By Prachi Bhardwaj
July 2, 2020
Kiersten Essenpreis for Money

Booking excursions well in advance is a great way to save some money on your trip. It’s also a huge risk at a time when the coronavirus could cancel your plans at the last hour.

Cities have been reopening gradually for weeks now. But some business owners and politicians around the country have already had to make the difficult decision to re-close in light of recent spikes of COVID-19. And while these decisions are all in the name of safety, it’s enough to give you whiplash if you’re one of the many Americans keen on planning that next big vacation.

A survey of 2,000 people by GetYourGuide and Dynata showed that a little over half of U.S. travelers expect to travel in the next six months and two-thirds said they expect to travel in the next year.

While those same respondents also reported an 11% decrease in their financial situation since the COVID-19 outbreak started, they only decreased their travel budget by 3%. All the more reason to insure that every dollar is well spent.

“If you are a consumer who has seen their economic situation degraded slightly, when you put your dollars towards travel, you want to be sure that — should something come up — you don’t lose those dollars,” says Emil Martinsek, Chief Marketing Officer at GetYourGuide — an online marketplace for tours and excursions.

That means looking into cancellation and refund policies for all big ticket items like your flight or your accommodations, of course, but the advice also applies to day-to-day activities. If you’re planning a trip with a good mix of excursions and outdoor activities, it might be tempting to swipe a deal or buy your ticket early to save your spot. But if the coronavirus spikes in your city of origin or your destination by the time you go to pack your bags, a full refund on those excursions will be your best money-saver.

Here’s how to make sure you’re choosing activities that will offer a refund.

Pick the right activities

When it comes to picking an activity, more moving parts usually involves stricter cancellation policies.

A pre-planned excursion, for example, requires a lot of coordination. Say a van picks you up to take you to a guided tour of the rainforest: The service had to hire a driver for a specific time slot and probably coordinated your trip with a few other groups. A last-minute cancellation is going to cost them — and in turn, it will cost you.

If you buy tickets to see an attraction, on the other hand, there’s little to no coordination involved. Most of the time, you just take your ticket to the counter and enter. The terms to get your money back on this type of activity are going to be pretty lenient. Especially right now.

According to GetYourGuide, services around popular points of interest (think: Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty) tended to have stricter cancellation policies pre-coronavirus. Demand was high enough that such locations could afford to put no-refund terms into place, to ensure that anyone who bought a ticket stuck with it, instead of getting a refund at the last minute.

But travelers are sparse and demand is low, meaning popular attractions are having to get more lenient, which helps when planning a trip well in advance.

Check the fine print

Always check on the cancellation policy. If it’s too hard to find (or too tedious to read) you should call the vendor.

You’re trying to find out three things:

  1. How far in advance do you have to cancel in order to get anything back
  2. How much money do you get back
  3. What are the circumstances in which the policy applies

If no policy exists (or it only gives you some of your money back) try asking for a voucher or credit that you can gift or use at a later date. No dice? Look for another option.

Use sites that can help

There are a number of third-party websites that make it easy to find the perfect activity for your trip. Just make sure you’re reading the cancellation terms as you sift through them.

Given the times, some of these sites now prioritize the ability to cancel with no penalty.

GetYourGuide rolled out a policy in early March offering full refunds, regardless of whether the original vendor offers it. The policy, which is now permanent, applies to anyone who cancels a booking more than 24 hours in advance or anyone who had a booking for an attraction “that has closed as a preventative measure.”

Other sites, like TripAdvisor’s Viator allow you to filter out activities with the no-strings terms you’re looking for. Just search your destination and the dates on your trip, and then scroll down to find and select the “Free Cancellation” filter on the left.

More from Money:

From Day Trips to Finding a New Quarantine Spot, What Safe Summer Travel Looks Like in 2020

The New Rules for Travel Insurance During the Summer of Coronavirus

Best Travel Credit Cards of 2020

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