The holiday season usually brings flight delays and cancellations. Also, if you’re traveling through regions with snow, the chances of weather affecting your travel add a layer of uncertainty.
Along with bringing extra patience when traveling, knowing what to do if something goes wrong can also help you find a solution.
Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done. We receive emails regularly asking for help. They usually read something like this: “I booked a trip through my credit card’s online travel portal. The flight was canceled, so the airline told me to contact the portal and the portal told me to contact the airline. No one is helping.”
If you have problems with a booking made with an online travel agent (OTA) or a claim related to your credit card’s benefits, what should you expect during this process of delays or cancellations? Also, if things aren’t working, what can you do to improve the situation when it’s impossible to contact the online travel agency where you originally made your booking?
Here are our best tips to get your trip back on track and help you move claims forward if you need to submit one.
What is an online travel agent/online travel agency?
Before we start, I want to ensure we’re all talking about the same thing. When you book a flight directly with an airline or a hotel, you know who to talk to if your trip is canceled or delayed.
Conversely, there can be advantages and disadvantages to using a travel agent or aggregator websites like Expedia.com, Booking.com or the travel portal from your credit card issuer. These websites function as an intermediary, selling travel reservations to you, but they aren’t the ones operating the flight, hotel or cruise.
This can add a layer of complexity when things go wrong during your trip, and some of these websites have better track records than others when it comes to helping you sort out your trip during schedule changes.
There are other considerations for whether you should use an online travel agent/online travel agency (OTA), and we have several articles you can reference on that topic:
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For today’s purposes, let’s assume you already have a reservation made through an OTA. Our goal is to help you navigate changes and cancellations to your trip and problems with any related claims when something goes wrong. This includes asking American Express, Capital One, Chase and Citi what people should do if there are problems with bookings made in their portals. Some of their tips are included below.
A trip change or cancellation before travel
The first set of issues you might encounter is a schedule change or cancellation before you depart. Depending on how drastically your trip is affected, you should receive options for alternate flights or accommodation, or possibly an option to cancel altogether for a refund.
Before your trip and checking in online, the OTA still owns your reservation. It’s worth knowing that you will need to deal with the online travel agency for any changes before your trip. Contacting the airline or hotel directly will likely end with you being told to contact the portal’s customer service team.
Making changes before your trip
If you receive an email saying that there was a change to your trip (or if you decide you want to make a change), the best thing to do is understand the change clearly and then see what your options are.
In addition to the options presented in the email, search online to see what else is available. Is there another flight to your destination at a time that works for you? If you can no longer stay at your hotel, did you find something nearby from the same brand?
Knowing other options available from the same company or its partners can help you know what our options are. There are probably more options than just the one or two presented in the email you received to tell you about a change to your trip. If you know what exists, you can advocate for yourself when rebooking.
That said, if you want a travel plan that wasn’t immediately presented to you in an email or when managing your reservation online, you may need to call. Unfortunately, hold times on the phone are one of the major complaints related to bookings from an online travel agent. See the section below for tips on reaching customer service quickly.
With cruises, the cruise line should communicate changes with you before your trip, and what happens next will vary by how soon you’re sailing and how significant the change will be. The cruise line may offer you a discount on a future sailing or onboard credit during your sailing if you choose to keep your booking. Significant changes may come with an offer for a refund. Changing to a different cruise with that same company may be an option if there are significant changes to the sailing you reserved, so ask about this if you’re interested.
Refunds for cancellations
Assuming a trip was canceled and you should receive a refund, refunds for cash payments and refunds when you paid with points function differently.
Assuming you booked a hotel and won’t be staying there, a Hotels.com cancellation or Booking.com cancellation should be refunded to the credit card used during your booking. Double-check your booking terms to see how long the refund will take. The same applies when you book a flight or cruise through an online travel agency and paid by credit card.
However, if you paid with points from a bank’s travel portal, this will work differently. If you paid with points and your trip is canceled by the provider (such as an airline), American Express will process your refund as a statement credit.
However, according to a spokesperson for American Express, you can call the number on the back of your Amex card to ask for your refund to be converted to points. Conversely, Capital One will refund you in the way that you paid: credit card, miles or a mix of the two.
A Trip change and cancellation during travel
We’ll consider the “you’ve started traveling” period to begin when you check in online for a flight.
