Losing 25,000 Points to a Hurricane — Reader Mistake Story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Conner, who was unable to work around a non-refundable hotel stay:
I booked a trip from Atlanta (ATL) to New Haven using points from my Chase Freedom Unlimited, including an American Airlines flight and an Omni Hotel stay. I booked it months in advance, so there was no way I could have foreseen the weather, but Hurricane Michael was ripping through the Southeast the weekend I was to travel. American granted automatic change fee waivers to all travelers, and since there was only one other weekend I was able to take the trip, I hastily used the waiver to change the flight to my alternate weekend.
The Omni Hotel, however, would not provide a refund under any circumstances (neither in cash nor in nights), as the rate was non-refundable and they were unaffected by the hurricane in the Northeast anyway. Even if they had allowed me to just change my dates with no penalty, it would not have made a difference, because there were no rooms available for my alternate weekend. The Chase agents were spectacular in fighting for me, but in the end I simply had to be a no-show for the hotel stay and lose the 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points that I used to book it.
The two lessons I learned: first, don’t assume the best from hotels or airlines, even in situations where most people would think an exception to the rule is warranted. Second, if booking a flight and a hotel, make sure to coordinate the two in the event of a change and check the availability of both prior to making adjustments.
Many hotels offer a discount when you pay a non-refundable rate, but as Conner's story shows, any amount you save can disappear quickly if your plans later change. That's not to say booking non-refundable travel is necessarily a poor decision, but you should be mindful of the inherent risk. If you're spontaneously getting away for the weekend, you might as well choose the lower rate. But if you're booking a trip a few months out, think about what factors might cause your plans to change, and whether it's worth paying a bit more to offset the uncertainty.
I agree with Conner that you shouldn't assume travel providers will be lenient in tough situations, but I also think you shouldn't expect the worst. Getting the answer you want is often a matter of reaching the right person. After striking out on securing a refund through Chase, Conner might have tried contacting the hotel directly to see if he could reach a sympathetic ear, as front desk staff often have greater latitude than phone reps to issue a refund or credit. The answer might still have been no, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Finally, Conner's experience is a good example of why you should pay attention to credit card benefits like trip cancellation insurance. Some cards (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) offer reimbursement for nonrefundable expenses when your plans change due to a covered event, such as severe weather. The coverage generally applies even if you paid with points, but unfortunately for Conner, the benefit on the Freedom Unlimited is restricted to fares on a common carrier (like airfare or train tickets). By using a card with stronger protection, he may have been able to recoup his losses.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Conner a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!