smart spending

10 tips to clip travel cancellation fees

"In our industry, with B&Bs and inns, they all have their own policies," says Karen Hudgeons, director of membership and member services for the Professional Association of Innkeepers International. Establishments will often post policies online and almost all will e-mail or fax a copy after you register.

For some, a week's notice might be enough, she says. But for anything in a hot area during high season, you could need a month's notice.

With hotels and motels, it also pays to read the cancellation policy. Many allow you to cancel without penalty as long as you contact them at least 24 hours before check- in. Some resorts, boutique hotels or seasonal lodges will require 48 or 72 hours' notice, or you could forfeit the equivalent of your room cost for a night or two.

But there is no one-size-fits-all, Lytle says. One five-star Hawaiian resort requires 15 days advance notice of changes or cancellations, says Lytle. The penalty: the equivalent of a two-night stay, (at a minimum of $850 per night).

"And that's sort of a standard for high-end resorts," he says.

4. Talk to the right people.

When you have a problem, sometimes it can't be solved through discussions of "company policy" with a low-grade employee. "Sometimes it helps if you get the right person on the phone," says Lytle.

Have to cancel hotel or resort reservations? Call the front desk and ask for the general manager, says Banks Brown, general counsel for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

It can also be an argument for making arrangements through a travel agent. "A good agent will often work with you as an ombudsperson," says Linda Kundell, spokeswoman for the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

If you book through a third-party Web site, in most cases you're required to reschedule through its customer service department. The fees will vary with the packager and the purchase.

However, if the site takes you to the hotel or airline site to actually make the purchase, then you would deal directly with them to cancel or change reservations.

This is another case where you really need to read that fine print before you buy.

5. Call rather than going online.

Many airlines will charge extra if you want to make your changes by phone rather than online. But some situations require human intervention.

So if you're having problems making a change or are floored by the potential fees, "that's when it's a good time to talk to a phone agent," says Lytle.

6. Know the code.

If you cancel lodging by phone, ask for a cancellation code and hang onto it, says Brown. It will act as a receipt and guarantee you a refund if your card gets charged in error. If you cancel online, just print out a copy of your cancellation confirmation and save it.

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7. Be polite.

Canceling is rough. But venting won't get you what you want. In fact, anger and attitude will likely have just the opposite effect.

"Once you start getting rude or angry, forget it," says Gosnell.

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