.

If you're booking by phone, "the key on this is: Just ask," says Gosnell. Hotels get this question all the time, he says. "Some people think, 'It means I'm being cheap.' No, it means you're being savvy."

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