Once you check in for a flight, the airline takes over your reservation. At that point, the airline becomes responsible for any changes — whether that’s due to a canceled flight or because you decide you want to make a change.
“This limits a booking agent’s ability to resolve an issue if one comes up,” according to a spokesperson for American Express Travel. “If a change or cancellation is needed, contact your booking agent before you check in to avoid being bounced between customer service teams and potential fees.”
A spokesperson for Chase mentioned a larger grace period but reiterated the same issue: “Chase Travel may no longer be able to make changes on the customer’s behalf and only the airline can assist” within two hours of departure.
If you’ve checked in already or if you miss a flight, you should deal directly with the airline — not the website where you made your booking. The airline should help you make new arrangements. If the airline insists that you contact your booking portal, ask the airline to add notes to your reservation stating this.
Senior credit cards editor Matt Moffitt dealt with this problem during a flight cancellation. He had the airline put a note on his reservation saying that they approved the OTA to make changes to help him avoid back-and-forth when trying to change his flight.
For problems with hotels, most hotel programs have some sort of room guarantee. If you show up at a hotel and it’s closed or they can’t honor your confirmed reservation, the hotel should find a new place for you to stay. This should not be your responsibility.
Cruises are very different. It’s important to read the fine print and check the terms of your cruise contract. Many of these contracts indicate that a cruise itinerary can be changed and that the cruise line does not have to refund you.
Itinerary changes can happen due to mechanical failures, disasters at the port of call or other issues beyond the cruise line’s control. If there is a change, the cruise line may offer you some type of perk (typically onboard credit). However, moving you to a different cruise — in the way you could change to a different flight due to schedule changes — probably isn’t an option unless you choose to buy a ticket for that other cruise.
How to reach customer service quickly
Let’s say that plans have gone sideways, and you need to talk to customer service to rebook or cancel your trip. Hold times can be long with any airline or hotel program and travel portals are no better. For example, consider that “impossible to contact Expedia” has a high search volume on Google.
If you need to reach someone quickly, consider contact methods like a direct message on Twitter, calling a number outside the U.S. where wait times may be shorter or even choosing an option for a different language from the customer support menu. For more tips on how to quickly reach customer service, consult the following:
It’s worth noting that a spokesperson for Capital One Travel says their team is committed to reducing wait times on hold or redundancy created by transferring you to a different department after you call for help with an existing booking. Each agent is trained to handle any type of travel request, according to this spokesperson, to help customers reach a solution without excessive wait times.
How to use credit card protections and submit a claim
If you’re having problems with a claim related to your credit card’s benefits, such as rental car protections or trip delay insurance, calling the number on the back of your credit card won’t help, unfortunately. That’s because many of these benefits are managed by independent insurance companies.
In order to help your claim move through the claims process as efficiently as possible, there are a few things you can do. First, ensure you keep all receipts related to your claim and submit legible copies of these and any other documents you send to the claims agent.
Additionally, you should ask for documentation from your travel provider regarding any issues. If there is a cancellation, delay or accident, ask for this in writing. You may need this paper trail for claims like trip delay reimbursement or proving that expenses related to your claim were unavoidable.
What if the claims process isn’t working as it should? Unfortunately, contacting the credit card issuer won’t help, because you will be told to contact the benefit provider. While the benefit is attached to your credit card, it’s usually offered by an outside company.
If you’re having issues with a claim — such as no response to questions you send or being asked to send the same documents repeatedly — you’ll still have to work with the benefits administrator to solve these issues. For American Express protections, you can find details in your complete guide to travel protections on American Express cards.
For Visa and Mastercard credit cards, many of these benefits are administered by eclaimsnline.com. We asked how to resolve some of these issues but did not receive a response at the time of writing.
Suppose you continue encountering problems and cannot get help with your claim. In that case, you may need to consult places like the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general covering the area where your claims administrator is located. For advice on these legal issues and your rights surrounding them, seek legal advice from a lawyer.
Our goal is to help you be as prepared as possible. In this way, you can know what to do if there’s a schedule change, cancellation or mishap along the way.
Get familiar with your credit card benefits and how to use them. Know who to contact if something goes wrong and how to resolve your issue as quickly as possible. In this way, you can move forward with your trip and reduce delays.
Reducing delays should help you reduce stress and get back to what you really want: enjoying your trip.