One holiday hack to save on your travels is to book non-refundable flights and accommodation. In order to lock customers in early, flight and hotel providers may offer a further discount off their lowest price. You'll probably have seen some variations of these when you book accommodations from Hotels.com, Booking.com, or online sites. If you're catching on to some flash sale on their websites with 40% or even 50% discounts, these reservations will most likely be non-refundable.
While forward planning and booking early means saving money, the downside is that these reservations usually come with strict no-refund policies, which means that you'll likely have to forfeit whatever you've paid if you cannot make the trip. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where you might actually get some money back on these non-refundable bookings, especially if you've covered yourself with travel insurance.
Can I get a refund for cancelling or missing my trip due to personal reasons?
You might have fallen too sick to fly, or something might have happened to your family. Or you might have got into an accident and you have to be hospitalised, which caused you to miss your flight. As a result, you also end up missing and wasting your pre-booked accommodation.
If you make the calls and submit supporting documents to the airlines and hotels, there's a good chance that you might get a refund on your non-refundable bookings on compassionate grounds e.g. an immediate family passing on. However, when it comes to minor illnesses, they're not as compromising – they have the right to refuse a refund as agreed in the Terms & Conditions (even if you didn't read it), and there's nothing you can do about it..
However, if you've got yourself a travel insurance policy before you fly, you'll likely be able to make claims on these non-refundable bookings, up till the claim limit. This means that you'll be covered if you have to cancel or postpone your trip because:
i. you fall ill or sustain an accidental injury, and is deemed unfit to fly by a doctor,
ii. an unexpected death or accidental injury or sickness happened to a family member or travel companion.
Travel insurance policies only cover up to a certain period before you fly. For example, on the Chubb Travel Insurance Plan, you're covered up to 60 days prior to your departure date on the above incidents. On the most basic tier of Chubb's insurance, you get covered up to $8,000 in expenses for Journey Cancellation, and up to $20,000 cover on their most premium plans.
Can I get a refund if my trip has been cancelled or postponed because of external reasons?
But what if your trip has to be cancelled or postponed because of extreme weather conditions or because of industrial strikes? Singapore is relatively immune from natural disasters but flights to your destination may be cancelled or delayed because of extreme weather conditions.
If your flight or accommodation has been affected because of strikes and protests, travel insurance will cover for cancellations and postponements, only if the incidents were not known at the point of purchase of the policy. For example, given the ongoing state of protests and political unrests in Hong Kong, all travel insurance policies will not cover for incidents relating to the protests should you choose to fly to Hong Kong.
If your flight is delayed because of adverse weather conditions, the airlines will try to make alternative arrangements for you but your accommodation booking may still be affected, especially if you've booked a non-refundable one. That's when the travel insurance payout can help to cover the cost of alternative accommodations.
What if you arrive at the destination safely but the hotel or AirBNB is cancelled?
While the above scenarios were pre-departure situations, there's also the possibility that you get to your destination but the accommodation is closed. For example, the hotel may be locked down to avoid the surrounding strikes, or your AirBNB is cancelled because the owner could not make it home in the adverse weather.
While the onus should be on the service provider (the hotel or the AirBNB) to offer you alternative arrangements, they may not have other options i.e. they are out of rooms. In these cases, they will give you refunds but it'll cost you more to book alternative accommodation in the eleventh hour.
That's when the Accommodation Cancellation cover in the travel insurance matters. With Chubb travel insurance, you get covered up to $2,500 on Cancelled Accommodation. It's never in your plan for the accommodation to be cancelled, and you'll never know when it happens, so travel insurance is definitely something to get to avoid these unexpected costs.
Be smart about your budget-friendly travels
Non-refundable flights and accommodations are great because you get great value at lower costs. And you can then divert all the potential savings into your holiday expenses – more shopping, better dining options, or going to more attractions.
The only thing that can go wrong is if something unexpected crops up and disrupts all your travel plans. You might even end up spending more than what you've saved. That's why it's essential to supplement your travels with travel insurance, which will cover you for many other travel incidents.
Theft of personal belongings? Emergency medical expenses? Flight or baggage delay? These are all covered with a basic travel insurance plan.
As 'kiasu' (slang for being afraid to lose out) Singaporeans, we all know to take advantage of sales and promotional prices to save on our travels. And if you know that there is the caveat or non-refundable bookings, why not go a notch up on your 'kiasu-ness' and pay a little on travel insurance to have your trip covered?
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