Canceling a Points + Cash Award — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Richard, who didn't get the refund he expected upon canceling a hotel reservation. Here’s what he had to say:
On a recent trip to Great Britain and Ireland, my wife and I either lost or had stolen our bag containing our new passports, along with a number of other valuable items (like our camera and brand new iPads). We made the necessary police report and went through the hassle of getting new passports, and in the meantime had to change our travel plans. As a result, I canceled our reservations at the IHG hotels where we were staying in Ireland, which I had booked using a combination of cash and points.
After we got back home, I looked at my IHG account and noticed that the points had been refunded, but not the cash portion. I called IHG customer service and was told if I read the small print carefully on the IHG reservations website, I would see that only the points are returned upon cancellation and the cash is lost. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper, but the rules are the rules.
This experience taught me two things: read the cancellation policy thoroughly, and carry travel insurance when you're traveling with expensive belongings. I did neither, and though the trip was fun, I got an expensive lesson.
Hotels tend to have much more flexible cancellation policies than airlines. While many larger chains have tightened up a bit over the past year, you can still change or cancel most reservations for a full refund up to a few days before your scheduled arrival. That's true of both cash and award bookings, including mixed awards paid with both points and cash. When you cancel one of these awards, most chains simply refund your points and that's the end of it, since they don't charge the cash portion until you check out. But as Richard experienced, IHG has a peculiar practice of issuing refunds in points only.
The IHG Rewards website states that "no cash will be refunded" for Points + Cash awards, which sounds ominous. In practice, however, the cash portion of your award just gets converted into points, so it isn't forfeit entirely. For example, a room with a standard award rate of 35,000 points per night might offer a Points + Cash rate of 25,000 points plus $70. If you book and then cancel, you'll be charged $70, but you'll get a refund of 35,000 points instead of 25,000. Depending on your rate, this can actually be a good strategy for buying IHG points at a discount, though you may fare even better if you can combine a promotional discount with the built-in 20% discount on the new IHG credit cards.
Travel insurance has its place, but I wouldn't buy it solely to protect luggage. Many credit cards offer protection for checked bags, as well as purchase protection that covers damage, loss or theft for a few months after purchase. If you frequently travel with high-value items, I recommend investing in a luggage tracker you can stash in your bag that will allow you to monitor its location. It's not a theft deterrent, but it should help if your bags are simply misplaced. Most importantly, be mindful of where you put your belongings even in familiar places. Practicing situational awareness will keep you from losing bags in the first place, and it costs nothing!
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Richard for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him 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!