Travel is what’s known in business lingo as a “perishable commodity.” Just like a head of lettuce in the supermarket (and in sharp contrast to a book or sofa or computer), if a slot on one of our trip is empty when the trip begins, we’ve lost the entire cost of that slot. It cannot be sold later.
We face significant expenses associated with that empty space:
- The fixed costs of a trip, such as guides, vehicles, and advance preparation, which now have to be covered by a smaller group;
- The costs of accepting a reservation, processing it, then canceling it;
- Unused hotel, restaurant, and activity costs (such as rafting) that we have paid for and committed to take, and which often cannot be refunded or cancelled.
In general, these expenses are higher as the trip gets closer, because we’re less likely to be able to fill the spot, or to cancel reservations we’ve made. The cancellation fee is our compensation for these expenses. Other companies that offer small-group adventure travel generally impose higher fees than we do. We’ve done our best to keep them as low as possible.
Can you give me a full refund if I cancel and you can fill my spot?
Sorry, no. The cancellation fee represents the average costs that we encounter from a cancelled reservation received that far in advance. If we offered a full refund when we were able to fill a spot, then we’d have to charge the full trip price (instead of just a cancellation fee) to someone whose spot we were unable to fill. We’d also have to deal with sticky questions like: If two people cancel their reservations and only one spot is filled, who gets the refund and who has to pay full price?
Instead, we find it more fair to calculate the average costs we face when a reservation is cancelled, and charge everyone equally.
I have a really good reason for canceling: (fill in the blank). Will you give me a refund?
We sympathize. We really do. We know that you wouldn’t cancel if you didn’t have to. But the cancellation fee isn’t there to punish you; it’s there to cover costs that we incurred on your behalf, by holding this reservation for you, and those costs don’t go down just because there was a strong reason for canceling.
We also don’t want to get into the business of evaluating excuses. Should you get a full refund if your mother died, but not for your uncle? What if your uncle was your primary caregiver for six months while you were growing up? Or for six years? You can see where this is leading. And then there’s the person (we all know one) whose fifth grandmother just died, conveniently right at the time that he needed to cancel a trip anyway.
Having said that: If your mother really did die, please accept our sympathies, do what you need to, and when you can, mail us documentation and ask what can be done. If it was your fifth grandmother who died, please accept our sympathies for that, too.
Should I get cancellation insurance from my travel agent?
That’s up to you, of course, and may be worth it for the peace of mind it provides. But there are a couple of factors to consider.
First, paying for insurance each time you take a trip adds up to a lot of money in the course of a lifetime. (At least, if you travel as much as we hope you do!) Are you better off putting that money in the bank, collecting interest, and using it to pay the cancellation fee on those rare occasions that you do have to cancel?
Second, be aware that most trip cancellations, in our experience, involve reasons that wouldn’t be covered by these policies anyway. If your boss decides you have to work that week (or claims you never asked for the time off), or you get a new job and lose your vacation time, or your best friend goes into the hospital and you want to be there … you probably wouldn’t be covered. Further, if you’re a gay man or lesbian, you may not get the same consideration for the illness or death of your partner as a married couple would get for one another.
Yes, cancellation fees will hurt if you must cancel a reservation, particularly on short notice. But if you plan carefully, they shouldn’t come up often. If you cancel one trip in ten, and incur a $200 fee, you’re essentially paying $20 a trip. You’ll say “Ouch!” when it happens, but that shouldn’t be enough to discourage you from planning some great trips. We hope one of them will be with us.